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Hoop Queens have a new look this season

Hoop Queens have a new look this season

During the 2021-22 season Avery Harrison sat in the stands at the Gary W Harris Canada Games Centre watching the RDP Queens basketball team.

He said at the time he felt he could take that team to the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championship.

When told of that conversation he had to laugh.

“I said that, man that’s cocky, I should talk less and listen more,” he said.

But he proved to be a perfect prognosticator as he stepped in as the Queens head coach last season and led them to their first ACAC crown since 1992.

Last year’s edition of the Queens, which finished fourth in Canada, was a veteran-laden squad with Peighton Melton the only true rookie.

Avery feels this year’s edition of the Queens could be as good, but will have a new look with only five returnees.

However Avery did receive some good news following the season when Heena Sidhu and Janai Hubert both returned.

“Heena’s return was a bonus as her game came a long way last season,” Avery said. “She got away from playing distracted and showed how good she can be by being named an all-star during the playoffs, which was well deserved.”

Janai also came a long way. She had no idea how good she can be, in fact still doesn’t, but she came a long way as well.”

One thing the Queens do have returning is veteran guard Sandra Garcia-Bernal, who was the MVP at the ACAC finals.

“She is among the best players in the country and a real leader,” said Harrison.

The five-foot-five guard from Spain dominated games last season with her quickness and intensity. She set an ACAC record with 121 steals, including twice tying the record of 11 steals in a game.

Guard Sadie Jeffries and Melton round out the veteran group.

Melton proved to be one of the top rebounders in the ACAC, leading the Queens with 7,5 boards per game. She also chipped in with seven points per game.

“Peighton is a quiet leader. She’s not flashy but anticipates where the rebounds are going and gives us what we need inside,” said Harrison.

Sadie came off the bench and provided a spark when needed plus finished with 4.9 points per game while playing 15 minutes a game.

Also back is Jayden Demchuk, who transferred in from Grande Prairie last year, but missed all season with an Achilles injury.

“I think we have a good core group returning although losing Sophie (Melin) and Amy (Szymanek) are two big losses,:” said Harrison.”But that’s part of the college game. Players come in and graduate and move on a others come in.”

Avery has added seven new faces to the roster this season.

The biggest additions came up front with Salome Huaka of Salisbury and Mikayla Fleischfresser of Swift Current, both listed at six-foot-two.

“Jayden will do a good job replacing Amy, bringing her toughness to the court, but we needed more height,” said Harrison. “We need that once we get to the national level, you can only go so far with quickness.”

As well five-foot-11 Adison Lybert of Foothills and Okotoks will add help inside as well as offensive depth.

“She has a lot of potential, has a good shot, is athletic and a good rebounder,” said Harrison.

Lybert and Fleischfresser, who has a broken wrist, weren’t able to make the Queens ID camp last weekend but the other five recruits were on hand.

Five-foot-eight Orianna Patterson of Archbiship O’Neill in Regina is expected to add offence while Zoey Longman of Sylvan Lake will add depth to the point guard position, learning behind Garcia-Bernal.

The final recruit is guard Sarah Creamer of Airdrie’s Bert Church, who could red shirt this season.

Harrison has only one import in Garcia-Bernal, but did leave a spot open.

“I do have some people who recruit in the States, and we left one spot open if they find someone who fits in with us,” he said. “But they have to be in our top five, be a major impact player and fit in with our team chemistry.”

Despite the number of recruits Avery feels this year’s edition of the Queens could start quicker than last year’s squad, who were 3-6 at one point before going undefeated the rest of the way.

“We had to learn how to win,” he said. “We lost a couple games early in the season we would never have lost the second half.”

The Queens showed just how far they came late in the season when they trailed Olds by 14 points with nine minutes remaining in the game. They won by eight.

The Queens held a long team meeting late in the first half while in Lethbridge which seemed to bring them together.

“After that meeting you could see it with the team. Everyone cared for each other, trusted each other and there were some honest friends in that room. When you have those friendships it carries you a long way. Without them it’s not the same.”

Avery believes the veterans will definitely lead the team early in the season and by Christmas “the rookies will become veterans.”

The Queens will need to win the ACAC championship, or at least meet Lakeland in the final if they hope to return to the CCAA championship again as Lakeland is hosting the 2024 finals.

“This league is tough, one of the best in the country,” said Harrison. “Lakeland is adding four players from their previous championship team and St. Mary’s is getting most of their players back and added Makayla Rose, who won the league scoring title last year with Olds, which will make them better inside.”

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