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RODE: Sandini a perfect fit for the RDP Queens volleyball


The RDP Queens have had a history of having all-star calibre liberos.

Their latest — Francesca Sandini — fits right into that mold.

The North Vancouver native was named to the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference South Division all-conference team on Wednesday, for the third year in a row. The last two with the Queens after she played two years with Olds College Broncos. In 2021-22, Francesca shared the position with RDP star Kaylee Domoney, who was also an all-star for three straight years.

Francesca was recruited by Olds in her Grade 11 year while playing U17 club ball.

“They talked to me about coming out and playing right away, which was what I wanted to do,” she explained.

Libero was relatively a new position for her after playing outside hitter for her club and most of her high school career.

“I did play libero my last year of high school, so it wasn’t completely new,” she said. “But it was in Olds where I switched to full-time libero, and it worked out well.”

Francesca has a natural ability to read the play and know where the ball is going.

“I love going for the ball … I get a high off it. I guess I really don’t know how to describe it any other way. I seem to have natural instincts … I’ve always been a reactive player.”

Francesca takes the position seriously. When she does have time to sit on the bench she’s talking with the Queens assistant coaches about what they see.

“They take stats on the other team and they give me tips on what their tendencies are when they’re hitting in certain positions.”

She also watches what her teammates do and how they’re blocking on certain plays.

“It depends on who’s blocking and if the block is closed and how fast the players are or not and how much of the court I have to take.”

Francesca also has some help this season with the addition of Maddy DeZutter, who is backup libero and comes in to serve and play the back row.

“She’s awesome t0 play with,” Sandini said. “There’s not many balls hit the ground when we’re together. It certainly helps when she comes in … takes some pressure off other players and helps me.”

Francesca played two seasons in Olds, plus the Covid year and took Sports Management. But she always wanted to get into Justice Studies, one of the reasons she made the switch to RDP.

“I wanted to get into something I wanted to do plus play for a winning team … a competitive team,” she said.

Justice Studies is a two-year program, but she stretched it to three and has one more year with the Queens.

Her decision to move north to Red Deer proved to be a benefit as she is in her second ACAC championship this weekend and will play in the national championship, March 6-9 at the Gary W Harris Canada Games Centre.

“I’m super stoked … it’s my first time at the Nationals,” she said. “It will exciting to see and play teams we haven’t seen.”

Last year, Francesca was an all-star at the ACAC finals at RDP, something she said helped her prepare for this season.

“It was surprising to be an all-star, I was kind of shocked as there was so many good players there, but it gave me a lot of confidence,” she said.

One aspect of the Queens play that could use a bit of a boost is their on-court enthusiasm.

“We’re kind of a quiet team,” Francesca admitted. “Talbot (Queens head coach Walton) wants me to help in that area and I try, but at times I’m quiet as well.”

She hopes that enthusiasm is there for the Nationals.

“I really believe in this team. I believe if we play as well as we’ve been practising, we can play with anyone. Plus we’re healthy. At times this year, we played some good teams without a full lineup.”

Having all-star Autumn Roos back in the middle is a benefit.

“She blocks so many balls it certainly makes my job easier on the amount of court I have to cover.”

Sandini, Roos, outside hitter Emma Holmes and setter Danielle Wiens were named to the South All-Conference team with middle Raya Roseler receiving the South rookie of the year award.

Following her graduation after next season, Francesca isn’t about to walk away from the sport.

“I want to play professionally somewhere,” she said. “I’ll contact an agent and go from there. I certainly want to keep playing as long as I can.”

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at