Rode

RODE: Queens’ Lauren Junck a perfect fit to play the outside

Lauren Junck grew up playing middle blocker, but she was made to be an outside hitter.

Junck has a dynamic arm swing that eventually resulted in a switch to the left side in high school with the Notre Dame Cougars and now with the RDP Queens.

“I grew up playing middle in middle school, but in Grade 10, they moved me to the left side in practice. I started playing well there and so they moved me there permanently,” she explained. “But I still played middle with the (Queens) Club.”

Queens head coach Talbot Walton knew all along she was suited to be an outside hitter.

“The fact she played middle as well is a benefit as it’s what we look for in a player … someone who can play a number of positions and understand different aspects of the game … it only adds to their game,” said the veteran RDP coach. “But there was a little more opportunity for Lauren on the outside and it’s what she’s best suited for.

“She makes good contact the majority of the time, has a strong shoulder from playing ball which tends to lead to a good volleyball attacker. Her skill set and the velocity she can put on the ball makes for a strong outside attacker, someone who will be strong in our league.”

Lauren, who was the Notre Dame female athlete of the year in Grade 12, has played softball for years and credits pitching and playing “some outfield” with her attack.

“It really helped me develop a strong attack and a good arm swing,” she said.

The 18-year-old played a number of sports growing up and will continue on the ball field this summer.

She played with the Rage program until switching to the ladies league last year.

“My cousin and a friend started the Rattlers team and I joined them. It’s good competition,” she said.

Lauren felt all along she had a chance to play post-secondary volleyball and the Queen were always on her radar.

“I played as many sports as I could, but playing club volleyball it was my main focus and a sport I knew I wanted to take to the next level,” she explained. “I did have other options besides the Queens, but I always wanted to come here as it’s home and playing in front of family and friends is a bonus.

“I also knew Talbot, as he coached me in middle school. and had a good relationship with him which is a bonus.”

Walton remembered Lauren from her middle school days.

“She was someone we had on our radar, watching her progress and hoping that she made the step towards our program. Thankfully she did.”

Lauren was fortunate joining the Queens following their championship season that saw the majority of the starting lineup graduate.

Jaiden Ferguson, who is one of the top power hitters in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference, returned at power, but the loss of Tess Pearman left a huge spot open.

Lauren proved her worth early in the season and eventually slid into a starting role.

“We rotated through early in the year and it was tough on her in our opening matchg against Briercrest but she came in off the bench against Medicine Hat and did a good job. She’s since taken care of the opportunities she’s gotten which has built towards trust and respect. She’s capable and knows what she’s doing and did good job of producing in her matchups when she has the opportunity.”

Lauren is second on the Queens with 2.27 kills per set (Ferguson is at 3.26).

“I’ve been surprised as I came in prepared to watch and take it all in,” she said. “It is a big step up, even from club as the girls are a lot older and play at a high level.

“I did know there would be some spots open so I wanted to work as hard as I could to get one of those spots.”

The fact she fit in quickly helped.

“The girls have all been very supportive and encouraging … it makes it easy to come in,” she said.

Just playing on a new team has been one of her biggest adjustments as well as playing more on defence.

“Playing so much middle I’m still adjusting to playing the back row, but it’s fun being out there all the time.”

Working alongside veteran setter Danielle Wiens was also an adjustment.

“The speed of the sets are definitely quicker, but then in club we tried to run a fast-paced offence, so there wasn’t a huge difference.”

Lauren does know backup setter Maria Brouwer, who she played with on the provincial U17 program.

“That was my one year on the provincial team and because of Covid we didn’t get a chance to play, just practice for a week and have a scrimmage at the end against some college players,” she explained.

The Queens take a 6-3 record into their Christmas break.

Two of those losses came on a long road trip to Keyano and Lakeland.

“It was tough sitting on the bus for six hours and playing top teams,” Lauren said. “But it was a learning opportunity as well.

“We showed a lot returning home, resetting and playing well against a good Lethbridge team.”

The Queens beat Lethbridge, 7-4, twice and now prepare for a tough start to the second half of the season. They face Concordia in Edmonton on Jan. 13 then host undefeated The Kings University at home on the 14. The following weekend have a home and home against 11-1 Ambrose.

“We need this break to just reset and get ready for the next semester as there’s a lot of big games ahead.”

Lauren is working on a psychology degree and will be here at least four years.

“We could have her for four more after this year … we’ll see, said Walton. “That’s the nice thing now is that we’re offering more and more degree granting programs and there’s more options for the players to stay longer. This team has a strong nucleus and will continue to grow. We add a couple more pieces and in a couple years will be at the top in the country again.”

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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