GC hires South Plains Coach Cayla Petree
Panama City, FL: Replacing a legendary coach is never an easy task. Replacing one that won 87 percent of her games and six national championships? That’s a whole different sort of challenge.
Gulf Coast managed to fill the sizable void left by Roonie Scovel just six weeks after she announced her retirement and a month after the Lady Commodores’ season ended, and did so by luring one of the most successful young coaches in all of JUCO basketball.
The school announced the hiring of Cayla Petree as its new women’s basketball coach on Wednesday, with the now-former South Plains coach coming to Panama City after five seasons leading the Lady Texans.
Petree went 127-36 record in her tenure at South Plains, including a 32-1 mark this past season with the Lady Texans winning the Western Junior College Athletic Conference and the Region 5 championship.
That followed a 2018-19 campaign in which the Lady Texans won 30 games and were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the national tournament by Scovel’s Lady Commodores, 68-66, en route to their sixth national title.
Petree has a 226-96 record overall as a head coach at three different stops and was a Division-I player at Texas Tech where she graduated in 2006. She spent two seasons as head coach at Division II Angelo State and made her head coaching debut at Cisco Junior College where she went 93-61 in five seasons after taking over a program that was 0-60 in the two previous seasons.
“Going into it we knew that you’re replacing maybe the best women’s junior college basketball coach in history,” Gulf Coast athletic director Mike Kandler said, “so we obviously set the bar very high with who we were gonna hire and I think we were able to knock it out of the park.
We’re thrilled to have Cayla come on board. She’s the best possible candidate we could’ve asked for.”
Petree said it wasn’t easy leaving her job at South Plains, particularly as a native Texan, but the chance to coach at Gulf Coast was too enticing to pass up on.
“It was a very difficult decision for me personally because I’m such a relationship
person and we’ve built special relationships here,” she said. “West Texas people are
something special. I wanted to make sure to do it the right way, but for me professionally
it’s just such a great opportunity.
“If you ask anyone in junior college about Gulf Coast, the first thing they think is national championships. Coach Scovel and coach (Grover) Hicks built such a powerhouse. I just couldn’t wait to be a part of it. I think we can continue to build on what they’ve done.”
Those aren’t empty words coming from Petree, who said she modeled much of her program at South Plains after what Scovel did at Gulf Coast.
She said that they’ve developed a friendship over the past five years and her admiration for Scovel is such that it even drew some light-hearted laughs at her expense from some of her colleagues.
“Just over the course of the five years that I’ve been in contact with her, I’ve tried to be a sponge and absorb everything that I could from her,” said. “It’s funny because I think it kind of embarrasses her, but it was sort of a running joke with all the coaches around JUCO basketball that they would give me a hard time because I had her up on such a pedestal.”
The respect is mutual between the two coaches, with Scovel expressing enthusiasm about the hire on Wednesday.
“She’s got a lot of fire and a lot of passion, and I think that’s exactly what we need and what we’re excited to have,” she said. “I think that Gulf Coast is in great shape with Cayla taking over.”
Though Scovel won’t be roaming the sidelines for the Lady Commodores anymore, Petree said she won’t be shy about picking her brain and soliciting any and all advice that Scovel is willing to offer.
“If you think for a second I’m not gonna lean on her for advice and run things by her, you’re crazy,” Petree said. “I’ve got no ego when it comes to winning. I’ll definitely use her as a resource and continue our friendship and continue to let her mentor me. I only want to do great things. That’s what Gulf Coast expects and deserves.”
There’s been no shortage of great achievements for the Gulf Coast program over the past two decades, with 19 Panhandle Conference titles and 14 region titles accompanying the six national championships for the Lady Commodores over the past 24 seasons.
Gulf Coast has also won three of the past five national titles and four of the last five region titles.
Petree said she embraces those sorts of expectations and is focused on adding to the Lady Commodores’ extensive trophy collection.
“When you put it all out there like that it absolutely sounds like an unobtainable task,” she said. “But there’s nobody that’s gonna put more pressure on me than I do. That’s just my entire life, overachieving and having an underdog-type mentality. I’m just gonna go to work. Nobody is gonna outwork me. I’ll bring that kind of fight everyday.
“To have that kind of mindset and work ethic along with Gulf Coast’s history and tradition and their resources, it just makes me very excited.”
Scovel isn’t the only coach who has influenced Petree’s approach. She also played for a Hall of Fame coach at Texas Tech in Marsha Sharp, worked alongside Texas Tech coach Chris Beard when the two were both at Angelo State, and has spent the past five seasons working beside South Plains men’s coach Steve Green, who has won three national championships in his tenure.
“I’ve always tried to surround myself with people much smarter than me and people who have already done what I’m trying to do,” Petree said. “I’ve really tried to align myself with winners and just figure out that one small little secret that they do that might be able to help me win down the road.”
With interstate travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Petree said she’s not sure yet when she’ll make it to Panama City. For now, her focus is on recruiting current and future players to Gulf Coast, which she can do by phone from the comfort of her home.
“I’m just trying to get players and build relationships,” she said. “I want them to feel comfortable with me. I know they didn’t pick me, I picked them. They didn’t sign up for Cayla Petree to coach them. They signed up for Gulf Coast and coach Scovel.
“My job is to convince them and their parents that this is the best opportunity for them. I don’t want to force anybody to do anything they don’t want to do. I want to earn their respect and trust.”
Petree said that selling players on Gulf Coast should never be that difficult of a proposition.
“I just have so much respect for this program,” she said. “Everybody in the country knows this is the elite of the elite jobs in the country. I’m just humbled and honored and challenged all at one time. I’m so excited to get to work and so grateful for the opportunity.”