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Gateway basketball no longer off radar

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Gateway Christian after defeating Tatum for the district championship 48-39. (Submitted Photo)

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Daniel Smith is about to embark on his third season as the head boy’s basketball coach at Gateway Christian School. Last year at this time, the Warriors probably weren’t on anyone’s radar. When the season starts later this year, the competition might want to keep an eye on the Roswell school.

During Smith’s rookie year, the Warriors were 14-13 and lost 57-39 at Lordsburg in the opening round of the state basketball tournament. This past season Gateway was 21-9 and they made it to the second round of the state playoffs after edging Dora 46-44 in the opening round and then lost 60-51 to Magdalena in the second round.

“Both seasons were wonderful,” Smith said. “The advantage to the second season is that we were able to turn various skills such as shooting and defensive concepts into habits with better understanding.”

Heading into last season, Smith felt that the Warriors matured from the previous year.

“We grew as individuals first and foremost,” Smith said. “Going into the season, most of the polls did not have us ranked as high as we thought. But throughout the summer we knew the capability to be a solid team. At one point, we had even climbed to the second or third spot in the state in our classification.”

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Gateway will have plenty of upper-class experience heading into the 2018-19 campaign. The Warriors lost only one player to graduation and that was Alonzo Grajeda.

“Although he was a key component to our success, we have kids all working hard to earn a starting role next season,” Smith said.

Looking at the Warriors’ roster, the team will be stacked with upper-class experience as Riley Arnold, Gage Estes, Jaydon Stephens and Wyatt Arlett will be seniors. Meanwhile, Wes Tipton, Chase Winkler, Joel Perry and Joe Waide will be juniors.

“We should come back as a stronger upper-classmen team,” Smith said. “Jaydon was our point guard. Joe was a shooter. Wes has a strong inside presence along with a 3-point shot and Gage dominated the boards.”

The Warriors also have some strength in the under-class ranks as Travis Pirtle will be a sophomore this coming year and Luke Tipton, Ethan Pirtle and Hurley Breedyk will be freshmen. All were on last year’s varsity roster.

“This summer has shown a lot of progress with a number of young men really working to get better for next year,” Smith said.

While the Warriors have some familiar faces back, the competition will be slightly different as Gateway Christian is leaving 2A and heading to 1A thanks to reclassification by the New Mexico Activities Association.

The governing body for New Mexico high school athletics has decided to do away with the six school classifications in favor of five and because of enrollment at certain schools like Gateway, has meant they’ve had to go down in class.

For the past couple of seasons, the Warriors competed in District 4-2A with Hagerman, Jal and Tatum.

Gateway and Tatum will be competing in District 4-1A later this year with Dora, Floyd, Elida and Lake Arthur.

“I believe we are coming into the strongest district into the state,” Smith said. “Overall the district is very hard with teams that are working to improve as well.”

Smith doesn’t see much difference from 2A and 1A.

“There are great teams in both classifications and both are very competitive,” Smith said.

June is the time for high school basketball teams in New Mexico to participate in camps and tournaments. Smith said the Warriors were at a camp last week in Oklahoma City.

“It’s an opportunity to grow as a team over the summer,” Smith said. “We have high expectations coming into next season and God willing will have a successful season of growth as a team and individuals. Hopefully, winning will be the byproduct of diligent work.”

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