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Rode: Queens basketball roster coming together for 2024-25

Mia Cunningham has a reason to be smiling. The Lacombe native is working out full time after missing last season with the RDP Queens basketball team following ACL surgery to her right knee.
Danny Rode is a former Red Deer Advocate sports reporter.

Mia Cunningham has a reason to be smiling. 

The Lacombe native is working out full time after missing last season with the RDP Queens basketball team following ACL surgery to her right knee. 

“It’s definitely been a while… I’m super excited to get back into everything,” said Cunningham, who was with the Queens all of last season but wasn’t cleared to return full-time “until a couple of months ago. 

“It was a slow process,” she said. “I worked in a couple new drills each month (last season) but I didn’t want to push it.” 

The five-foot-eight guard, who was a standout with the Lacombe Rams, comes from a basketball family with both her mother Nadine (nee Traptow) and father Murray playing post-season basketball and have been coaching the past several years. In fact Nadine is an assistant coach with the Queens under head coach Avery Harrison. 

As well Mia’s brother — Andrew — played a season with the Kings before transferring to the University of Alberta for his education. 

“I was surrounded by basketball … there always seemed to be a game on at home, so I watched a lot of basketball,” said Mia, who admitted having parents as coaches was good and bad. 

“A little bit of both,” she said. 

“I had my siblings and parents pushing me to be better. I had other coaches as well but I have no complaints. 

“At times, it seemed a bit hard to separate family from the game.” 

But she indicated she loved her time in high school, under her parents’ tutelage. and learned a lot, especially on the defensive side. 

“They definitely pushed defence and I think that’s the best part of my game,” she added. “From good defence comes good offence … and you win with good defence.” 

Mia played point guard in high school but expects to play a shooting guard or small forward with the Queens. 

“It should be fun, I’m excited. I think I was a good scorer in high school, but the defence is definitely tougher here. 

“This is a step up.” 

Getting to watch guards Sandra Garcia-Bernal, who was the premier defensive guard in the country, and Heena Sadhu who was a solid two-way player, helped prepare Cunningham for this season. 

“Just watching them, and how they played… I learned a lot from all the graduating players,” she said. “That gives me a little advantage from the rookies who are just out of high school. But I will also be working my butt off this summer.” 

Despite not playing last year, Mia is one of the four returnees with the Queens. 

“We also will have a couple transfers which is good, it adds extra experience, because really out of the four returnees three of us are in our second year.” 

Jayden Demchuk is the most experienced, returning for her fourth year and second with the Queens after playing two years in Grande Prairie. 

Also back are guard Zoey Longman and six-foot-one Salome Nuako. 

The Queens lost Garcia-Bernal, who could well have been the player of the year in the country last season, Sidhu, Sadie Jeffries, Janai Hubert, Tricia Madourie, Orianna Patterson, Lauren France and Peighton Melton. 

Melton was a surprise as was Patterson. 

“A couple could have returned, but that’s the way it is at times,” said Harrison. “In fact it’s tough to lose so many at one time, but that’s the nature of the sport at this level. It happens to everybody at one time or another.” 

Harrison did receive a surprise when all-conference six-foot-one forward Rachel Harvey transferred in from Concordia University of Edmonton. 

“Such a bonus … a great addition,” said Harrison, following an ID camp at the Gary W Harris Centre Saturday. “She called me out of the blue a few days ago and said she was transferring and she already had applied (to the school). I was glad I was sitting down for that.” 

Harvey, who is in her fifth season of eligibility, averaged 16.9 points per game last season, 9.2 rebounds, which was fourth in the ACAC, while shooting 51.9 per cent from the field, which was fifth best. 

Harrison also added former All-Conference guard Brandi Thibeaux from Chicago, who played for Harrison with the Olds Broncos in the 2019-20 season. 

She holds the ACAC record for assists with 149 in a season and also led the league in steals that year with 84. 

Losing Garcia-Bernal is a huge hole but Thibeaux will certainly help fill that. 

“She will be an impact player for us,” said Harrison, who will have a pair of local products on the roster in guard Jorgia Hicks from Lindsay Thurber and forward Grace Watson from Hunting Hills. 

“I think Jorgia and Grace will have great careers and Tyla (Hammermaster of Fairview) has the potential to be an all-star (guard). 

The fourth true rookie is forward Avery Stypola out of Edmonton. 

Harrison, who hopes to have between 12 -15 players on the roster this season, is also in contact with at least one other import from the States. 

“We have a couple others who we’re waiting to see what their final decisions are,” he said. “Also, I’m going to California in July, and I’m holding one import spot. We have a couple on the fence, and if they come, they are top-notch players.” 

Harrison had a number of Grade 10 and 11 players at his camp and will hold another prospects camp in August for players going into Grade 11 and 12. 

“There’s several girls who couldn’t come to this camp and will be here in August along with the girls who were here today,” Harrison explained. “It’s a chance for them to see what we’re all about and to see the facility. And for us to make contacts and see them.” 

Harrison feels the fact the Queens won the ACAC two years ago and were a premier team last season, helps in recruiting. 

“Definitely,” he said. “The success of our program helps along with our facility. I think that’s a reason we got Rachel.” 

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