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I try to always find the positive's

Panama City:  Cayla Petree took on the formidable task of succeeding legendary Gulf Coast basketball coach Roonie Scovel in April knowing full well that the COVID-19 outbreak was going to put her behind schedule.
The recent surge in COVID-19 cases turned the new Lady Commodores’ head coach’s concerns about an abbreviated off-season to a deeper anxiety about whether or not there even would be a season.

As a result, Petree’s reactions to the NJCAA’s decision this week to move fall and winter sports to the spring semester was more relief than frustration.

“Big-time relief,” she said. “I’m kind of like a day-by-day, game-by-game, practice-by-practice type of person, so I try not to get too rattled by anything except maybe a missed block-out or a bad referee call. I try to keep a pretty even keel.

“But it was the unknown that was getting to me. Are we gonna play or are we not gonna play? Having a concrete answer to that now obviously makes it better. I’m just excited that we’re actually getting to play. I think by postponing it that it gives us a better chance to actually finish the season.”

It also gives Petree a bit more time to become more acquainted with her new players and they with her.

Teams still will be allowed eight hours of voluntary activities through the off-season as usual, with 60 calendar days of practice and scrimmages to be allowed within a three-month window between Sept. 15 and Dec. 15 before the start of official preseason practice on Jan. 11, 2021.

It’s a long time for the players to go between playing real games, though Petree said she welcomes the extra time to prepare after losing so much of the summer because of the coronavirus.

“I try to always find the positive in things. This gives me more time to get to know our players,” she said. “We’ll plan to use the fall like we would normally do summer workouts. That gives our players more time. I’m a development person. This gives (the players) more time to work on their individual skill-sets without the time crunch or the game prep.

“In the end, it’s probably better for our players. We’ll have to figure out how to balance things in the spring when we get there. This will be new for everyone, but the good news is that everyone is in the same boat.”

Like Gulf Coast men’s coach Phil Gaffney, Petree said she’s concerned about scheduling for the spring with a maximum 22 regular season games allowed, including 12 Panhandle Conference games.

There has been discussion of increasing the league schedule to 16 games to help teams reach the 22-game threshold, though Petree said that would make things much more difficult for all Panhandle clubs.

“Physically, it’s gonna be very demanding. It’s a very tough league and there’s no off nights,” she said. “With the shortened calendar that would essentially mean playing three games a week at times. Just the physical demands on their bodies would obviously be tough, but then you have the national ramifications of a win-loss record with at-large bids.

“You could legitimately be one of the best teams in the country and have a record that doesn’t look like it because you played teams that are in the conversation to win a national championship four times.”

Ultimately, though, Petree said she believed the players would rise to the challenge when they return to the court, even if they don’t start the season in anything resembling mid-season form.

“The good news is everybody is playing in the exact same situation as us,” she said. “We’re talking about 18-, 19-year-old athletes. They’re very resilient. They’re tougher than the average person, so they’ll be able to do whatever they need to do. They’re competitors.”