Another former NCAA Division I star is joining the Labette Cardinals women’s basketball coaching staff.
Gabriella Cortez, who played at Louisiana-Monroe, has been hired to replace Tiffany Conner as the Cardinals’ assistant coach under head coach Mitch Rolls. Conner previously played at South Florida before joining the Labette staff.
In addition to playing collegiately at Southwest Mississippi Community College and UL-Monroe, Cortez also played professionally in France for a season. Rolls also played professionally in Europe.
“We had a lot of good candidates,” Rolls said. “I haven’t had this many good, quality candidates before. What stood out to me about Gabby was her playing experience and personality. She did some things similar to what I did in going to play professionally.”
Cortez is a native of Natchitoches, Louisiana. In her senior season at UL-Monroe as a forward, Cortez averaged 15.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
After graduating from UL-Monroe in 2018 then playing overseas, Cortez spent last season as an assistant coach at Centenary College of Louisiana, an NCAA Division III school.
“She’s going to know what it takes for our kids to get to that next level,” Rolls said. “She knows that process personally. She’s been a JUCO kid. So she’ll be able to give them good advice. I don’t know much about her Xs and Os, but I’m pretty flexible with what we run here. I just need that extra voice.”
Cortez said she visited Parsons before taking the job and is excited to join the community.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Cortez said. “I visited there and got to meet Coach Rolls and a couple of the players. It’s a family atmosphere in Parsons. Everybody was so nice. I’m from a small family town, so it felt like leaving home to go home.”
Labette finished this past season as Kansas Jayhawk Conference champions, Region VI champions and ranked No. 2 in the final national poll. The Cardinals qualified for the NJCAA Division II national tournament as the second overall seed before it was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m glad I’m part of a nationally-ranked program. I feel like I can bring a lot of different experiences,” Cortez said. “I went the JUCO route, so I can show them hope and encouragement and outlook from this route. You can go Division I and play professionally from this place.”
Rolls spent the entire campaign this past winter without an assistant coach on staff. Conner departed the program for another job just prior to the start of the season.
“When she left, that showed me where I needed to pick up the slack,” Rolls said. “Now I’m really excited about Coach Cortez. I think she’ll be a great addition.”
Cortez believes she’ll immediately gel with a program that is coming off one of the best seasons in school history.
“It’s a system that already works. Rolls and I have the same system, have the same beliefs and practice rituals,” Cortez said. “I’m coming into a program and a style that I’m used to. Hopefully I can help it grow, get that No. 1 spot in the nation and go win a national championship next year.”
With the Cardinals a bona fide national power and the coaching staff filled for the first time in over half a year, Rolls has the same goals as Cortez for the 2020-21 season.
“We’re going to keep taking another step forward,” Rolls said. “If you look at the way we’re finishing every year, it seems like we’re trending upward. I want to keep that trajectory going.”