PANAMA CITY/NICEVILLE, FL (WJHG/WECP) For the Northwest Florida Lady Raiders, the trip is on. Coach Bart Walker and his team flying out Thursday in advance of their participation in the women's Juco National Tournament in Lubbock, Texas starting Monday.
For the Gulf Coast women's team and the Northwest men's team, travel day is Friday.
All three teams taking part in their respective 24 team National Tournaments. The men's tournament set for Hutchinson, Kansas.
On the ladies side of things, Gulf Coast is hoping to make it 6 National Championships, and a third in the last four years!
Gulf Coast the co-champs of the Panhandle Conference, then winning a 4th consecutive State Championship.
All that for a team that went through serious adversity with the death of a teammate, the aftermath of an epic hurricane, and the natural struggles of a relatively young and inexperienced team. And after three impressive wins at the State Tournament in Ocala last week, it begs the question, is this team peaking at exactly the right time?
"Well we played some good basketball and we played some great basketball at the tournament." G.C. head coach Roonie Scovel told me. "And we played with some ball that we've not seen all year. We played with some confidence. We executed some things that we've struggled with. So it came together at the right time. We still are a work in progress and we still have some things to do to be able to go to the National Tournament and compete. Because this National Tournament is loaded."
Coach Scovel adds, at least from a logistics and travel perspective, having experience traveling to Lubbock, staying in the same hotel as last year, being familiar with the venue and so on, definitely helps. Though as she puts it, all that doesn't win games for you.
Along those same lines, Steve DeMeo and his Raiders basketball team has experience in their favor as they head back out to Hutchinson, Kansas Friday. Since taking over on the Northwest bench 6 years ago, coach DeMeo's teams have won 5 Panhandle titles, 4 of the last five State Championships, and are making a fifth consecutive trip out to Hutch. And he too believes there is some value to all that experience!
"I do believe any time you have experience it's great. You know just knowing the facility, knowing what's going to happen with the officiating and all that stuff. And I think that benefitted us this weekend as well, you know us winning a state championship. Even my staff, Adam Sweeney, Rosbie Mutcherson and Brannan Anthony, I think those guys felt a little more confident going into games. Even when we were down 19 (in the state semifinal) I think they felt a little more confident than they would of if it were the first time going through it."
The Raiders will depart the school around 3:45 Friday afternoon. Their first game in Hutch comes Tuesday against the winner of a first round game between Cape Fear and Arizona Western.
The three wins in Ocala evident of a very good team now that perhaps is peaking at exactly the right time.