You could tell by the look on her face that RDC Queens basketball star Sandra Garcia-Bernal is excited for the upcoming season.
“It’s a lot different than last year … there’s a lot of energy with everyone willing to work hard. I think we needed a change for sure.”
The Queens do have a new look this season with Mandy Botham coming in from Grande Prairie as head coach, replacing Ken King.
“There’s a good attitude … she’s different for sure,” added Garcia-Bernal. “We run more, work harder and you can see already everyone keeps trying even if not successful.”
Both the RDC Queens (3-18) and Grande Prairie Wolves (1-23) struggled last season, but there is a reason for optimism this year.
The Queens have seven veterans on hand, led by Garcia-Bernal and sophomore guard Harneet Sidhu, plus four players decided to follow Botham to RDC from Grande Prairie.
“The four from Grande Prairie already have good chemistry and are all good players,” said Sandra.
“Right now we kind of have two teams but we’re getting closer quickly, which is good.”
The four moving from Grande Prairie include the Wolves top three scorers, led by Swedish native Sophie Melin, who put together an impressive rookie season in the ACAC.
She averaged 11.6 points per game, seventh in the North, pulled down 150 rebounds, which was sixth, added 70 assists, which tied her for second, and had 37 steals, which was tied for sixth.
She wasn’t an all-star but Botham felt “she could have been. She played a ton or minutes and played a huge role on our team.”
Botham indicated she’ll use Melin as a small forward.
“She can play both forward and guard … has a good shot from the outside and drives when available.”
Others coming down are guard Lilee Burke-Stasiuk (9.9 ppg), forward Britney Peters (9.6 ppg) and guard-forward Derian Geddes.
“When I heard the four athletes decided to transfer I was excited,” said Botham. “They’re good people and good athletes, who will fit in nicely.”
Sidhu returns as the Queens leading scorer, averaging 12 points per game last season while Garcia-Bernal was one of the top point guards in the South last year, averaging 8.4 ppg while pulling down 190 rebounds (3rd in the South), with 59 assists (tied for 11th) and 58 steals (third).
Guard Emaly Cook, guard-forward Amy Szymanek, and forwards Mallory Uskiw, Lauren Cardinal and Mikayla Kuilboer also return.
Botham added three solid recruits in guards Celine Quigley of Fort St. John, B.C., Val Rincon of Calgary and Keanna Richards, who was the Hunting Hills female athlete of the year last season.
Quigley was slated to attend Okanagan University but decided to switch while Rincon spent part of last season with Waterloo University.
“Celine is a great addition … I was excited when I heard she decided to come here,” said Botham. “Val didn’t get to play much last year and decided to come home which is good for us.”
Botham likes what she’s seen so far in camp.
“There’s a good atmosphere. You noticed right from the first day the mindset the girls brought to practice. They’re competing and seem to have a chip on their shoulders in a good way … they want to be better this season … more competitive.”
A positive mindset going into the season is something Botham has been stressing.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions on our mindset and how to approach things and expectations of the individual and team. Put last year in the past as all of us are starting fresh with new expectations and new team standards. We have a different attitude towards winning going forward.”
The Queens don’t have a lot of height, but hope to make up for it with quickness and tenacity.
“We were hoping to add a few more bigger bodies, but we’re fast and athletic from top to bottom. We’ll look to play with pace and tenacity on defence. Be hard to play against defensively and on the boards.”
Scoring was one of the problems with the Queens last season, but the new additions will help.
“I feel we have depth, more so than last year,” said Botham. “That’s one area we had the players work on during the summer.”
The Queens do have room for one more import.
“We’re talked to a couple of girls and right now I’m looking at bringing in a girl from Sweden next year,” said Botham. “I feel it’s important to have the international players to compliment the athletes you already have, help push us to the next level.”
The Queens open exhibition play Sept. 27 against The Kings University at 8 p.m. at RDC’s Main Gym.
“I booked seven exhibition games so we have time to work on our chemistry and lineup,” said Botham.
The Queens will play in the SAIT tournament Oct. 3-5 and host the Thanksgiving Classic Oct. 10-12. They open their season against defending national champion Olds College Oct. 19 at RDC.
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