When Jessica Clutton arrived at RDC she was listed as a middle blocker.
Three years later the Innisfail native is one of the premier right side hitters at the college level in the country.
Clutton received her just recognition this season when she was named to the Canadian Colleges Athletic Conference All-Canadian team and will be honoured at the CCAA championship awards banquet in Gatineau, Que., Thursday.
Meanwhile, RDC Kings outstanding right side hitter, Mitch Irvine, was selected to the All-Canadian team for the second year in a row.
He is also Alberta’s representative for the CCAA player of the year, which will be announced at the national championship awards banquet at Grant MacEwan Wednesday.
Clutton won’t be alone at the awards banquet as the Queens go into the nationals as the Alberta champion and No. 2 ranked team in Canada.
“This award just shows how strong our team is,” said Clutton. “There are a lot of strong players and this could be anyone.”
Clutton believes the experience she received the first two years at RDC showed this season.
“No doubt,” she said. “That experience helped me become the player that I am. Plus I’m surrounded by such great players it has to help. As well Quinn (Schulzke) is a fantastic setter.
“And along with experience comes confidence,” she continued. “You trust the girls around you more with experience and I have more shots and also mental toughness comes with experience.”
The Queens open the national finals Friday at 11 a.m. (MST) against Mount St. Vincent University of Halifax.
“That will be a lot of fun and a game to get the nerves out,” said Clutton. “Not that we’ll have nerves from being scarred, but rather nerves of excitement . . . good butterflies.”
The Queens are making their third straight trip to the nationals, having finished fifth and fourth the last two years.
“Last year was disappointing, losing in the semifinal to Grant MacEwan,” said Clutton. “That’s something we don’t want to experience again this year.”
The nationals will mark the end of Clutton’s college career, along with Schulzke and power hitter Katie Graves, who was an All-Canadian last year.
“There’s several of us moving on, so this is the last time we’ll be together and we want to make it our best games,” said Clutton.
UBC-Okanagan of Kelowna goes into the nationals ranked No. 1 and meet the host Cegep de L’Outaquais in their first game while third-ranked College Francois-Xavier of Garneau takes on Grant MacEwan. Vancouver Island University of Nanaimo faces Humber College of Etobicoke, Ont. in the other opening round match.
The tournament concludes Sunday night.
Unlike Clutton, who will be going to the nationals as part of the Queens, Irvine will represent the Kings on his own.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re not going as a team, but we’re still close friends and losing that first game at the provincials (to Grant MacEwan) hasn’t affected that,” said Irvine, who said he was a bit surprised at receiving the All-Canadian award for the second straight year.
“I was surprised, but I felt we had a strong team and I felt strong all through the year,” said the Notre Dame grad. “The addition of Taylor (Hunt) to the team made us that much stronger and I was surrounded by a lot of experience and depth. I really believed we had everything it took to win, but unfortunately it didn’t pan out.”
Irvine was as dominant this season as last, despite the fact he played most of the season with a sports hernia.
“It does bother me at times and I still have to work on it, but it’s OK, I won’t need surgery” he said. “I did notice this season that it took me a little longer to warm up and prepare for a match.”
Irvine understood the game that much better this season and also knew the opposition paid extra attention to him.
“They knew my tendencies, but that’s the same with any team. They all do what they can to stop the other team’s top hitters. But then I’m mentally stronger this year as well. And I enjoy the different challenges.”
Irvine will attend the University of Alberta next season to play with the Golden Bears, who won the 2010 Canada West title. The Bears include two former Kings — Spencer Leiske and Tanner Nault.
Irvine’s season isn’t finished either as he’ll play for the Kings U21 team at the provincials, set for March 27-28 in Red Deer, and will team with Kings teammate Darcee Froese to play beach volleyball.
• Hockey Queens fourth-year captain and defenceman, Lindsay Hogg, was named the Moxie’s Classic Grill RDC female athlete of the week.
• There are still a few tables and individual tickets available for the RDC Kings and Queens Scholarship Breakfast, March 16 at the Capri Centre.
The breakfast features Detroit Red Wings and Team Canada’s head coach Mike Babcock as the guest speaker.
For more information contest Carolyn at 403-343-4093.