To play the libero position in volleyball is to play in the shadows, both figuratively and literally.
They are the stay-at-home defencemen of the sport, generally only noticed when something goes wrong, but are nonetheless essential to their team’s success.
But Red Deer College Queen Maddi Quinn, 21, is emerging from the back row position as perhaps the program’s biggest star.
The third year veteran has provided a calming effect and covered up many of the misgivings that come from an inexperienced group in transition and is a big reason the Queens (15-1; 46-7) are still the No. 1 team in the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association rankings.
“It’s been fun because I’m a older I have to now be more of a role as a leader and take charge instead of following the other leaders,” she said.
Heading into this weekend’s series with the Ambrose University College Lions (1-15; 7-46), Quinn is second in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Association in digs per set at 4.5. This past weekend alone she had 49 digs in seven sets in their 3-0 (25-19, 25-14, 25-12) and 3-1 (25-22, 26-28, 25-13, 25-18) wins over the Olds College Broncos en route to being named Boston Pizza RDC Athlete of the week.
It isn’t the sexiest of volleyball stats or even a true measure of what a libero does, especially one like Quinn who brings a level of athleticism not often seen at the position. The five-foot-seven defender has the innate ability to get to balls that other liberos just can’t. Then her passing to setter Bronwyn Hawkes has been spot on for most of the year.
But this is not by fluke.
She put in the work this off-season to get better, strengthening her legs and her arms in an effort not be pushed off the ball by strong attacks.
“It’s really helped out with her passing,” said Queens head coach Talbot Walton. “Sometimes an athlete needs that strong base of support that can push a ball up to the front court, and I think she maybe didn’t always have that in her previous two years, now she seems to have gotten that concept of elite training and it’s really helped her out.”
She has started for most of her three years at the school, but she has emerged as arguably the top libero in the province this season. In a year where they are replacing two of the top powers in the country — Brooke Sutter and Amber Adolf — they have struggled at times to replace that offence, putting more pressure on the defensive players and the passing game.
“She really has a good eye for reading the play and knowing where the ball is going to end up,” said Walton. “Maddi is fairly tall in comparison to other liberos and is really long, she’s got long arms and is able to really cover the floor well. That physicality from her and that ability to read really allows her to go and dig anything she wants.”
Quinn learned much from last year’s national championship, lessons she has applied to this year and has incorporated into her leadership.
“I remember in our quarter-finals last year, I had to pass the ball at 14-13 for (Capilano University) and it was the scariest thing in my life,” she said. “So I learned how to deal with pressure more and what we need to do for this year.”
Quinn is a product of Red Deer’s Notre Dame High School and is following in her older sister Mackenzie Quinn’s footsteps at RDC. Mackenzie was a two-year starter at power for the Queens and before moving on to Mount Royal University for two seasons.
Maddi plans to make the same jump next season to the Canada West Universities Athletic Association program where she will continue working on her degree in psychology. The Cougars are a former ACAC power and are in their second season at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level. Quinn should get the opportunity to make an impact early
“They did real good in their first year (in Canada West), but now they have a lot of rookies on their team, so I think they wanted me to bring in a lot of experience and leadership,” said Quinn.
It all puts a little more focus on the goal of repeating last year’s success this year for Quinn, but she likes how the team is rounding into form in the second half of the campaign.
“I think we’re improving a lot,” she said. “We have real big hitters at the front and so I think once we get our passing and our set down we’ll be hard to beat.”
Standing in their way this weekend is a classic trap game against Ambrose. The Lions have won just one match this season and only seven sets and the Queens will follow this match up with a bye week. Walton is doing his best to ensure they do not take them too lightly, especially with the return of their star right-side hitter Ashtyn McKenzie to complement the duo of Jordan Denham and Brooklyn Dyck.
“Their record’s not as good as I think they can be,” said Walton. “I think they’re a bit of a sleeper team and they have enough experience on the left side and right side to give them an opportunity to build a lot of momentum.”
They play on Friday at Red Deer College at 6 p.m. with the men to follow and then in Calgary om Saturday at the same time.
• The RDC Queens (5-5-4) hockey team hosts the SAIT Trojans (7-6-1) tonight at 7 p.m. at the Red Deer Arena and then plays the rematch on Friday in Calgary at 7 p.m. If the Queens win both games or take three of four points in the two games, they will jump over the Trojans into second place in the ACAC.
• The RDC Kings (9-10-0-1) men’s hockey team has their work cut out for them this weekend, playing the second place NAIT Ooks (16-3-0-1). They are in Edmonton on Friday at 7 p.m. and then host the Ooks on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Penhold Multiplex.