RED DEER, Alberta — The game of basketball can take you anywhere.
No matter what language you speak, or where you’re from, players from all over the world speak the same language when it comes to the game of basketball. For the 2018-19 edition of the Red Deer College Queens, basketball is the common ground for a group that features players from all over Canada and the World.
In total, the Queens have players on their roster from four different provinces in Canada: Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Ontario. Then, when you include the country of Canada, there are players from four different countries. The Queens have a student-athlete from Spain, Zimbabwe, and Egypt on their 2018-19 roster.
Each player will have their own story on how the game of basketball brought them to the city of Red Deer, but they will be looking to add a new chapter as a cohesive unit as the new season approaches. The group of 17 women will look to work their way back into the ACAC playoffs after missing out by just two points in 2017-18.
Red Deer was knocking on the door last season in the post-season, but a loss in their final game put them on the outside looking in on the playoff picture. This season, head coach Ken King and his staff hope to guide the team back to the post-season and contend for an ACAC title.
Last season, the Queens came oh so close to a spot in the post-season, falling just two points shy of the Saint Mary’s Lightning for the fourth and final playoff spot in the ACAC South Division. Red Deer College finished the year with a record of 12-9, and they closed the season by going 7-3 over their final 10 games.
In their final two games, the Queens had a home-and-home series with the Lightning. A pair of wins would have sent Red Deer College to the playoffs, but Saint Mary’s needed just one win over the two games to secure their spot in the post-season. The Lightning picked up a 73-61 win in the first game of the series, thus securing their spot in the playoffs.
Saint Mary’s would go on to win the ACAC Championship and advance to the CCAA National Championships.
After picking up a win over the Lightning in the regular season finale on their home floor, the Queens graduated five players from their roster. Add in other departures from the program, and Red Deer College has just four second-year players on their 2018-19 roster. The Queens will have a young team this season, but will be looking to contend for a playoff spot once more.
The Queens didn’t blow teams away on offense last season, as they averaged just over 60 points per game themselves. However, they limited their opponents to just 57.9 points per contest. Red Deer College only had one player average double-digit points per game, but they had eight players average at least 4.3 points.
All four of their top scorers are gone from last season, leaving second-year guard Sandra Garcia-Bernal as the team’s top returnee on offense. The 5’5” guard from Valencia, Espana averaged 6.5 points per game while appearing in 20 games, 16 of which were starts. She is also the team’s top returning rebounder, as she averaged 5.2 rebounds per contest as a first-year player in 2017-18.
Garcia-Bernal was one of five players to average 2.5 assists per game for the Queens a year ago. She is the only one out of the group of five to be back for Red Deer College in 2018-19. To say that the Queens will rely on Garcia-Bernal heavily on both ends of the floor this year would be stating the obvious.
However, she won’t have to do it all on her own. Paige Schultz is back and ready to take on an expanded role as one of the four second-year athletes. The 5’7” guard from Saskatoon, SK averaged 6.3 points per game on 34.4% shooting over 21 appearances as a first-year player. Schultz shot 34.4% from the floor and 34.2% from three-point range for the year.
As a first-year player, Schultz averaged under 14 minutes of court time per night out. As one of the veterans in 2018-19, look for her minutes to undoubtedly increase as she steps into an expanded role with the team.
Second-year forwards Lauren Cardinal (3.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg) and Mallory Uskiw (1.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg) round out the group of veterans for coach King and his staff.
After narrowly missing out on the playoffs last season, the Queens will be looking to get back to the ACAC Championships in 2018-19. A heavy influx of newcomers will see fresh faces thrown into big roles from the outset of the season. Fortunately for Red Deer College, six exhibition games will help prepare the team for the rigorous grind of play in the ACAC.
With such a young team, a step backwards from last year is to be expected. However, if the team can mesh together early on and new stars can emerge from the mix in October, the Queens could make some noise and play their way back into the playoffs come February.
– T. Bennett