Autumn Roos is the first to admit she didn’t expect to step in as a starter when she joined the RDP Queens volleyball team last season.
The Ponoka native was coming out of a AA school (St. Augustine) and stepping onto a Queens team loaded with talent.
“It was a big adjustment last year,” she said. “I stepped onto a team with several fifth-year players and really didn’t play much (two sets).”
But the six-foot-one middle blocker didn’t let it bother her. She spent time at practice working on her craft and watching during the games and it paid dividends.
The 19-year-old has grabbed the starting role in the majority of the Queens nine matches this season and is beginning to dominate at the net.
Her final three matches prior to the Christmas break saw Autumn record nine stuff blocks, including a career-high five in the three-set victory over the Lethbridge Kodiaks in the team’s final match.
“Autumn has come a very long way in basically about a year,” said Queens head coach Talbot Walton. “Like most athletes coming in there’s a hesitation period for about the first four months. After Christmas last year she started to show signs of significant improvement and has been on a stead trend upward since.
“She’s beginning to figure out her style of game and how to take advantage of what she can do well.”
Autumn not only has the height to dominate in the middle but has a good vertical and is beginning to read the play well.
“That (reading the play) was something that wasn’t a strength of mine and something I’ve learned over the year with the Queens,” she said.
While she enjoys the offensive side Autumn believes her blocking is a strength.
Walton believes that strength can be used on the offensive side as well.
“She’s definitely a blocking force and is developing all the time,” he said. “Good blockers get that feeling of terminating the ball, not just letting it past you but playing with that toughness. Autumn is starting to evolve into that style where she’s not just getting her hands up to make the ball go around her but using it as an offensive skill (to record points).”
Autumn got into volleyball in Grade 6 and while she also played basketball by the time she was in Grade 11 it was volleyball full time.
“I was also playing club volleyball (Central Rage) and volleyball took up so much of my time I had to make a decision,” she said.
Her time with the Rage, under head coach Tammy Emes, helped her develop so by the time she was in Grade 12 she was receiving a number 0f offers from post-secondary institutions.
“There were a number of schools including one in Newfoundland which I was interested in but felt it was just too far from home,” she said.
She picked RDP and the Education Middle Years program.
“Red Deer had the program I was interested in and I’m happy that my family is close and I live with my aunt here, so it’s comfortable.”
She’s also comfortable with the Queens this season.
“I enjoyed last year but this year we’re a younger team and most everyone is close in age and we feel connected.”
Autumn started this season in a battle for one of the two middle spots.
“I was a little nervous to start for sure as I saw limited playing time last year but after a couple of exhibition games I felt more comfortable and felt I had a good chance (to start),” she said.
The Queens posted a 6-3 record in the first half, with two of those losses coming on a long road trip to Fort McMurray and Lloydminster on back-to-back days.
“That was tough,” she said. “A lot of travel and bus time, but I think we learned something. We learned we have to be mentally ready to play no matter what.”
The Queens showed their strength as they returned home the week following two 3-0 losses to beat Lethbridge twice.
They now return from an extended Christmas break to face Concordia in Edmonton Friday and host the undefeated Kings University Eagles Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Gary w Harris Canada Games Centre.
The following week they meet South leading Ambrose in a home-and-home series.
Autumn will be needed to continue to show her strong net presence as the Queens look to prepare for the ACAC playoffs, which they host.
While Autumn has shown continued development she isn’t about to sit back.
“My next step is to keep working hard and learning in practices and games, something I’ve done over the last year in improving myself and my confidence,” she said.
She will also be around for at least two more years.
Walton hopes it’s three.
“Most athletes will stretch it out to five years. They feel that one more year isn’t much extra and if you ask 90 per cent of them when they do leave they wish they had another year.”
The basketball teams also return to action this weekend as they host Briercrest Friday and Saturday with the women tipping off at 6 p.m. and 1 p.m. respectively.
The hockey Queens face SAIT Friday at 7 p.m. at home and Saturday in Calgary while the hockey Kings visit Camrose Friday and entertain the Vikings Saturday at 7 p.m.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org