Much to the surprise of her parents, Gladstone and Daisy McPhee, Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin returned to home soil here in Grand Bahama on Wednesday, March 31.
The head coach of the Ole Miss Lady Rebels appeared quite happy to be home after a trying, but much-improved 2020-2021 season for her and her squad. Coach Yo is fresh off the task of coaching her team to a Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) championship appearance, where they ultimately lost to Rice University.
Nonetheless, the Bahamian-born coaching veteran said this past season proved to be a step in the right direction for the program. The team, like many others, had to navigate through COVID-19 protocols, social injustice issues, and other obstacles.
Going into the season, however, she noted that it was all about preparing and teaching her athletes about how to handle those circumstances while staying focused on their goals. Nonetheless, the team handled adversities and put together a 15-12 overall record, their first winning record since 2016-2017. It also led to the university extending Coach Yo’s contract through to 2025.
“We’re right on target, if anything a year ahead of schedule. When I took the job, it was a difficult one. It was a complete rebuild, but the way I built it was a four-year plan. The first contract was a four-year contract.
“The first year was assessment, the second was foundation where we were able to recruit and the third was proof of concept, which was this past season. Next year will be about stability. Right now, recruiting is going crazy, because of what we’ve been able to show by beating ranked teams and turning the program around.
“There’s a lot of excitement around Ole Miss women’s basketball right now,” Coach Yo said.
The team faced some tough uncertainties throughout the season.
Notably, the team’s program was forced to come to a brief halt, after starting the year off 6-0, due to a player on the roster testing positive for COVID-19 in late December (2020). That led to the team having to resume play with just eight players, headed into Southeastern Conference (SEC) play this past January, when they suffered their first loss to the LSU Tigers.
Eventually, the team got rolling again and ultimately finished 4-10 in SEC play after going winless in the conference the season prior (2019-2020).
Going through that stretch, though, Coach Yo and the players managed to keep their hopes high and showed resilience to overcome that road block.
“That was tough. It was challenging,” Coach Yo recalled.
“We had to pause our program for seven days, and on the eighth day we had a game. They don’t care that you couldn’t practice. The show goes on. So, we had to jump right back in without any practice. That’s why it really took us long to come along, because we just came back on the scene from December and in January we started SEC play.
“Yet and still, we lost in overtime, we had some close losses but there were moments where I said, ‘Not again, Lord, please.’ And I fel,t when He felt I was getting ready to break, we got that first win against Kentucky because I was close to breaking.
“From there we got rolling, and then we got hit with a snow storm. That messed us up, where we couldn’t play. This season was a season of challenges but like I told my players at the end of our last game, I’m just incredibly proud of them and my players that came back from having COVID-19.
“When you overcome having it you don’t just jump back in, but they did and played (well). I don’t know if I could have done that. I just really admire their resilience and toughness and willingness to make the sacrifices to have a season.
“Our community has bought into us and next year, we have to continue to climb,” she added.
The Lady Rebels also had to go into the WNIT without Coach Yo, who herself had to stay back after testing positive for COVID-19.
The tournament began March 19.
While it was challenging and heartbreaking to deal with, she eventually joined the team for their semi-final match against the UNI Panthers.
For the coach, the circumstance was tough to deal with. However, she noted that the advancement of technology helped her stay connected with the team even as they prepared for the tournament and until her eventual return.
“That was a difficult time, because we had worked extremely hard and I felt I was letting the team down, not being there with them with this being our first postseason. But at the end of the day, there was a lot to be proud of because when you’re the leader of a program, you don’t only want it to be able to run when you’re there.
“You want it to be able to run in spite of your absence. So, to sit back and watch during the games was stressful, but it was rewarding to see the growth from my coaches, and players.
“And technology is amazing. They joked and said I was like God, because I was talking to them in practice. They could hear me but couldn’t see me, because they had me mic’d up from the house. So, I was still coaching all the way,” Coach Yo said.
While here at home Coach Yo said, she just planned to relax and that she did, spending some time on the beach, enjoying some conch, visiting with the girls’ soccer program and Coach Mary Knowles, and simply enjoying family time before leaving on Monday, April 5.