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Gateway’s patience, persistence finally pays off

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Gateway Christian volleyball coach Kerri Pirtle sets up the net in this 2018 file photo. (Daily Record Photo)

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The 2020-21 Gateway Lady Warriors volleyball team. No. 3 Gateway plays No. 1 Melrose today at 2 p.m. at The Pit in Albuquerque. The Lady Warriors are looking for their first state volleyball championship. (Submitted Photo)

Gateway Christian volleyball coach Kerri Pirtle once asked God to give her patience and he gave her four children. Little did she know that asking for patience would extend to other areas of her life: such as her coaching career.

Pirtle knows what it is like to play volleyball at the highest level and become a champion. She won a blue trophy as a senior at Goddard under coach Bobby Bates.

Bates taught her a lot about dedication and being committed to the team, which she uses. The main thing she has learned from Bates is how to build relationships with her players.

For the Lady Warriors, the climb to the top of Class A volleyball has been slow, consistent and steady. Pirtle is the school’s third coach, and it has taken roughly 20 years for the team to make it to the championship game.

For Pirtle, she has been coaching 15 years — one year at Hagerman and the last 14 years at Gateway Christian. She is the winningest coach in Gateway Christian’s history.

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Pirtle said that every coach doubts themselves or their coaching ability when they don’t get their team to where they should be. Pirtle has sometimes questioned whether she should change her game plans or what she would need to work on to help put her team in the best possible position to win.

“Yeah, there is a little bit of doubt when you don’t succeed,” Pirtle said. “Gateway has been a great place for me. Our administration and staff just give us anything we need to help these girls be successful. They help us, they support us. Our parents are great, and this is a great environment for me to coach in.”

On Tuesday night, Gateway Christian flourished with a 25-20, 23-25, 25-23 and 25-21 four-set win over Evangel Christian Academy/Oak Classical Academy at Mountainair High School.

Like many athletes and schools, it is important to get the chance to play games this year. Besides continuing to work hard, this championship game is about showing their faith in themselves, the team and God.

According to Pirtle, each team member checked their attitude at the door and focused on what is best for the team. Providing leadership and key plays for the team are seniors Kayli Reeves, Rachel Reeves, McKayla Fox, Courtney Gohres, Kira Balok and Hannah Martin. The team has also relied on juniors Hannah Lilley, Sarah Lilley, Amelia Tenorio and Lauren Hunter, while sophomores Avery Pirtle, Kylie Breedyk and M.J. Stephens have made timely saves and digs as well. The team takes its lead from freshman libero Dallye Burge.

Amid all that has gone on this season, Gateway is one win away from completing their dream season in this COVID-19 shortened season.

“I’m so proud of these girls,” Pirtle said. “With the COVID craziness, it has affected so much of their daily lives that they stayed dedicated, focused and rolled with the punches. I’m so proud of them.”

Pirtle has leaned on Hebrews 12:11 – No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Pirtle said that scripture has come to mind a lot during her coaching career, especially when she and her team are tired, or it’s been a long couple of weeks with not a lot of victories to show for the effort they have put in. Or it could be the dog days of a long season.

It’s difficult to want to show up to practice the next day and be determined to get through the tough times. Pirtle said that it is in those times she hopes to build character in her players that will sustain them during the tough times throughout their lives.

Gateway Christian (12-1 overall and 8-0 district) will now face the No. 1 seed, Melrose. The two teams have not met this year but Gateway figures they will continue to work hard and walk by faith since it has gotten them this far.

Pirtle said win or lose, this season has shown her that this group of girls will face adversity in life no matter what it looks like. That gives Pirtle hope for the future, and no matter what comes up for them, whether their season is cut short or taken away from them, they will face adversity head-on and find a way to prosper.

“We definitely want to win,” Pirtle said, “otherwise, why play the game? You can teach life skills just from practice. You can teach life skills in a myriad of ways. But you play the game to develop that character and the can-do attitude.

“I don’t think my team has played their best game yet this year,” Pirtle said. “I think they’re capable of more than they’ve given.”

Gateway Christian will play Melrose at The Pit today at 2 p.m.

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.

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