The RDP Queens basketball team has been going in the right direction over the last few seasons, but now they need to take that next step — learning how to win.
“That is the next step and they will,” said Queens new head coach Avery Harrison, who knows what that’s all about coming in with three National championships under his belt.
“I’m excited about how hard they work and the culture in the locker room has been awesome.
“I’ve told them they’ve learned to loose over the years but we’ll change that.”
The Queens have a veteran lineup with six fourth-year players and five in their second season.
Peighton Melton, a five-foot-10 forward out of Lacombe, is the only rookie on the roster.
Although she’s far from a rookie, the most impressive player in camp is point guard Sandra Garcia-Bernal of Spain.
Sandra returns after missing last season and although she’s listed at five-foot-six she averaged over nine rebounds per game.
“She’s tough and has been great to work with,” said Harrison. “She’s one of our leaders, which we need her to be as a point guard.
“The coaches mentioned to her earlier she needs to be more of a vocal leader and she indicated she likes to lead by example. But as a point guard, she has to be more vocal and communicate on the court and she’s done just that and I’m excited about what I see.”
Mallory Uskiw, who also played two years ago. returns and the five-foot-10 forward gives the Queens added size inside and is a solid defender.
The only other newcomer is five-foot-nine forward Jayden Demchuk, who played three seasons with the Grande Prairie Wolves. Demchuk led the Wolves with 11.3 points per game and 8.9 rebounds per start last season.
The Queens played an exhibition contest at The Kings University in Edmonton on Saturday, losing 74-73 and Demchuk stood out.
“She played well and fit in nicely,” added Harrison. who has two solid returners as captains — Amy Szymanek and Sophie Melin.
Amy was eighth in league scoring last season with 15.1 points per game and ninth in rebounds at 9.4. Melin is one of three imports on the roster, joining Garcia-Bernal and Lauren France of the United Kingdom.
Sophie averaged 12.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game last season. She led the team with 3,3 assists per game, which tied her for ninth in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference South Division.
France started a bit slow as a rookie last season but impressed in the second half and finished with 10.3 points per game and proved to be one of the team’s leading three-point shooters.
Fourth-year guard Heena Sidhu averaged 3.1 assists per start and has been one of the Queens leaders distributing the ball over the last three seasons.
Keanna Richards, who was asked to play point guard more than expected last season replacing Garcia-Bernal, is also back.
“She has impressed me for sure and has really come on,” said Harrison.
One thing that has hurt the Queens at times over the years is turnovers, something Harrison has worked hard on eliminating.
“We started training camp a couple of weeks ago and worked nine hours on ball handling,” he said. “That will really help us as we do a better job of preventing key turnovers. To have success it’s important to take care of the ball and create turnovers.
Guard Sadie Jeffries of Sylvan Lake has also impressed and joins Emily Anderson and Janai Hubert in her second season.
The Queens hosted TKU Eagles Wednesday, winning 78-45. They held the Eagles to just two points in the fourth quarter and Richards led the way with 17 points. It was one of nine exhibition games on their schedule, including three in their tournament, Oct. 6-8.
“You need nine or 10 exhibition games to be ready for league play,” said Harrison, who has one goal this season — “to make the playoffs.”
The addition of Harrison not only gives the Queens a veteran presence on the bench but stability after last season that saw a coaching change in the middle of the year.
“Mandy Botham started the season but left at Christmas with Ed Majors taking over. He did an excellent job as the Queens took one of the wild card berths in the playoffs before losing to Medicine Hat.
“Not only that but the girls went through the Covid years so they’ve had a few tough seasons,” said Harrison. “But I”m excited about where we’re at.”
He also stressed he couldn’t be happier than to have former Queen Nadine Cunningham and Sheldon Frank assistant coaches.
‘We’re all on the same page,” he concluded.
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