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Gateway Christian: from a season of testing to victory

The Gateway girls basketball team stand together as they await a selection to the state tournament on Sunday. The Lady Warriors got the No. 6 seed and host No. 11 Clovis Christian tonight at 6 p.m. (Submitted Photo)

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Gateway Christian basketball coach Holly Tipton knows what it’s like to have faith. Tipton knows what it’s like to work, pray and believe during a season of adversity. As a believer, Tipton measures her life in seasons, not years.

Faith was probably hard to hang onto two seasons ago. The team suffered season-ending injuries to two of her playmakers: Kaylee Stephens and Sierra Fresquez were out for their sophomore basketball seasons due to Achilles’ heels tears. That season led to a 5-18 overall record and a 1-5 district record.

Tipton is having the best season of her eight years on the bench. Now for her to continue onto the “Promised Land,” her team will have to defeat another Christian school, Clovis Christian to move on to Albuquerque.

“Our girls worked hard over the off-season,” Tipton said. “That, combined with great focus and determination throughout the season, has been a key to our success. We (assistant coach Ray Fresquez and I) are very proud of them.”

This is the first time in school history that girls’ basketball has won the district in the regular season and was the No. 1 seed in the district tournament, and made it to state in the same season.

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According to Tipton, the key to this season has been one of faith, prayer and focus, which gave them strength and confidence in their abilities.

The spiritual growth gained by this year’s team helped make them more determined not to let past losses influence their future. Gateway knew if they did their part, and took care of their business and controlled the things they could, and gave God the glory no matter what the results were, everything would work out for their good and God’s glory. 

When they take on Clovis Christian today, they will face a Clovis team that is tall and athletic. 

“We have been working hard to prepare for them,” Tipton said. “The girls are determined and have made new goals for themselves.  We are blessed to be healthy at this point in the season and are very thankful to God for His protection.”

Tipton’s message to her team is: They have what they need to do the job ahead of them. They have to play within themselves, stay focused and have each other’s backs.   

“I would say that my seniors are definitely special,” Tipton said. “Two years ago, both of them (Stephens and Fresquez) were out for their sophomore basketball seasons due to ACL tears. Both have worked hard to get back out there. They are a huge part of our team this year. They are the leaders of our team and continue to be a great help to me in coaching this team.”

Clovis Christian has transitioned into a zone defensive team in the middle of the season.

“Our team is very excited about making it into the tournament,” Clovis Christian coach Kenny Duong said. “We have been working extremely hard all year and are happy that we made it into the playoffs, especially with our extremely tough district. We feel prepared and have the three best teams in the state, to be in our district really helps us prepare for anything.”

Duong stated that they have not played or seen Gateway Christian. “We have not played them, even in the summer or otherwise,” Duong said. The key for Clovis is they want to control the tempo on offense and defense.  

“Sometimes we have really uptempo high scoring games,” Duong said. “Sometimes we have slower-paced games. The key for us is if we are controlling or not. We have a well-balanced attack with Junior Lola De Groot leading the charge. She averages a double-double. We also have our senior point guard Sofi Garbarino, who disperses the ball really well. She has been averaging about 7-8 assists in the last few weeks. We get our starting freshman guard, Sofia De Groot, back from injury.

“She had several 20+ point games before she broke her hand in January. Junior Forward Makayla Robinson had definitely stepped up in the past couple of games, where she scored 22 points against Grady and 10 points against Fort Sumner. Abby Lusk is also huge for us on rebounds and defense. She and Lola De Groot are both about 5-foot-8, so I think we definitely have size on our side. I think we match up well with Gateway. Coach Tipton definitely has a talented squad there. We know they know how to win, they won their district. We do not take them lightly at all.”

Gateway’s defense has mostly been their strongest attribute as a team. Tipton pointed out the Lilley twins (Hannah and Sarah) have been a huge part of this. They share qualities of being easy to coach with quickness and are obedient.

The coaches at Gateway have tried to make everyone on the team feel like they’re a part of the success this year, whether they play junior varsity or varsity. Tipton feels all 18 girls she’s coached have enriched her life and poured into her as she has poured into them. 

This week during practice, Tipton has talked to the girls about them preparing and then relaxing. Knowing that her team is enough is due to her personal growth and walk with God.

“As Christian women,” Tipton said, “it’s easy to think we need to do more. As coaches, we have worked hard to prepare the girls, it has become apparent that at some point, all of our work (the girls and their coaches) is enough. The girls are enough and they do not have to play perfectly. God did not make us that way. We need to relax and know that God has the rest (Psalm 16:5). 

Gateway Christian will take one more step of faith against Clovis Christian.

Gateway will play at home at 6 p.m.

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