Chris Wandler isn’t like a lot of coaches when it comes to working as an interim coach.
Wandler and Red Deer Polytechnic Queens volleyball head coach Talbot Walton have worked together for close to 20 years and Wandler directed the Queens previously when Walton was away for health reasons.
So when it was announced this season that Talbot would once again have to step away for an operation no one blinked when Chris took over.
“Talbot and I have worked together a better part of 20 years and it’s a pretty seamless transition,” said Wandler prior to practice this week.
“Communication between us is good and we talk several times a week on how to move forward and what each athlete needs. The important thing is for him to take care of his health.”
Chris indicated he couldn’t work with a better person, or coach, than Talbot and “enjoys working at RDP and with the players.
“I’ve recruited a few and coached several of them, so that makes for an easy transition.”
What Chris does have is an impressive roster of 18 players heading into the 2021-22 Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference season, including nine veterans from two years ago when the Queens placed second in the ACAC and third at the nationals.
The list of returnees is impressive indeed led by setter Emma Letkeman, who was the rookie of the year in the South Division in 2019-20.
She finished with 570 assists, second in the South, and with 8.64 assists per set, second in the ACAC.
“Emma has sweet hands, is an excellent athlete and does a good job running the offence.”
She will be backed up by rookie Danielle Wiens of Swift Current, who joined RDP last season.
“From all indications, she’ll definitely help the team and push Emma,” added Wandler.
Outstanding libero Kaylee Domoney returns and will once again be backed up by Edyn Aasman.
Letkeman will be all smiles when thinking of who she will be setting this season as the outside hitters are as talented and deep as any in the conference.
Tess Pearman and Jaiden Ferguson, who was outstanding at the nationals, return on the left side along with Vanessa Loos. They will battle former SAIT Trojans standout Jaydn Leong of Calgary for playing time.
Leong is in her fourth season and led SAIT with an ACAC best 317 kills two years ago. She also had 39 aces, third-best in the South, and 198 digs and eight blocks.
“Jaydn had 90 per cent of SAIT’s volume and won’t be asked to do as much this season and could be more effective. She’s a well-rounded athlete, smart and pushes the compete level.”
Chris has four veterans to fill two spots but isn’t worried.
“Two years we rotated three players and it kept them fresh and pushed everyone,” he said. “This year we’re even deeper and I think that’s an advantage we have over a lot of teams in our league.”
The Queens lost star right side Emma Holmes, but added fifth-year Annalise Carlson of Sylvan Lake, who spent the past four seasons with the Mount Royal University Cougars.
“Anna is the front-runner for that spot,” said Wandler. “She didn’t start at Mount Royal, but played and competed for a good Mount Royal team. Plus we have several others who can play there. We have all kinds of depth.”
The middle will also be strong with Sydney Rix and McKenna Olson back for their third and fifth seasons respectively and Kira Weddell her second.
“We have a lot of potential in the middle,” said Wandler looking at several new faces in Jailyn Stouffer of Red Deer, Autumn Roos of Ponoka and Abbigail Lowe of Olds.
“I’m looking forward to working with all those girls,” added Wandler.
The remainder of the roster includes outside hitters Morgan Boisvert of Vernon, B.C., Randi Gill of Drumheller and Avery Tonnes of Regina.
The 18 players are the most Wandler has ever worked with.
“Over the past four or five years we’ve had bigger squads what with injuries and a few unforeseen things like academic problems, you need the extra bodies,” he said.
“Talbot and I talked right after the nationals two years ago about having a bigger squad to make sure we kept the program sustainable and competitive. If players did get sick we want to have the depth to stay at a level we need to to be competitive.
“The number of players we have will be a challenge to evaluate first-year players and to see where they fit in properly and make sure they progress. We don’t want to sacrifice development and experience.”
The Queens open exhibition play Oct. 2 at NAIT.
They don’t play at home until Oct. 30 against Ambrose and host Augustana Nov. 5. Their first league action is Nov. 12 at Lethbridge with the teams returning to RDP Nov. 14.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at email@example.com