Lady Commodores to honor late teammate, sophomores Saturday

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Saturday afternoon is not the end of the line for the Gulf Coast women's basketball team.

They have the state tournament and likely the national tournament still to come. For the sophomores and the 2019 season, the game against Chipola is the final chapter at home.

The Lady Commodores wrap the regular season with a game that is simultaneously meaningful and unimportant.

If they win, they earn the Panhandle Conference title outright over Northwest Florida. Even if they lose, they still share the title and their seeding in the state tournament will be unaffected.

None of that is what Saturday is about.

About 15 minutes prior to the 2 p.m. tipoff, the Lady Commodores will honor their five sophomores for their past contributions. The year-end ceremonies are usually all-encompassing celebrations, praising their past contributions and looking forward to what they'll accomplish down the line.

This time, they'll also pay tribute to a dear friend who should but can't be a part of all this.

Sophomore leader Keshawn Johnson was killed in a car crash in September. Her immediate family will be at the game, set to be introduced during the aforementioned ceremony. Her basketball family continues to play in her memory.

"What happened for them in September was more tragic than what happened in October [Hurricane Michael]," head coach Roonie Scovel said. "It was their roommate. It was their teammate. It was their best friend. It was their sister. They've just done something and they were faced with something that no other class was faced with. I think it just shows their personality. They're resilient and they just come and they practice another day, play another day."

As Scovel alluded to, the fall proved to be tougher than could ever have been imagined. Hurricane Michael ravaged Panama City, causing extensive damage to Gulf Coast's athletic facilities and forcing the team away from home for practices and games for more than a month.

The team fought through that too, and they're deserving of the recognition bestowed upon them this weekend.

"With this year being quite the challenge, they were very adaptable and flexible," Scovel added. "This class definitely had some challenges no other sophomore class has ever had."

The men's team will conduct sophomore ceremonies at halftime of the women's game, with tipoff following at approximately 4 p.m.