OLDS – Midway through the first set of the Alberta Colleges Women’s Volleyball League championship final against the Grande Prairie College Wolves it would have been easy for the RDC Queens to shrug their shoulders and start looking toward the rest of the match.
But they aren’t built that way.
The Queens have the pedigree of a champion and despite trailing 11-1 and 15-6 they relied on their maturity and experience to fight back and win the opening set 25-23. They once again fell behind in the second set 21-15, but won 25-22, then took the third set 25-18 to wrap up their second straight ACAC title.
“I think we were second-guessing ourselves a bit in that first set,” said Queens third-year setter and championship MVP Bronwyn Hawkes. “We knew what we could do, but didn’t know that much about them. We didn’t know if they would come out strong or start poorly. When they started quickly we weren’t ready.”
Slowly but surely the Queens chipped away at the lead and pulled even at 20-20 thanks to the strong serving of Marisa Neufeld, who came off the bench with the score 16-20. By the time she left the Queens it was 21-21.
“We stayed calm and relaxed and everything came together,” said Hawkes.
“I honestly thought that first set was over right away,” said Queens head coach Talbot Walton. “I doubted if we could fix the momentum GP had created. Thankfully the gap was early enough in the set we were able to chip away and once we caught them and when it got past 22 I knew we would be OK. We didn’t flinch and were solid when we needed to be solid and were good at the end.”
Queens outstanding libero, Maddi Quinn, is one of four starters off last year’s national championship team, which defeated Grande Prairie in both the Alberta and Canadian finals.
“I think because we were up against them again we were a bit nervous in that aspect, but overall we stayed calm and once we caught up we knew we could do it,” she said. “They do have younger team and we expected them to make some mistakes.”
A lot of those mistakes came in the second set.
“I thought they gave the second set to us,” said Hawkes.
The Queens managed just five kills, three stuff blocks and an ace in the second set, which saw the Wolves make a number of hitting mistakes.
“Talbot always says the team that wants it more won’t make as many mistakes and we didn’t make those mistakes,” added Hawkes.
“I think our experience showed … it showed all year,” said Walton. “We were quiet on the floor, and just went about doing our business. We weren’t emotional when we got behind and stayed with it.
“Kids like Megan (Schmidt) were outstanding. As a coach I won’t forget those kinds of performances.”
Schmidt, who was named player of the match in the final, was brilliant. She was credited with eight kills, but had 10, to go with two stuff blocks and got her hands on a number of other hits.
The Queens gave up size in the middle, but used their quickness and experience to their advantage.
“Talbot had a game plan in which we had to be fearless against their big middles,” said Schmidt. “We couldn’t worry about how big they are. We had to cut the ball against them and not be scarred.
“The game plan is to be consistent and never flinch no matter how far we’re behind or ahead. Be consistent and don’t focus on the score. Keep passing and serving well and we did that.”
“We’re built for speed in the middle and we didn’t ask them to make all the blocks, but be there and score. Megan did that today. She must have hit 80 per cent. She was phenomenal. “
Hawkes wasn’t afraid to run her offence out of the middle.
“Some teams here were scarred to challenge them, but we showed we’re not those teams.”
Alex Donaghy also had a strong game in the middle with five kills, three stuff blocks and five digs. Leah Koot added five kills, and six digs and Miranda Dawe three kills and three digs despite giving way to Laurent Marshall for much of the first two sets.
Marshall, Neufeld, Kelsey Ewashkiw and Kendra Sorensen all came in off the bench to play a significant role.
“We talked about it earlier today … talked about using some of those girls off the bench to give us a different look, especially on the serve,” said Walton. “The other team doesn’t know what to expect.”
Walton had high praise for the players off the bench.
“It says something about our players who stand there for two sets and then come in and play a role.”
The Queens celebrated just like they did a year ago.
“Last year, which was my second with the team, I was there for fun,” said Hawkes. “This year I wanted to win. They say the first is more exciting than the second, but for me they’re totally the same.”
This year’s edition of the Queens had a slightly different look after losing Brooke Sutter, Amber Adolf, Karissa Kuhr and Shelby Bromall.
“But we knew we had a strong core back and the leadership was there,” said Walton, whose team was ranked No. 1 in Canada all season.
“We didn’t let the ranking bother us. This group wanted to make sure they peaked at the right time. I’m not sure if this was our best volleyball, but it’s darn close.”
The Queens, and the Wolves, will compete in the nationals, March 12-14 in Longueuil, Que.
Dawe, Quinn and Hawkes were named to the tournament all-star team along with Naomi Jardine and Jamie Craig of Olds, Samantha Zacharias of Briercrest and Jordan Drezet and Amy Norman of Grande Prairie.
Olds won the bronze with a 15-25, 27-25, 25-19, 18-25, 15-10 win over BBC. SAIT stopped Lakeland 3-1 for fifth place.