The group of girls charged with defending the Red Deer College Queens two-year run atop the CCAA women’s volleyball world, will look little like the one that put it there.
With nine players moving on from this year’s Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association championship, including five starters and the nationals MVP, head coach Talbot Walton has already found seven players that will attempt to fill those shoes.
Stepping onto the roster are Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference transfers setter Megan Kuzyk (NAIT Ooks) and middle Neal Murphy (Grande Prairie Regional College Wolves). He has also added local high school standouts at outside hitter, Cherisse Johannson (Hunting Hills High School), Danya Brachman (Ponoka) and McKenna Barthel (Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School), while also adding Kelsey Paton out of Sherwood Park. Walton also has tapped into the Australian pipeline that the Kings opened up, nabbing outside hitter Jessica Jones.
“We are very fortunate that a few of these people were interested in us early on and we were able to get some commitments as far back as December and then the rest of the pieces we were able to assemble in the second half of the season,” said Walton.
Leaving the program reads as a who’s who of the Queens. South All-Conference Team members Alex Donaghy, Maddi Quinn, and Bronwyn Hawkes are all moving on, as is CCAA championship MVP Leah Koot. Captain Megan Schmidt is joining in the exodus as are Marisa Neufeld, Kendra Sorensen, Kelsey Ewashkiw and Rylee Lang.
It wasn’t just starters leaving, but also players who had been groomed to fill in for when the starters did leave.
Getting two ACAC veterans in at key positions is huge, though Walton says returning setter Ashley Fehr will get first crack at the starting job due to her years put into the program and understanding of the Queens’ systems.
“It’s huge when you get that transfer student,” said Walton. “They already understand the league, they already understand what it means to train everyday and with the length of the season how important it is to take care of academics and their bodies.”
The Queens also continue to make good use of the fertile volleyball grounds of Central Alberta with another strong class to join other local players like Fehr (Innisfail), Hanna Delemont (Hunting Hills) and Olivia Barnes (Sylvan Lake) still on the roster.
“Every year when we look at our program and say, ‘hey we had a strong year, chances are it was because of Central Alberta athletes,” said Walton. “The upside to recruiting Central Alberta athletes is that they know Queens volleyball … Somewhere along the line they’ve seen us or had me coach them, so they have that culture already and it’s not like we have to program that into them, they already know what we’re about.”
Jones is a bit of a wild card for the Queens as Walton is not as familiar with the five-foot-10 outside hitter as he is the local talent he is bringing in. But if the success of the men’s program can be duplicated — they have three elite players out of Australia — then she will become a weapon that can slide right in opposite of returning all-conference power Miranda Dawe.
“She understands the game quite well,” said Walton. “It was an opportunity for us to try something a little different. Typically we’re always within that core of Central Alberta where we can find our athletes, to have an opportunity to add someone internationally will be a little bit unique for us.”
One advantage Walton has at his disposal in the recruiting fields is the ability to drop two CCAA gold medals from the last two years on the table. However, he says much of his recruiting was done prior to the beginning of this year’s post-season, already locking up all of his high school players.
“It doesn’t hurt, though there seems to be a bit of a lag process … I think a lot of interest came from the year previous,” said Walton. “It’s almost a half season behind when the winning takes over and becomes effective.”