RDC Queens Emma Holmes and Ali Greenshields, both of Red Deer combine for a block in Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference play earlier this season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

RDC Queens remarkable turnaround pushes them into ACAC Championships

With a 1-5 record to start the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference season, things were not so rosy for the RDC Queens volleyball team.

They are a young team after losing almost their entire starting six from last season. Only a few third years remained, mixed in with a bunch of first-year hitters and a rookie setter.

From Nov. 2 onward, it was like a light bulb went off for the group. They lost just three matches in their final 18, winning all four in February to close out the season.

“We were 6-6 at Christmas time. In September when we recruited this young team we knew it was going to be a lot of work. Trying to gain some experience. I thought after the rough start, we had to teach these kids a little bit faster than we wanted to,” said Queens head coach Chris Wandler.

“We weren’t getting the results. They took that to heart and we got through some tough times. We really took the learning to a whole new level and turned that into some results by Christmas. They felt pretty confident in the direction they were going.”

That push landed them second in the ACAC South and earned a berth in the ACAC Championships Feb. 21-23 in Calgary. The regular season for the rest of the conference finishes this weekend, but the matchup for the Queens is already set, as they will square off against the University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings on Feb. 21.

“We’re a group of 16. We don’t have the outstanding, six-one power hitter that can win a game single handily,” Wandler said.

“We have to do it as a collective. We’re playing team offence and team defence very well. It’s growing week-by-week, nothing but good things are going to happen here.”

Through that collective, RDC is now ranked 12th in Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association volleyball and a variety of factors pushed them to that point.

Their rookie setter, Natalie Bloemen, is one of the only first-year players at her position in the ACAC. She is third among setters with 8.31 assists-per-set. Wandler said her development has been fun to watch.

“She’s had to take all the responsibility of the offence on her shoulders with Kelly (Heinemann) being out from the start, it’s been a lot,” Wandler said.

“She’s handled it like a trooper and she’s grown so much over the last nine weeks. It’s crazy.”

Her connection with Emma Holmes, a first-year opposite side hitter from Red Deer has been another major factor for the Queens. Holmes leads the Queens with 2.38 kills-per-set and is 13th across the ACAC. At various points in the year, each of Katrina Dawe, Erin Neufeldt, Jade Van Dyke and Britt Davis have helped carry the load.

Libero Kaylee Domoney has also been a linchpin for it all. The third-year libero leads the ACAC with 387 digs, 74 more than the next player. Along with her leadership, she has been another reason why the Queens sit where they do.

“Her stats are incredible. Her passing is probably even better than her defence. It helps us out so much,” Wandler said.

“We didn’t know how much we were going to rely on her. I knew I was going to get out of her, but she just gave more. We needed her and she was willing to give. Especially in the leadership piece, she has grown so much.”

Wandler added that the Queens have essentially been playing playoff volleyball since December, so he knows they’ll be ready to go when the championships get underway later this month.

“It’s do-or-die. We have to be able to perform at a high level,” he said.

“You have to be able to forget things pretty easily and not let things dwell. Know that if you do all the little things beforehand, you should have some good results ahead of you.”

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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