Coaches can recruit for the future all they want, but they never know exactly what they have until those athletes get thrust into action.
Ask the Edmonton Oilers about their success in how well top young talent has translated into success on the ice.
The Red Deer College Queens women’s volleyball team, however, appears to be having more success in their reloading efforts.
After winning the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association championship last season, they lost two of the biggest weapons in the country due to graduation.
But head coach Talbot Walton began preparing for life without Brooke Sutter and Amber Adolf two years ago.
Those efforts yielded several top outside hitting recruits, and already they are starting to pay off, particularly Miranda Dawe, who sits tied for fourth in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference’s South division in kill rate at 3.0 kills per set, and Leah Koot who is close behind with 2.59 per set.
“For Miranda the thought process was to be a developmental player in year one but being able to come in here in year two and being able to make some significant contributions and I think that’s where we’re at,” said Walton. “She’s making those contributions and starting to learn in practice how to deal with the decision making process on the court and she’s starting to grow into the spot more and more with each week.”
Dawe — no relation to the Red Deer’s Dawe family — is a Grande Prairie native. Her hometown college has long boasted one of the better programs in the North division, but there was little question about her desire to join the Queens as the Grande Prairie Regional College Wolves were entering a period of transition, citing Walton as a major reason she wanted to be a Queen.
Last year was an a major learning opportunity for her as the Queens rolled all of the way to a national championship
“It definitely opened my eyes to how good a program Red Deer has, not many teams can’t say they won a national championship and even fewer can walk on to a team in their first year and win a national title,” said Dawe, 19. “It’s super exciting because I know the potential of this team is outstanding and I know if we do work hard and push ourselves that we can reach that again.”
At five-foot-10 she’s young, athletic and physical at the net and brings a lot of attributes to the Queens that can make her a big weapon in the ACAC, including a big arm.
She certainly had two ideal mentors last season that are helping in her transition this year with 57 kills in 19 sets. She has led the Queens in kills in three of her last four matches.
“It’s exciting for me to be up there (among the league leaders), it’s certainly a goal of mine to be up there with the leading scorers and it just motivates me to keep pushing,” said Koot. “It’s exciting to see that (Walton) trusts me that I can help my team leading with national a championship past, and playing against the other starters shows that I am ready to step up my game and play against them and show them what I bring to the table.”
Sitting out most of last year as a situational support player was difficult for Dawe, but she fully understood what she was signing on for when she chose to come to RDC.
That competition — which also includes third year power Kelsey Tymkow and freshman Lauren Marshall — has continued this year, starting in training camp and will only heat up into the second semester.
Walton says he likely will not settle on a consistent starting six until late in December when they have to fine tune their game heading into the ACAC championships.
Koot, 19, has also thrived in this competitive environment. She too has 57 kills on the season, but she has played in three more sets.
“We’ve all grown so much in the past year and we’ve all done a good job at taking on the roles that we needed to from the players that have left,” she said. “I love playing beside them and learning from them and growing together
Walton says five-foot-11 Koot has a solid passing game, defends well and has the ability to play on both sides of the court, but is the perfect compliment to Dawe.
“I’ve been really impressed with Leah so far this season,” said Walton. “She came in and really made that transition from last season as being more of an observer and a learner to being more of a leader. That didn’t take her very long at all.”
Koot found several things attractive about RDC, from its perennial contender status to its size. She grew up in Sundre before transferring to William Aberhart High School in Calgary in Grade 10 — where she also played basketball, badminton and track and field. But volleyball was always her favourite sport and helped lead Aberhart to two city titles while also playing for the University of Calgary Dinos club team, taking them to a national championship in her U15 year.
“RDC was one of my top places to go, I heard so many good things about Talbot from so many different people … him as a coach was a huge incentive to come,” said Koot.
This weekend the Queens (7-1; 22-4) face one of their biggest challenges of the early season with a home-and-home series with Central Alberta rival Olds College. They host the Broncos on Friday at 6 p.m. and then are in Olds at 6 p.m. The men follow on both nights at 8 p.m.
Olds is the lone remaining undefeated team in the South at 8-0 and have dropped just one of 25 sets. They come into the weekend with the No. 4 ranking in the ACAC while the defending provincial and national champs are still ranked No. 1, despite dropping a match to the No. 7 Briercrest Clippers (9-1; 28-8) earlier in the season in Caronport, Sask.
“I think it will be a good test for both teams to see where we’re at,” said Koot. “Because they’ve always been (a rival) we always bring out the best in each other, I’m excited to see all of the hard work both teams have put in since the start of the year.”
• The RDC Queens hockey team (1-4-1) faces off against the NAIT Ooks (5-1-0) this weekend, at the Red Deer Arena tonight at 7 p.m. and in Edmonton on Friday at 7 p.m.
• The RDC Kings men’s hockey team (6-7-0-7) is in Lac La Biche to play the Portage College Voyageurs (1-12-0-1) on Friday at 7 p.m. and then host the Voyageurs on Saturday at the Penhold Regional Multiplex at 7 p.m.
• RDC basketball has a home-and-home with the St. Mary’s University College Lightning, in Calgary on Friday and at RDC on Saturday, the women tip off at 6 p.m. and the men at 8 p.m. both nights.