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Gulf Coast gets set for another postseason run

By DUSTIN KENT 
News Herald Assistant Sports Editor 

Posted at 5:18 PM

 

OCALA — When your program is coming off of back to back state and national championships, the regular season can feel a bit more like the prologue than the play. It’s not that there’s nothing in the regular season to play for, with the conference games determining whether or not you get to continue playing basketball after all of the scheduled contests have concluded.

 

But for No. 2 Gulf Coast (23-2), Thursday’s opening game of the FCSAA Region VIII Women’s Basketball Tournament in Ocala against Broward (11-18) at 2 p.m. CST couldn’t have come soon enough, especially considering the fact that it has been nearly two weeks since the Lady Commodores last played an actual game.

 

“We’re definitely ready,” Gulf Coast coach Roonie Scovel said. “It’s a long season and you sit out 10-12 days (after the regular season), but we’re excited that we’re one of the eight teams that get to go. It’s time. When you start preseason conditioning in August, when it gets to this time of the year, you just want to be in Ocala yesterday.”

 

The Lady Commodores bring a different sort of team than they the one that stormed through Ocala last year with three wins by an average margin of over 25 points per game before heading to Lubbock, Tex., and capturing the school’s fifth national title. This group is far less experienced than the 2017 team that had nine sophomores, with the current iteration of Gulf Coast sporting just

three second year players in Shayla Bennett, Jhileiya Dunlap, and Janesha Green.

 

There is very little difference on paper between this year’s and last year’s squads, with this group also entering the postseason with just two losses and sporting a nearly identical point differential to last season’s championship team. But inexperience and how it may rear its head in pressure situations can’t be quantified with numbers, and Scovel said she is counting on her sophomores to help prepare Gulf Coast’s seven freshmen for what to expect from a postseason atmosphere.

 

“You’ve got to hope the veterans can relay that message that it’s different and it’s special,” she said. “It’s postseason time. You have pre-conference and then the conference and now the postseason, and in every one of those seasons you have to turn it up a notch. We’re going to have to turn it up a notch offensively and defensively to be able to compete in the state tournament.”

 

The Lady Commodores will open this postseason with a Broward team that struggled with a difficult pre-conference schedule – going 3-14 overall and 0-5 against the Panhandle Conference – before posting an 8-4 mark in the Southern Conference to earn the league’s runner-up bid. Swedish 5-foot-8 guard Vendela Danielsson leads the Seahawks with 15 points per game this season and has made 42.4 percent from the 3-point line on over six attempts per contest, while 5-9 Russian guard Margarita Pleskevich is averaging 12.8 points and 3.6 assists per game.

 

Gulf Coast won the only previous meeting between the teams this season 85-58 on Dec. 1 in Jacksonville. If the Lady Commodores get by the Seahawks, they’ll advance to Friday’s semifinal against the winner of Suncoast Conference champion Florida SouthWestern State vs. Mid-Florida Conference runner up Santa Fe. The championship game will be Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CST.

The Lady Commodores have played some of their best basketball of the season in the last month, winning all five games in February by an average margin of 19 points. The postseason is a different animal, however, and Scovel said this year’s group still has to prove it can raise its level with the pressure at its greatest the same way the past two Gulf Coast teams did.

 

“Everything is relative to competition,” she said. “Last year, we had those veteran players who were there the year before and who won it the year before. They knew how to do it, and they knew the emotional side of it. That’s where the jury will be out with this team. I think if we play our best game, we can compete with anybody. The question is how we will handle the stress and the tournament atmosphere when we get there.”

 

Tournament schedule (all times CST)

Thursday

Game 1: Florida SouthWestern State vs. Santa Fe, 12 p.m.

Game 2: Gulf Coast vs. Broward, 2 p.m.

Game 3: Miami Dade vs. Eastern Florida State, 5 p.m.

Game 4: Daytona State vs. Tallahassee, 7 p.m.

Friday

Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 5 p.m.

Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7 p.m.

Saturday

Championship game, 6:30 p.m.

 

GC viewing party

 

Gulf Coast State College will host free viewing parties for students and the community during the Region VIII Women’s Basketball Tournament this week. Games will be broadcast in the Advanced Technology Center’s third floor. Refreshments will be available for purchase.

 

The Lady Commodores will play Thursday at 2 p.m. CST. With a win, they’ll play again Friday at 5 p.m., and the championship game will be Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

 

 
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