RED DEER, Alta. – Relentless.
When asked to describe this year’s Red Deer College Queens team using one word, there was a brief pause.
After thinking about it for a few seconds, Head Coach Mandy Botham hit the nail on the head.
With one 10-letter word, Botham perfectly captured this year’s edition of the Queens.
On the heels of a three-win season a year ago, the word relentless symbolizes much more than just Red Deer’s style of play on the floor this season. It also encompasses a summer-long transformation for both Botham and the Queens, one that’s had positive effects both on and off the court, and the amount of work that was put in by all to get the team to where they are now.
Botham is in her first season as Head Coach of the Queens. Prior to accepting the position at Red Deer, Botham was the Head Coach of the GPRC Wolves, a place where she starred as a player prior to entering the coaching ranks.
During the 1994-95 season, Botham was part of a Wolves team that went undefeated in ACAC play, and would eventually go on to win the ACAC Championship. Botham and the Wolves would then pick up a Bronze Medal at the 1995 CCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship in Nova Scotia.
“It really was a lifelong goal for me to be able to go back and coach the school that I played at,” said Botham. “I felt really honoured and humbled that I got the opportunity to coach at GPRC.”
After her playing career came to a close, Botham didn’t enter the world of coaching right away. Some time away from the game was on tap, but once she got her first experience on the sideline, thing came into focus.
“As soon as I had that first taste, I was hooked,” said Botham. “Once my playing career in college was over, I felt like I had this big void in my life.”
“I took about five years away from it before I got back into coaching.”
Prior to her time as the Head Coach at GPRC, Botham’s coaching career has taken her to different parts of Western Canada. She has served as the Head Coach of the Kwantlen Polytechnic University Eagles in Surrey, BC, and she even returned to her hometown of Prince George to serve as an Assistant Coach with the UNBC Timberwolves.
Botham has also served as an Assistant Coach of Team B.C.’s U15 Girls Team in 2014, and Head Coach in 2015. She has also coached at the Canada Basketball Centre for Performance in Vancouver.
All of her stops have led her to where Botham is today. Botham took over a Red Deer team that was coming off a down 2018-19 season, one that saw the Queens post just three wins in ACAC play. After Head Coach Ken King accepted the Lead Assistant Coach position with the Mount Royal Cougars, it wasn’t long before Botham was named the next Head Coach of the Queens.
The transition from GRPC to Red Deer hasn’t come without its share of challenges. However, those challenges are different than the ones she faced when she was with the Wolves.
“Recruiting was definitely a challenge,” continued Botham, when asked about the challenges of coaching in Grande Prairie. “We typically see a lot of players in Calgary and Edmonton, the bigger centers, and a lot of players are reluctant to come north to Grande Prairie.”
“They didn’t know much about the city or the college, and they didn’t like the idea of going further north and having colder winters.”
Not wanting colder winters is something that all Canadians can relate to.
Now at Red Deer, the challenges for Botham are still there, but from a different angle. The Queens returned over half of their roster from last season, plus three players decided to transfer from GRPC to Red Deer. On the recruiting trail, Botham added two players to fill out her roster.
Recruiting hasn’t been the challenge, but bringing everyone together proved tough at times.
“The biggest challenge was coming into a program as a new coach and trying to get all of the athletes on the same page,” said Botham. “Just trying to mesh everyone together, getting to know the athletes, and for them to know my expectations, that took us a little while to get going.”
As a new coach, Botham had a luxury that most coaches who take on new roles don’t have. Three players transferred from the Wolves at the end of last season, and they chose to come to Red Deer and play for Botham on the Queens.
That level of familiarity between coach and player has made the transition smoother for all parties involved.
“I was really pleased when I found out that they wanted to transfer,” continued Botham. “I found that they were able to help the other girls learn the things that are important to me as a coach and the things I like to emphasize, and it made that transition a little bit easier, both for me and for the other athletes.”
“I think that’s always a good sign that you’re doing the right things, when athletes have a choice and they choose to play for me again.”
Second year wing Sophie Melin (Stockholm, SWE), third year wing Derian Geddes (Calgary, Alta.), and third year forward Britney Peters (Fort St. John, BC) made the move to Red Deer along with Botham at the end of last season.
“It was pretty exciting.”
The date was Friday, November 8th.
For the second time in four games to start the 2019-20 season, the Queens took on the defending National Champion Olds College Broncos, a team that was also the top-ranked team in the country at the time. After a 16-point loss to the Broncos in their season opener, at home no less, Botham and the Queens found themselves in a close contest against the Broncos on their home floor.
The final result was one that brought everything full-circle for the Queens.
The scoreboard read 69-65 in favour of the Queens with no time left on the clock.
“It was a bit surreal that night for all of us, actually,” said Botham. “When the final buzzer went, they were pretty elated, and as a coach, I was just so happy to see that all of the things we’ve been working so hard on since I took over, I felt like in that moment they came to fruition for the athletes.”
“They were understandably nervous, facing the defending National Champions. They really executed our game plan well for a full 40 minutes, and they were able to execute the adjustment that I made during the game as things came, and they really just stayed composed.”
At the time, the win gave the Queens their third victory of the season. For reference, Red Deer didn’t record their third win in 2018-19 until February 16th.
The Queens then followed up their win over the Broncos with a win over the Ambrose Lions in their next contest, surpassing last year’s win total.
With a win over the Broncos under their belts, there’s no telling what the Queens can achieve this season.
Even with a win against Olds to their name and having surpassed last year’s win total, the Queens aren’t satisfied with where they stand. Hungry for more, Botham and the Queens will be looking to build on the work they’ve put in so far to continue their strong start to the season.
“We’re just looking to build from a culture standpoint,” continued Botham. “We’ve been fortunate that we’ve seen the transformation in the culture translate into some more wins on the court, which has been really great for the athletes.”
Change doesn’t just happen overnight.
While the Queens have seen the results go in their favour early on in 2019-20, things didn’t just happen from one day to the next. A consistent level of work and dedication has to be put in for significant change to be made, and that’s a concept that Botham instilled into the Queens from day one.
The work that both Botham and the players have put in is a true testament to where hard work can take you. Players bought into the new system early on, thanks in part to the group of three players who have experience playing with Botham at GPRC, and that has helped the team become one cohesive unit quicker than many anticipated.
Early wins and favourable results are all an added bonus. They have brought the team closer to one another, strengthening the culture that everyone worked so hard in the summer to build and change.
In six short months, the Queens have gone from a last-place team that missed the playoffs in the always-competitive ACAC South Division, to an upstart team that has its sights set firmly on a playoff spot.
One simple, 10-letter word perfectly captures everything the Queens have put into turning things around this season, and Botham is a big reason for their turnaround.
– T. Bennett