Rode

RODE: Red Deer Polytechnic Queens have some some big holes to fill

There’s bound to be a few questions surrounding the RDP Queens volleyball squad heading into the 2022-23 Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference season.

The defending champions, who placed third at the Nationals, lost five starters, plus two others who played a major role in the team’s success.

Gone are left side hitter Tess Pearman, right side Anna Carlson, middle blocker McKenna Olson, setter Emma Letkeman and one of the premier liberos in the conference, Kaylee Domoney. As well Edyn Aasman, who backed up Domoney and was the first off the bench in a defensive role, moved on along with left side hitter Jadyn Leong, who shared duties with Pearman and Jaiden Ferguson.

“It’s tough to see those quality of people leave, but it’s the way it is in college sports,” said Queens head coach Talbot Walton, who once again takes over from Chris Wandler after taking last season off. “They have themselves lined up and will be fantastic in the community and do well in their work commitments.”

The Queens still have 11 veterans on the roster, including starting middle Sydney Rix, Ferguson and backup setter Danielle Wiens.

“Dani is a good piece to have back,” said Walton. “She got a lot of experience last year and understands our offence.”

Walton added Maria Brouwer of Calgary to fill the second setter slot.

“Maria is very similar to Dani in that she has strong hands and has the desire to run the offence at a faster speed. She’s strong at the net and very athletic. She’s in the nursing program so she’ll be around for the duration.”

Losing Domoney left a huge hole, but the libero position was more than adequately filled with the addition of Francesca Sandini of Vancouver, who was an all-star along with Domoney, last season with the Olds Broncos.

“Frankie contacted us after her season was over last year and fortunately for us we have the Justice Studies program she was looking to take. It was a big hole to fill and she fits in. She’s always asking the right questions and learning our system quickly.”

Although they lost Olson the Queens have five returnees in the middle led by Rix.

“Thankfully Sydney’s program matched up so she could return,” said Walton. “She’s a huge piece for us. She’s Queens volleyball through and through and we couldn’t find a better leader.”

Kira Weddell also returns in the middle for a third season with Abby Lowe, Autumn Roos and Jailyn Stouffer back for a second season.

Both Rix and Roos have also been working on the right side.

“They have a unique skill set to be able to move around,” said the veteran coach. “Autumn played a number of positions prior to coming here. She had good coaching and is six-foot-one, can jump out of the gym and do a lot of different things.”

Ferguson, who was third on the team in kills last season, will anchor the left side.

“She’s the one player who saw a lot of court time and played in big-time games for us. She has the opportunity to not be a role player but bring something to the team and I’m looking forward to watching her this season.”

Vanessa Loos, who is in her third season, did see considerable playing time late in the season, especially on defence, and will be in the running to grab the second left side position.

Avery Tonnies, Morgan Boisvert and Randi Gill are also back as outside hitters joining newcomers Sarah Mistol of St. Paul and Lauren Junck of Notre Dame.

“Overall we’re fairly young, but the returnees got an opportunity to play with and practice against some of the best players in the country last season which definitely helped their development, plus they learned a tremendous amount from Chris.

“We’ll definitely have a different approach to this season. Last year with the veteran lineup we went into the season at full speed. This year we’ll sit back a bit and learn a few key fundamental things and build on those. Our volleyball IQ is very high and I think we have the right mesh for the style of play we’re good at and can play at a high level.”

The ACAC this season is expected to be as tough as ever and this weekend the Queens will get an opportunity to see some of their top competition when they host the Kings and Queens annual tournament Saturday and Sunday.

Lakeland College and The Kings University are expected to be near the top this season and the Queens play TKU at 2 p.m. and Lakeland at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. They also face College of the Rockies at noon Saturday, NAIT at 2 p.m. and SAIT at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

“TKU and Lakeland will be strong and SAIT had a good recruiting class,” said Walton. “We see at least four strong teams this year and we hope we can fit in with them.”

The Queens will host the ACAC finals once again.

“We originally had the bid in 2020-21 but because of Covid it was delayed so this is that bid,” explained Walton. “Last year we hosted because of the switch in the playoff format.

“It’s something we’re looking forward to. It’s always good to sleep in your own beds and play in front of your fans.”

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at danrode@shaw.ca

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