It took some time for Kira Weddell to finally step into the starting middle blocker role with the RDP Queens volleyball squad.
But the 21-year-old had the fortitude to stick with it through Covid and a major knee injury.
This season she’s grabbed a starting spot midway through the year and never looked back.
“It was a unique journey for sure,” she said. “The first year I learned the ropes, my second was lost because of Covid and my third I suffered the knee injury which took me out most of the year. So I’m happy my time has finally come and I got to play.”
Queens head coach Talbot Walton indicated Kira would have received more playing time last season without the injury.
“She was starting to get that playing time when she suffered the knee injury in a match against Augustana,” he said. “That set her back but this year has been a bit of a turning point for her, especially the offensive piece, which was something we were looking for from our middles.
“Her skill set improved a lot. We look at all our middles not only what they can do in the front row but their back row skill set is really important.
“Kira does a great job setting the ball when needed … she’s trust worthy with her hands and makes good contact.”
Kira is one of a group of veteran middle blockers, although they didn’t see a lot of playing time last season.
“We have a strong group of middles, no first-year players, and the competition in practice is really tight,” she said. “We all have different advantages and strengths and I think that helps us all become stronger.”
She feels her offensive step, when she’s called upon to come around the setter and hit from the right side, is a strength.
“Especially when the right side is in the back row my step is effective and gives me an edge,” she said.
She has also recovered from the knee injury and her quickness is obvious.
“Mentally it took a while to trust my leg … it was a long recovery, but I’m back now and a lot stronger and happy with that.
“My quickness and strength has come back for sure.”
Getting more playing time has helped her read the play.
“Reading the play comes with experience,” she said. “In practice, you get good at reading your own team, but that’s different once you get up against other setters and hitters.
“The more I got to play I was able to come into games not thinking about it … it just came natural which is nice.”
Still, she feels she needs to work on her blocking.
“That’s the one area I work a lot on,” she said. “I’m a little shorter and have shorter arms than a lot of the middles so that’s where I need to be able to read the play and get into position quicker.”
Despite often giving way to the libero when she’s in the back row, Kira doesn’t give anything away on defence and is a strong server.
“Serving is definitely one of my favourite parts of the game, I really enjoy it.”
Kira was one of three players to come out of the powerhouse Lindsay Thurber Raiders program in 2019, along with Jaiden Ferguson and Edyn Aasman.
Ferguson will be the only one left next season as Aasman moved on after last year and Kira graduates this year.
“Thurber is a great feeder school for us,” she said. “There were three of us who came out that year after winning two provincial championships and next year there’s three more coming in after once again winning two championships.”
Ferguson has been battling a back injury late in the season but is expected to be ready for the provincials, which the Queens host Feb. 23-25.
The Queens hosted the finals last year and won their 20th ACAC gold medal, advancing to the Nationals, where they finished third.
Kira couldn’t be happier to host again.
“It’s a long three days with tough competition and being at home helps,” she said. “It’ll be fun playing at home for my final tournament.”
Kira is in General Biology and is two credits short of getting a wildlife biology degree and is working on a number of research projects through RDP. The senior project is surveying moose and deer populations with a drone. She’s hoping to receive the final two credits by working in Costa Rica.
“I’m in the interview process and hopefully it works out. If not I’ll be in the workforce next year,” she said.
“But it’s been a great four years, despite the ups and downs. At first, I didn’t think I’d be able to graduate here, then came Covid and things changed and I was able to graduate and finish playing here, which is awesome.”
The Queens go into the provincials ranked second in the South, back of Ambrose. They’ll face the fourth-place team out of the North, which as of now is Keyano, although they have a play-in game against NAIT this weekend.
The Queens play at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Despite losing the majority of their starting lineup after last season the Queens were able to overcome some ups and downs to place second.
“We’re happy with the way we came together,” Kira said. “We had a lot of learning opportunities this year and we capitalized on them and that has to help in the playoffs.”
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