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Gulf Coast opens national tourney in search of 6th title

NOTE from GC Athletics: Our first game vs. Walters State will be played on Wed, March 20, 2019 at 10am.

Dustin Kent

Gulf Coast begins play in the NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship tournament Tuesday night in Lubbock, Tex., with a game against Walters State at 6 p.m.

No. 15 seed Walters State (29-4) advanced to the second round with a 65-47 opening round win over No. 18 Miles in Monday’s opening round.

The Lady Commodores (23-5), who received a bye as the No. 2 overall seed, earned their way into the national tournament by winning their fourth straight Panhandle Conference championship before taking a fourth straight state title by knocking off Northwest Florida State 67-63 in the final in Ocala.

With a win Tuesday, Gulf Coast would play again Thursday in the quarterfinal round at 3 p.m.

It’s the fourth straight trip to Lubbock for the Lady Commodores, who won national championships in 2016 and 2017 before losing in the semifinals to Tallahassee in 2018, so it’s unlikely anyone in Lubbock is surprised to see Gulf Coast there again.

However, after starting the season in the wake of Hurricane Michael, which kept the Lady Commodores out of their own gym for the first month of the season, another trip to Lubbock was something Gulf Coast coach Roonie Scovel said she and her players certainly didn’t take for granted.

“I think it’s a great achievement for this team with how we started the school year and everything that happened,” Scovel said. “To be one of the final 24 teams, I think that’s pretty special.”

Like most Gulf Coast teams, this one has more than its fair share of talent, with two first team All-Panhandle Conference players in Alexus Dye and Brittany Davis, the latter of whom was also named the league’s Freshman of the Year.

But Scovel attributed this group’s success less to its pure basketball talent than to its ability to handle and fight through any adversity in its way.

“I would say resiliency, it’s a refuse to lose sort of thing,” she said. “I guess with everything that happened, they just handled it and dealt with it. They’re so resilient, so hopefully that quality will pay dividends at the national tournament.

“We had some games where we would be up 15 and lose the lead and still win, or like with Pensacola being down 22 in the third quarter and manage to get that one into overtime and win. To have a disposition that we don’t seem to get bothered either way, it’s probably a good quality for this team to have.”

The Lady Commodores didn’t appear to be bothered by much in the state tournament, easing past Daytona State and Florida Southwestern State by 25 and 16 points before edging past Northwest Florida State 67-63 in a tough, back-and-forth affair.

The two Panhandle Conference rivals are on the same side of the bracket in Lubbock, with the Lady Raiders (24-5) set to play its first round game Tuesday against Northern Oklahoma Enid. With three Northwest victories and two Gulf Coast wins, they could meet up again for a fifth time in the national semifinals on Friday.

It’s a scenario that Scovel said she’s not terribly excited about, but should the Lady Commodores make it that far, she said she’s not that concerned about who their opponent would be.

“If we meet again that means we’re in the final four,” she said. “I would say that if this team could get to the final four, we’d have to smile and say, ‘hey, we’re in the final four so let’s go try again.’ To play somebody five times would be absolutely no fun. We had to play Tallahassee four times last year and that didn’t work out for us.

“But if we get back to the final four, I’m certainly not gonna complain. This is probably the one tournament where I don’t have any opinion about where we are, where other people are, who got there, who didn’t get there. I just want to enjoy the moment and I think the Lady Commodores deserve whatever good happens to these ladies, so let’s try to embrace it and enjoy it.”

That doesn’t mean Gulf Coast is just happy to be there. For a program that has claimed five national championships, the standard for success is much more than simply a good showing.

“When you go on a 20-hour ride, you’re not just riding out there to play and have fun,” Scovel said. “But whatever happens, I think I’ll handle it better and appreciate it more. We’re definitely not satisfied. The kids have worked so hard and done that grind, now this is the important part, the biggest part, the biggest stage. We’re not satisfied, but will I be unhappy if we don’t win it? Oh no, I’m definitely happy with what they’ve achieved this year.”



 

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