RDP Queens volleyball head coach Talbot Walton knows a thing or two about what it takes to win a national championship.
Walton was at the helm when they won back-to-back CCAA titles in 2014 and ‘15.
So going into this season as host of the Canadian championships he knows what he needs to be competitive and he has to be excited about the possibilities ahead.
“Last year we had a smaller squad as some of the athletes we thought would stick around moved on. It didn’t work out, but this year we have better balance and depth.”
Talbot has a 17-player roster with four first-year players and three transfers along with 10 returnees.
The trio of transfers — outside hitters Emma Holmes and Rachel Perry and setter Emma Letkeman — give the Queens three potential all-stars.
Holmes and Letkeman return from the University of Alberta while Perry, a Grande Prairie native, played with Grant MacEwan University.
“I watched Rachel when she was in Grade 11 in Grande Prairie and tried to recruit her, but she was already committed to Grant MacEwan,” explained Walton. “At the end of last year we crossed paths and she indicated she was looking for a change so we started working on it and it eventually worked out. We couldn’t be happier.”
The six-foot-one Perry has played predominantly on the right side, which would be a perfect fit, but can also play on the left side.
Holmes, who was the rookie of the year and an all-star on the right side during her two seasons with the Queens, played left side with the Pandas.
“We’re not fully decided but she was comfortable on the left side but we’ll keep experimenting during the preseason and see what’s best,” said Walton.
Talbot also has solid returnees on the left side in Jaiden Ferguson and Lauren Junck, both of whom saw considerable action last season. He also has Morgan Boisvert and Sarah Mistol returning and both have looked good in the early going.
Letkeman returns after a year’s absence and gives the Queens three solid setters, joining Danielle Wiens and sophomore Maria Brouwer.
“At times it’s good to have three setters and at times it’s not,” said Walton. “Last year Maria had a concussion which took her out for most of the second half so we were down to one setter which isn’t the best.
“All three are talented and provide different options.”
Talbot indicated he was surprised to see the two Emmas return.
“It’s not often you have someone graduate, look to move on, and then return,” he said. “But they both sent messages they wanted to return and we couldn’t be happier.”
Three veterans return in the middle in all-star Autumn Roos, Abby Lowe and Jailyn Stouffer.
“We made the decision to play Autumn a lot last year and it paid off … she had a strong (all-star) season,” said Walton. “Both Abby and Jailyn didn’t play a lot during the summer, but came back and are playing at a new level.”
Walton also added rookie Raya Roesler of Altario into the middle mix.
“She is a really good athlete, big and strong. She hasn’t played a lot of organized ball, but being in this environment she’s being drug to the next level.
“I’m excited about the next few years for the four as they’re a great group and will be playing at an elite level the next few years.”
All-star libero Francesca Sandini, who also also an all-star at the ACAC finals, returns and was joined by Lindsay Thurber grad Maddy DeZutter.
DeZutter was the starting setter for the 4A high school champion LTCHS Raiders, but is a perfect fit to take over at libero down the road.
“Maddy has the mentality to play libero as she wants to take every loose ball and watching and learning from Frankie will only benefit her.”
As well two other members of the Raiders — outside hitters Marin Walton, Talbot’s daughter, and Nadia McKeage — round out the roster.
“They’re not only talented but come from an outstanding program with great coaching and know how to win,” said Walton.
The Queens and Kings open their exhibition schedule Tuesday in Three Hills against Olds. They host their annual tournament Sept. 30-31 and open their regular season. Oct. 13 at home against Olds.
Walton feels his team is ready.
“Last year was a different situation, being so young, but they learned a lot. Learned about perseverance and about grinding it out. They’re back this year at a higher level. The schedule isn’t as demanding in terms of travel and we’ll be able to ease into it a bit and build toward having a really good February and March.”
Walton did lose long-time assistant coach Chris Wandler, who took over control of the Grant MacEwan Griffins in the U Sport, but has a solid assistant coaching roster with Mandy Carroll, Bronwyn McIntyre, Alex Donaghy and Geoff Trentham.
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