Winning last year`s CCAA national women`s volleyball championship is something they can never take away from the RDC Queens and head coach Talbot Walton.
The fact Walton has 12 players back from that championship run puts the Queens front and centre when it comes to this year`s ACAC season.
Still he knows it won`t be easy as he lost four starters, including three outside hitters in Brooke Sutter, Amber Adolf and Karrisa Kuhr and middle Shelby Bramall.
Adolf and Sutter were two of the premier power hitters in the country. Both were first-team All-Conference with Sutter an all-star at the nationals and Adolf an All-Canadian and the MVP at the Canadian finals where the Queens downed Grande Prairie 3-0 in the gold medal game.
Sutter could well have been the face the Queens last season, her fourth at RDC.
“There was no doubt there was a lot of extra motivation to do well with it being her final season,” said Walton. “Her first two seasons here there were some rough spots, but during the second year she began to feel more comfortable and in her third season she had it figured out and how to do it at a high level, and not just as a player, but as a person.
“She took care of things and provided a lot of lateral leadership, which only brought the trust level up.”
Walton knew heading into last season he had to recruit at a higher level because they would be losing several players.
“Before the start of last year we expected to lose four or five players and we made an effort to recruit good first-year players so they would have a year of playing and winning and would step in this season, opposed to first-year players stepping in and fighting for a position on the floor.”
What Walton doesn’t need is a setter with starter Bronwyn Hawkes, who was a first-team all-star at the nationals, and Ashley Fehr back.
As well outstanding libero Maddi Quinn returns as does middle blockers Alex Donaghy and Megan Schmidt, both of whom saw extensive action last season.
There is a chance Donaghy may move to the right side, but that’s up in the air.
“We have depth in the middle but no one on the right side,” said Walton. “We had a recruit we expected to get but she decided not to come and so we felt we had the athletes to fill that from within. Alex is an outstanding athlete and Hanna (Delemont) and Rylee (Lang) could also fill in there.”
Both Delemont and Lang are returning. In fact Walton has only four newcomers and two of those – Kelsey Tymkow and Fauve Welsh – have college experience.
Tymkow, an outside hitter, played two years at NAIT and Welsh, a middle, had one year at the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook.
“They’re both highly motivated and have seen enough to see that we’re a quality program and they want to be in a position to have success. The nice thing is they understand the ACAC and know how to train.”
Olivia Barnes of Sylvan Lake and Lauren Marshall of Calgary are both just out of high school.
Barnes, who Walton feels could start for most teams in the league, will back up Quinn while Marshall has been impressive working on the left side.
“Both first year players are very skilled,” said Walton. “Olivia would start if she wasn’t behind one of the best liberos in the country while Lauren is a ball control power hitter. She has a bit more size than Brooke, but not as big as Amber, but is very physical and competitive.”
Although Walton lost both power hitters he has the talent to fill in led by Miranda Dawe and Leah Koot.
“Both did a good job at the end of last season,” said Walton. “They understood their roles and took advantage of their playing time. They learned a lot about playing at an ACAC level by facing some of the top athletes in the country at practice.”
Other veterans are outside hitters Marisa Neufeld and Kendra Sorensen and defensive specialist Kelsey Ewashkiw.
Walton knows winning the nationals does more than just raise another banner.
“It validates what we do and is a teaching tool showing what we do in practice is very effective and can deliver championships. We have the athletes who have been through it and understand what we’re doing. Right now we’re close to where we were last year and ahead of other years.”
The Queens will train with teams at Olds College this weekend then host the annual Wild Rose Classic Oct. 3-5. There’s a chance Japan may come in December.
“We also play a tournament in Edmonton after Christmas so December will be good preparation for the second half of the season.”
Walton has Mandy Carroll, Bramall, Danielle Newton and Sutter on the coaching staff.
“We’re lucky to have Mandy as she understands the game and has a different outlook than I do,” said Walton. “Shelby and Danielle gives us two players to work with the middles and we wanted to keep Brooke involved.”
Sutter is attending SAIT to finish her degree.