by Michael Sun, The Charlatan
KINGSTON, Ont. — New Queen’s Gaels women’s basketball head coach James Bambury doesn’t talk about winning and losing much. Instead, he focuses on progress over results.
“I do not ever see myself using the word win,” Bambury said. “Because that’s something beyond our control.”
He knows. Bambury was the head coach for Royal Military College (RMC) women’s basketball from 2010-2012 before being an assistant at Queen’s ever since. His RMC teams won only one game in two seasons.
“If I talked about winning every single day at RMC, [the players] would have checked out after four games,” Bambury noted. “So why wouldn’t the reverse be true if we have a good team.”
Rather, he’s focused on the team and its players making progress every single day. It’s something he talks about every day with his players: the focus on improvement, getting buy in and making it fun. Ending each day at least a bit better than the start.
Bambury also points out how Queen’s has made a conscious effort to recruit athletic, versatile players to fit the team’s high-tempo and team defense approach. It’s also about playing in flow and empowering players to make their own decisions.
“Once our players conceptually understand what we’re trying to do, our goal is for them to stop thinking all together,” Bambury noted. “We tend to find thinking to be the enemy of flow – and we’re constantly to play in flow all the time.”
The team has a mix of young players and veterans while saying goodbye to some key pieces from last year. They have a lot of potential as well, in Bambury’s eyes.
“I don’t think there’s a limit to what this team could potentially do,” he added. “We’re not worried about potential right now. It’s progress that we’re going to be focusing on.”
2018-19 Year in Review
The Gaels finished 15-8 in the OUA East before losing to the York Lions at home in the First Round of the OUA playoffs.
Bambury called the end of the season a disappointment.
“We felt that we were talented,” he noted. “We knew we were young but we had some really high end pieces.”
The team picked up momentum heading into the playoffs, with wins over Ryerson and Carleton. Bambury felt the team was starting to peak but some issues from the beginning of the year came up again in their playoff loss.
“I think we had people who worked incredibly hard and did all the right things and things just didn’t come together the way we thought we should have come together,” Bambury added. He said it’s something the returning players will learn from.
Queen’s was led by top scorer Marianne Alarie, an OUA Second-Team All-Star who reached 1,000 career points. Veronika Lavergne, Maddie Morris, Myriam Fontaine and others provided depth.
The team also broke in five first-year players, including guard Laura Donovan, who saw 17 minutes-per-game.
Dave Wilson retired after 37 seasons as the Queen’s head coach. On the court, the team said goodbye to Alarie, Morris and Lavergne – their three leading scorers from 2018-19.
“I think they tried to continue that tradition about how we go about our business, how we act on the court and they put in a ton of time to be the best possible players they could be,” Bambury said about Alarie and Morris.
Morris and Alarie both played five seasons with the Gaels (Morris missed one because of injury) while Lavergne transferred from the University at Albany in 2016.
“It was fantastic to see her enjoying basketball and start to tap into some of that potential everyone had talked about,” Bambury said about Lavergne.
The team will be led by a number of veterans and players stepping into bigger roles. Fifth-year senior Fontaine will be their primary centre for the first time in her career, according to Bambury.
Fourth-year Emma Ritcey takes over as the primary guard. “She’s really starting to take control of especially our offence and feeling a lot more comfortable,” Bambury said. “She doesn’t look to me to call plays. She doesn’t look to me for what to do. She’s the one out there moving pieces, helping people be right.”
Fourth-year guard Megan Saftich will be counted on for her defense. Bambury expects to see the second-year players to see major minutes this season as well. Third-year guard Michelle Istead will be key for rebounding and drawing fouls given her intensity.
Offensively, Istead has developed into a consistent scorer. She’s currently leading the team with 17 points-per-game in the regular season thus far.
Fellow third-year Sophie de Goede will be joining the team after her Queen’s rugby season finishes with the national championships on November 3rd.
De Goede has put in work developing her skills through scrimmages and looks to take on a bigger role as a versatile player. She’s the top returning rebounder in the OUA (9.6 rebounds/game). Health will also be key for her after she missed the first half of last season due to an ankle injury during rugby.
One player who is a returning player but can be seen as an addition is Bridget Mulholland. The Kingston guard turned down numerous NCAA Division I offers to go to Queen’s, but she’s been sidelined with injuries ever since a successful rookie year in 2016-17. She was named to the OUA All-Rookie team then but has only played four games in the past three seasons.
“She’s tough beyond belief,” Bambury said. “She’s one of the toughest people I’ve ever met.” Mulholland is still working her way back but did score 10 points in 12 minutes against Concordia on Oct. 18 – her first preseason game of the year. “The first time she checked in was a standing ovation,” Bambury recalled. “The first time she made a shot, I’m not sure if there was a dry eye in the house.”
“We understand how difficult this has been, even over the past four years, she’s played roughly six months,” he continued. “She’s just never, never stopped working, never stopped trying to preparing herself to be ready for these moments.”
Mulholland got one of those moments against Concordia as Bambury said it will be “awesome” to see her have success this season.
After having five rookies last year, the team only has two additions this time around: Bolton rookie Isabella Belvedere and Ottawa native Julia Chadwick. Chadwick played a season at Robert Morris before transferring to Queen’s. The Gaels initially tried to recruit her to come to Queen’s after high school.
“She fits into everything we do,” Bambury said about Chadwick. “We’re trying to be a multi-dimensional attack where our bigs can shoot threes and our guards can post up and I think she fits really well into that.”
Bambury has known Belvedere for a long time through recruiting and she’ll fit the role as a catch-and-shoot player. “Bella might be one of the best high school shooters I’ve ever seen…her range and her ability to get it off quickly,” he said. “You can immediately see how she can contribute right away.”
Belvedere scored a team-high 23 points in 17 minutes in their season-opener against Nipissing, making six-of-nine threes.
The Gaels will stay in the OUA East Division after the division shakeup but will have a new travel partner with the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks (it used to be the York Lions). They will be building towards potentially making nationals in Ottawa. They are also hosting nationals themselves in 2021.
Those are all goals in the near and distant future but for Bambury and his players, the focus will be progress: the path towards those goals – day by day.
– M. Sun