OCALA, FL (WJHG/WECP) For the women's basketball teams of Northwest Florida and Gulf Coast, it is just about time to tip it off in the State Tournament.
Both teams making their way Monday to Ocala and the College of Central Florida, which will once again host the 8 team, single elimination tournament.
The Commodores and Raiders playing at State as the co-champs of the Panhandle Conference, both 8-4 in league play.
The openers are set for Wednesday, Gulf Coast takes on Daytona in a game at 3 o'clock eastern. Northwest faces Miami-Dade in a 6 o'clock game.
Right after the team dinner late Tuesday afternoon, I was able to chat briefly with Gulf Coast head coach Roonie Scovel and we spoke about the two week break leading up to State, and how they've transitioned from that to final preps down in Ocala.
"We had some pretty good practices, some short, intense." coach Scovel told me. "You know we were excited. We're here now. We had our practice here onsite and it was good. It's always a good thing to get in, get a good feel of the gym and the environment and the town. So it's been a good today. We had our practice and we've eaten the team meal, so we're getting ready, getting excited, it's tournament time."
As for being well prepared for the competition at State, well the grind of that 12 game Panhandle slate sure took care of that, though as Scovel indicated, that was a bit of a double edged sword.
"You know you have definitely faced adversity, whether it's overtime play, a one point game." the coach told me. "So we definitely had the grind. Probably the downside of that is that you didn't get any momentum. You know a lot of times going into tournament play you hope you've got some momentum, riding on momentum. And really nobody in the Panhandle got a chance to do that."
I also spoke by phone Tuesday with Northwest Florida head coach Bart Walker, and he too said playing the tough Conference schedule, with no easy games, helped to prepare his team.
He said he felt it was good for the team to get some time in on the tournament floor Tuesday, given his team hasn't seen that gym before.
"Well obviously we haven't played in this facility this year, it's good to get acclimated to the environment." Walker said. "You know we play in an arena setting, this is a smaller gymnasium. So it will be good to get our young ladies ready, to get to a different shooting environment. Hopefully we can just get them focused in and then work on a few details for the game tomorrow."
Northwest playing for it's first state title since 1996. Gulf Coast playing for a 4th straight state championship, and 14th overall.