Rode

Rode: RDP Queens runner Justine Larson shows off skills on the track and court

Justine Larson doesn’t mind a little extra work.

The Strathmore native is one of the bright young stars on the RDP cross-country running and indoor track teams, but decided to join the Queens basketball team the second half of the season.

“It was definitely busy, but a lot of fun … it was good,” she said.

Justine came to Red Deer to run cross-country, but basketball wasn’t far from her mind. It was a sport she had played since Grade 7 and decided at Christmas to talk with new head coach Ed Major about joining the team.

“I played basketball my whole life and I considered talking with the previous coach (Mandy Botham) but they had some stuff going on. When I heard Ed was going to coach for sure I reached out to him and he was willing to have me join the team.”

She didn’t know what to expect as she didn’t know any of the players, or the system.

“I really didn’t know what I was getting into as I hadn’t played with any of the girls before … I didn’t know how I would be accepted but they made it great. It was a very welcoming atmosphere a good experience,” said the five-foot-four guard.

Justine played slightly over five minutes a game, averaging slightly over a point a game.

“I wasn’t expecting to play a lot as I hadn’t played since high school and just coming in for the second semester, I wasn’t disappointed in my playing time.”

Having played point guard most of her life Larson will be given every chance to make an impact next season.

“Hopefully I can make an impact going forward,” she said.

What she does do is see the floor well, something Major noticed right away.

“At my end of the year meeting with Ed, he said that was one of my better attributes.”

On the track side, one of her strengths is an outstanding finishing kick.

It was that kick that helped her finish second in the 1,500-metres and third in the 3,000m at the ACAC indoor track championships.

She also placed fifth in the 1,000m and helped the RDP team of Halle Reid, Lauren Pasiuk and Kammy Park win both the 4x200m and 4x400m relay titles. The team set an ACAC record in the 4x200m event.

Justin finished the season being named the ACAC women’s Rookie of the Year. Kings Ethan Duret was the male Rookie of the Year.

“She’s clearly very talented as she demonstrated in the track season,” said RDP running head coach Kari Elliott, who was named the ACAC indoor track Coach of the Year.

“She has a lot of upper-end speed … give her a couple of years and she’ll do great things in cross-country as well.

“You can’t train speed backwards … just having a finishing kick devastates everyone.

“Plus she ran smart races. She’d put herself in a good position and pulled out towards the end. Speed is her secret weapon and she used it well.

“I’m super excited for her and as a rookie she was incredible.”

Justine said her high school cross-country coach talked t0 her about her finishing kick.

“He just told me to use it to the best of my ability.”

She ran mainly cross-country in high school, finishing 19th in the ASAA finals in Grade 11.

“I really wasn’t into track, but this year I really enjoyed it,” she said. “It’s different and I liked the intensity and it was a great environment.”

Justine didn’t know much about the RDP program but filled out an application form for the cross-country team.

“Kari reached out to me and we met and it worked out .”

She made an impression as a cross-country rookie in the ACAC, finishing ninth overall and first among the RDP runners. She went on to place a respectable 31st at the CCAA Championships with a season-best time of 25 minutes 43 seconds in the six-kilometre race.

“As a rookie, I didn’t know what to expect as it was the first time I ran at such a high level, but I was really happy with my year,” she said. “Finishing in the top 10 was great, next year I hope to move up to the top seven.”

Justine also placed second, seventh and ninth in three cross-country ACAC events leading to the finals.

Being a strong cross-country runner allowed her to fit in nicely with the indoor team.

“We had a short women’s team this year so everyone had to run a number of events, but she’s strong from 400m up and down the road I see her fulling the longer distance spot,” said Elliott. “But she was also a strong part of our relay teams. She’s strong over distance but versatile which makes her an extremely valuable part of the team.”

Justine says she enjoys running longer distances.

“I do, but I did really well in the sprints considering I’m a long-distance runner,” she said with a laugh.

She added that her mindset wasn’t much different between cross-country and indoor track.

“There is a bit of a different atmosphere, but it’s hard to say exactly what it is. The biggest difference is that in the indoor track everyone can use their strengths. Halle, for example, is a sprinter and she can use that to the best of her abilities.”

One thing for sure Justine is looking forward to next year.

“Three of us were rookies this year and we’ll all be back and hopefully Jenica (Swartz), who was injured, will be back along with some recruits.”

Justine is taking a Bachelor of Education and has applied to get into the Elementary program next year, which means she’ll be around until graduating.

The RDP indoor team was one of the premier teams in the ACAC, winning the men’s overall title with the women second.

“We were hoping the men would win and the same for the ladies but their side was basically all rookies,” said Elliott. “The men have two guys graduating so they had a bit more experience. It was a great season for them as it was the first time in our history we won an indoor championship, so it was a big deal.”

Kari believes the Gary W Harris Canada Game Centre plays a major role in the team’s success.

“We have a great facility, not just for training but recruitment. No one else has this type of training facility. It certainly raises the appeal of our program.”

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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