In post-secondary athletics, teams can only remain together for so long.
First of all, athletes can only play for five years. Secondly, there are those who move on for one reason or another.
That’s the case with this year’s edition of the RDP Queens volleyball squad.
After putting together one of the more impressive seasons in the Queens long and illustrious history, the Queens will be losing eight players.
Those eight led the Queens to a 16-0 regular season, an ACAC championship, and a bronze medal at the Nationals, losing only to gold-medal champion VIU in the semifinals. Overall they were 22-1.
Gone are setter Emma Letkeman, All-Canadian right side Anna Carlson, all three power hitters — Tess Pearman, who was a first-team all-star at the Nationals, Jaiden Ferguson and Jadyn Leong, middle McKenna Olson and both liberos — CCAA all- star Kaylee Domoney and Edyn Aasman.
Carlson, Olson and Domoney are the only fifth-year players in the group.
“At the beginning of the year we do a little survey to get a feel of potentially when people will be leaving so we can keep that cycle of athletes consistent,” Queens head coach Talbot Walton explained.
“A few who we expected to stay decided part ways midway through the season , but we’re always prepared for those scenarios. We know we’re not going to keep everybody all the time and people change their minds.
“They make decisions that benefit them and they’re the most important person in that decision-making process. If they move on we encourage that growth in a person.”
Walton added there’s always a surprise or two.
“There are and we wish they would stay longer but we find ways to get around those issues and it opens up opportunities for others.
“We lost outstanding people and we were privileged to just have them in our program and they’re great volleyball players on top of that.”
Losing Letkeman is a big loss but Walton feels comfortable with Danielle Wiens, a five-foot 11 native of Regina, stepping in.
“The setting position is obviously a very important piece and Emma did a great job the last two seasons and accomplished quite a bit in a short period of time,” he said.
“She showed everyone what the setting position should look like and Dani had an opportunity to be around that and she grew a tremendous amount over the past season. She’s a great athlete, a great person and hard worker and we’ll see her continue to develop over the next couple of years. She’s for sure an elite setter.”
Walton has added Maria Brouwer out of the Calgary Christian High School and the Lions Club program, as a backup.
“She’s in the nursing program and could be here for several years,” he said. “We like recruiting good people with a lot of potential who will stay with us for a while. All the coaches we talked to said she is one of those athletes who just needs a bit more time in the right environment and we feel we can give her that.”
The biggest loss comes on the outside, losing the top four hitters.
“That will be a big change, but I think (interim coach Chris Wandler) did a good job of developing our first-year athletes. I’m super impressed with the quality of athletes we got in and hanging around the (graduating) power hitter who were some of the best in the country helped them grow a tremendous amount.
“Now it’s time for someone else to take over.”
Vanessa Loos has the most experience after being with the program the last two seasons.
“There are those whose turn it is to step in and Vanessa is one of those,” said Walton. “As well Morgan (Boisvert) impressed and Randi (Gill) came a long way in a short period of time.
“I know we’re all excited to see who the next person in our system will be.”
Outside hitter Lauren Junck out of Notre Dame and the Queens Club, also joined the Queens.
“I coached her when she was in Grade 8 and felt even then she would be someone we’d like in our program,” said Walton.
What the Queens did miss out on are several players who will join Camosun College in Victoria.
“We talked to them, but it was a good situation for them,” Walton said. “We’re happy for them. We’d like to recruit local athletes, but we know there’s not room for them all and it’s good to see them move up.”
One local athlete who did join the Queens and will anchor the middle next season is Sydney Rix, who was brilliant at the Nationals, being selected to the All-Star team.
Those battling behind her are all local athletes in six-foot Abby Lowe of Olds, six-foot-two Jailyn Stouffer of Sylvan Lake, six-foot-one Autumn Roos of Ponoka and five-foot-11 Kira Weddell of Lindsay Thurber. All but Weddell were rookies this season.
“We have a lot of depth in the middle, should be solid at setting as we will be at libero,” said Walton.
Losing Domoney at libero was big and Aasman was expected to step in next season, but “she decided to take some time off and thing about her academics.”
But that hole was quickly filled with the addition of Francesca Sandini, who led the ACAC in digs last season with the Olds Broncos.
“It’s unfortunate we lost two of the best liberos in the league, but Francesca wants to take our Justice Services program and so it was a good fit for her and us,” said Walton. “She one of the best diggers in the conference and she’s more vocal than the liberos we normally have and will drive our defence.”
Walton indicated they’d like to add a couple more recruits and that Wandler, who filled in this season, is expected to return as an assistant coach.
“He’s as big a part of Queens volleyball as I am,” said Walton, who can now sit back and enjoy the past season.
“It was a goal of the team from the beginning of last season to win the conference championship,” he said. “It’s extremely difficult to get out of our conference.
‘What happens at the Nationals happens. We played one of our best matches of the season against VIU. It was slug for slug and we were one or two points away from winning. I’m extremely happy with our performance. We had a lot of experience but still grew even more. We developed our game a lot.
“It was a memorable season for this group of athletes.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org