Local Sports: Queens hoop coach has plenty to work with

Mandy Botham had more than one thing to think about when she took over as head coach of the RDC Queens basketball squad last May.

Not only was she new to the city and program but was taking over a team that was in a rebuilding stage after finishing last in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference’s South Division in 2018-19. She was also coming in from Grande Prairie where the Wolves were last in the North Division.

“It was all new to me, the city, the situation, their policies and how everything worked at RDC.”

On the positive side she did have a strong nucleus of veterans in Sandra Garcia-Bernal, Heena Sidhu, Amy Syzmanek and Lauren Cardinal. Add to that several of the top players from Grande Prairie in Sophie Melin, Britney Peters and Derian Geddes decided to follow her to RDC.

Then again that created another worry for Botham … how would the two groups mesh.

“I did have to worry about merging the two groups and how they would come together,” she added.

“But they bonded quickly, which was really important.

“It wasn’t until the last week of August that we got together and fortunately as a group they got along from the outset. They were willing to work together yet still willing to speak up and hold each other accountable, which you need to get better.

“We had a very good mix of high character athletes.”

Both groups were coming off disappointing seasons and showed right away they were willing to be pushed and work together to improve.

“I think they were all excited in that they had someone to push them to be better as individuals and as a team. I think they were all frustrated about losing and wanted to get better.”

The Queens finished the season with a 10-11 record, but won six of their final 10 games, which included a pair of close losses to St. Mary’s University, which finished third in the ACAC playoffs.

The RDC squad was unfortunate to face Briercrest three times in the first half of the season when BBC was one of the top two teams in the South and RDC was still learning to come together.

The second half BBC lost some of their talent and head coach and had problems beating anyone. Unfortunately the Queens never played them.

“We can’t do much about that … it’s part of the game,” said Botham, who was more than excited about the future.

“As a first-year head coach and with a new group I’m happy with the progress we made and excited about the future.”

One aspect of the Queens season that caught everyone’s attention was their willingness to fight to the end, no matter the score or the opponent.

”We had a younger team than a lot of teams in the league but I was proud to see how they fought to the very end no matter who they were playing. They refused to quit.”

An exciting prospect is that all the players are eligible to return.

“We’ll have our talks at the end of March and we’ll know more by then who will be back for sure, but it’s exciting. I’m sure we’ll have a great core of athletes.”

Mandy already knows they will add another player from Sweden to join Melin.

“She’s a two (shooting) guard. She’s left-handed and a very good three-point shooter.”

Botham will also be looking to add top-notch local talent such as Hunting Hills star Marissa Richards. Marissa’s sister, Keanna, was a rookie with the Queens this season.

“We hope to get Marissa, I know Keanna was a asset to the team … a great worker who came a long way,” said Botham, who has received a number of inquiries from across Western Canada about the RDC program.

“It’s been really noticeable in the number of athletes reaching out. I’ve received a number of emails and calls and they all say they like the way we play, the way the team plays and the progress we’ve made and want to come to Red Deer.”

The one area Mandy would love to strengthen is up front.

“We need some forwards … some height … some athletic, long forwards who can play our style, get some rebounds and go up against taller players.”

Mandy, who works at the YMCA, won’t hold an ID camp, but will practice during the summer and invite players in to tryout and scrimmage.

“I really believe in kids coming in and getting a chance to play for a year or two, or longer, and improve, rather than going to a U Sport team, for example, and sitting on the end of the bench. I think kids love to compete and we want to give them that opportunity.”

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

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