From the time she arrived at RDC six years ago, McKenna Olson has shown the determination to become one of the premier players in the ACAC Women’s Volleyball.
The native of Saskatoon saw little action her first season with the Queens, which is normal for a lot of the younger players.
But following that season the coaching staff made a decision that changed her role on the team and eventually led to her being one of the premier middle blockers in the ACAC.
“We moved her back into the middle, which she played in club, and she fit right in,” said Queens interim head coach Chris Wandler. “She has great eyes and great hands and she molded herself into that spot and has played extremely well.”
McKenna found herself behind a pair of veterans her first season in the middle then shared duties the following two seasons. This year she was front and centre and received her just reward when she was named to the South Division All-Conference team.
Despite a long road, there was no time McKenna thought about leaving.
“Especially in college sports you need to earn your spot,” she said. “For me I felt the harder I worked the better chance I had and besides I was here for school and I might as well continue playing. Besides I love it.”
Olson was solid from the outset this season, finishing with 22 blocks, second only to ACAC South Player of the Year Anna Carlson’s 26. But she also showed an offensive side, finishing with 90 kills, fourth on the team.
“I’ve always been more of a defensive middle, but this year my offence has taken off … I feel I’m a more rounded plyer,” she said. “Emma (setter Letkeman) and I seemed to really connect this year.”
But in the end it’s her blocking that brings a smile to her face.
“There’s nothing better than the feeling of a good block … I love the feeling the ball hiting my hands and seeing it hit the floor,” she said. “It brings a lot of energy to the team. It pumps everyone up … it’s an awesome feeling.”
The fact McKenna finds herself surrounded by veterans helps her game, and of course helps theirs.
“Everyone contributes and it certainly helps when you trust the players beside you,” she said. “When others are at their best it helps me be at my best.”
McKenna is in her sixth year at RDP, missing last year because of Covid. She’s in her third year of nursing.
“I took sciences and pre-pharmacy my first couple of years. I knew I wanted to play volleyball and after meeting Talbot (head coach Walton) and several members of the team I knew this was where I wanted to be. But I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do.”
In season three she made a decision.
“I talked with friends and family and they said I loved sciences and enjoyed helping people so why not think of nursing. I thought why not and I love it.”
The fact McKenna got into nursing a bit later means she didn’t have to take her fourth year, which is one of the toughest, while playing.
“If I could come back and play next year I’m not sure I would as it would be tough to balance the two. So this has worked out perfectly.”
But this week McKenna isn’t worried about schooling as the Queens look to return to the nationals. The Queens will host the ACAC Provincial Championship Final Four this weekend and put their undefeated season on the line.
The fact Olson’s been through it before, as have a lot of her teammates, helps in the preparation.
“Knowing what to expect certainly helps a lot,” she said. “Just understanding the mental side of the game vs. the physical and what it takes to get to the nationals Is important for sure. And once you’re there understanding what it takes as you’re up against teams you haven’t seen before and playing on a court you’re not used to. Still, we know we can’t look that far, it’s important to focus on Friday. Being through it you understand that.”
The Queens did meet and defeat TKU in the preseason, but that means nothing, says Olson.
“Things change so much from the preseason to now in terms of lineups and even injuries.”
Although playing at home is certainly a benefit and a nice way for Olson to end her career.
“We’re used to the court and having our fans will be great and it’s nice to finish off at home for sure.”
The Kings are also in the Final Four at NAIT as they clash with TKU at 6 p.m. Friday while the basketball Kings meet top-ranked Keyano at 5 p.m. in the men’s basketball Final Four at SAIT.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at email@example.com