The RDC Queens will be powered by plenty of local talent in the upcoming Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference season.
New coach Talbot Walton, who had a long run with the Queens before stepping aside due to health concerns in 2016, has a number of Central Alberta weapons in the mix this year.
Along with fourth-year libero Kaylee Domoney, second-year returners Emma Holmes and Sydney Rix, the Queens added three true freshmen from the two-time, provincial champion Lindsay Thurber Raiders– Edyn Aasman, Kira Weddell and Jaiden Ferguson.
“For me, having the opportunity to recruit athletes locally is massive,” said Walton, who was quick to credit former Queens coach Chris Wandler with developing the program the last three seasons. Wandler now serves as an assistant.
“We have some of those individuals that have grown up playing in the Queens club system or they are aware of who the RDC Queens are, they’ve come and watched and they understand what we’re about. We’re really a natural type of fit. Our culture is really established in them… they want to be here for that reason, they want to be a Queen and I think that’s an invaluable characteristic to have.”
Weddell, a five-foot-11 middle has deep ties to the college and the program. Her dad works at the college and she remembers going to Queens’ games and always wanting to be a part of the program.
Monday night, for team photos she even got to put the Queens’ uniform on for the first time and called it “pretty crazy”.
“It’s been a long road for sure, growing up around the college, my dad works here, playing for the Queens’ club for multiple years and finally being on this team, it’s pretty exciting,” she said.
On top of that, Walton will also have the services of Ponoka’s Tess Pearman, who played at the USports level with the MacEwan University Griffins last year.
“Tess is one of those athletes that is somewhat rare in the ACAC. We always liked Tess, she played in the club system here.” Walton said of the six-foot, outside hitter.
“Bringing her in is massive, not only are we getting a high-end player, but a tremendous person who is going to help the program grow.”
While the local players have pedigree, the Queens also introduced Carrington Berezowski, a five-foot-11 outside hitter who played at the University of Toronto in USports play and El Paso, Texas product Alyson Shuya, a five-foot-seven outsider hitter.
Those two join a heated battle for playing time on the outside, as fourth-year Jade Van Dyke was one of the Queens most consistent players last year. She averaged nearly two kills per set last season and along with Lindsay Thurber grad, Holmes, who had 2.38 kills per-set in her rookie season with the Queens.
Those aren’t the only players jockeying for position, as fourth-year, Erin Neufeldt, in her second with the Queens is back and they brought in outside hitter Vanessa Loos from Grande Prairie.
Middles McKenna Olson, Rix, Brooke Ure and Alex Greenshields are all back in the mix.
Setter Natalie Bloemen is not back with the Queens this season, but they have Kelly Heinemann and freshmen Emma Letkeman. Heinemann is in her third season with RDC, but sat out most of last year with shoulder issues. She was only cleared to play in August.
“It’s still in its infancy on getting the strength back and the feeling of it and gameplay,” Walton said of Heinemann,
Letkeman, the other option, comes to the Queens from a good program at the Pacific Christian School in Victoia, B.C.
“(She) came in from a strong high school club season, played with an elite B.C. team in the summer,” Walton said, adding both are at a similar level and it will be up to them to see who wins the job.
“She’s had a lot of good solid training in the last year. Understands the direction we’re looking to go with our offence.”
Walton and the Queens will hope to build on the late success of the group last season. They finished 16-8 and won six games in a row. They stumbled in the opening round of the ACAC Championships, falling in four sets to the University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings.
This weekend, they’ll get a better sense of the talent they have at the annual fall volleyball invitational. Walton said he’ll split the squad into two teams and see how they fare against some top-level college competition.
The Queens kick off play at 11 a.m. Friday and will also play at 4 and 8 p.m. Friday. Saturday they’ll hit the floor at 1, 4, 6 and 8 p.m.