The opening week of practice has been somewhat unorthodox for the RDC Queens volleyball squad.
Three of the team’s premier players have been sitting on the sidelines.
It wasn’t until this week that setter Quinn Schulzke and right side hitter Jessica Clutton returned to practice while power hitter and All-Canadian Katie Graves has yet to come out.
All three played in the Canada Summer Games, helping Team Alberta to a third-place finish.
“They needed a break,” explained Queens head coach Talbot Walton.
“They played a lot of volleyball over the year and we didn’t want to push them. Besides we know what they can do.”
Graves, who was the starting libero for Team Alberta, will return to practice this week, according to Walton.
“She’s anxious to get back, but she played every game at the Games and could use a little longer break.” The fact the trio were on the sidelines was good for Walton.
“It gave me a chance to look at the younger players and see if they show what I expected of them.”
The defending Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference champions have eight players back from last season, including middle blocker Mandy Norris, outside hitters Jill Folkard and Jaclyn Neufeld and liberos Tarah Truant and Lisa Marciak.
“We have five of our seven starters back from our championship team, which is a definite bonus for us,” said Walton.
“They’re all very competitive and I look for them to lead us at the same high level we were at last season. As well we were able to fill in with some very good recruits.”
Two of the top recruits are Danielle Newton of Lindsay Thurber and Sam Fraser of Notre Dame. Both play middle blocker.
“They give us size and speed in the middle, a combination of skills which fit in nicely with this team,” added Walton. “They are two very good athletes, who’ll push to be starters.”
Norris, who is a fourth-year player and Ros Tait, who played two years ago at Notre Dame and last year with Dalhousie University, are also in the middle.
Schulzke will be the Queens starting setter with rookie Megan Skory of High River her backup.
“Megan is a very intelligent player and adjusts very quickly,” said Walton. “She comes out of a smaller school, which makes it tough to come into this league, but she’s fitting in very nicely. She’s also a very good defender and server.”
The other new face in camp is power hitter Robyn Denney, who played three years with Keyano College in Fort McMurray. Last season she led the team in kills with a 2.37 average, was second in blocks and third in digs.
The Queens put together an outstanding 2008-09 season, but it could have been better, says Walton.
“We didn’t finish like we wanted to,” he said.
“None of us are happy with the way it ended up.”
The Queens placed fourth at the national championships after finishing fifth the year before.
“But it’s the way it is and we lived it and we’re better for it,” said Walton. “This year we want to take that next step up.”
l The Queens open their exhibition schedule Sept,. 24-27 at the University of Regina tournament where they face the U of Regina, U of Saskatchewan and the U of Calgary in their pool . . . The Queens will host the Wild Rose Classic, Oct. 2-4 . . . Their season opens Oct. 23 in Lethbridge.