Gulf Coast teams prep for Nationals, one coach making his return, another set to say goodbye
Both Gulf Coast basketball teams are currently preparing for trips to their respective National Tournaments, one in Lubbock, Texas, the other in Hutchinson, Kansas. One with a coach set to make her exit from the Juco hoops stage. Another with a coach who's making his return after a very serious medical issue.
Let's focus on the men first. Head Coach Phil Gaffney, got medical clearance to return to work Tuesday. So the coach, who's still recovering from open heart surgery, back on the floor Tuesday and Wednesday, as the team prepares to represent the college and the Conference at the 24 team men's National Tourney in Hutchinson, Kansas next week.
Before Wednesday's practice I spoke with coach Gaffney about his return to work!
"To actually be here working, and to be around the guys, and to be around all my colleagues, I feel very grateful." coach Gaffney told me. "Going through something kind of tough, when you go through something like that it makes you really appreciate your job and the people you work for and the people you work with. So I've kind of been given a gift. Unfortunately, nobody wants to have a heart attack, and have surgery, but to me it's a gift. It's kind of renewed how important a job is, and how important your family and friends are, the people you work with. So it's all been a win-win!"
The only chance the coach had of coaching again this season, after his open heart surgery in mid-February, was if the team made it to Nationals. That seemed like less than a sure thing, given the program hadn't been to that event since 1972. As it turns out, his players made Gaffney a promise, one they had no intention of failing to follow through on!
"They all came to visit me in the hospital and, I said one thing please just get me to Hutch that's all I'm going to ask you. Please get me to Hutch. And to a man they said coach you're going to Hutch don't worry about it. We're going to get there and they were a hundred percent true to their word. We're going to hutch and so they all did what they were supposed to do. So, yeah it makes me feel great. To Beat Tallahassee when they where ranked 9th or 10th and then to beat the number 1 team in the country and then the number 8-9 team in the country and then Tallahassee again when they were ranked 12th in the country. You know to win four straight games against 4 nationally ranked teams. That's not bragging when you can do that. That's doing it, so it's outstanding."
The men travel starting Saturday, they'll stay in Wichita, about an hour outside of Hutchinson, and practice twice at Wichita State University in advance of their first game Tuesday.
As for the Lady Commodores, they're making a 16th and final trip to Nationals under Roonie Scovel, who will be retiring at the end of it this season.
Gulf Coast has won 6 national titles under the guidance of head coach Roonie Scovel. So she and the team, this program with a chance at title number 7 next week.
Either way, this will be the last road trip for the Lady Commodores with coach Scovel, who's announced her retirement at the end of this season.
Watching her on the floor at practice Wednesday afternoon, I couldn't help but think about this being the final week of workouts for her on that floor, which before the hurricane, bore her name.
So after practice I asked the coach if all that is hitting her as well?
"It will be more so when I'm not doing it, because right now I'm just trying to think about winning the next game." coach Scovel replied. "I am thinking about it being the last time I go visit people, that the only time I see them is at the National Tournament. So I'm looking forward that piece, I only see these people this last time, at a tournament, But no the emotional piece, not yet. I'm sure it's coming. It will probably be the floodgates when it does. I just know me, I wear my emotions and when it comes it will come and we'll just all have to deal with it."
The ladies also load up the bus and head west Saturday, making it to Lubbock Sunday, with their first game at Nationals set for Wednesday afternoon.