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Pitman coaching legend retires after 16 seasons
Kristen Pontes-Christian 1
Pitman High volleyball coach Kristen Pontes-Christian earned her 300th victory in September 2021, amidst a COVID season (Journal file photo).

The final curtain is about to drop on the most successful coaching stint in the history of Pitman High School.

But if Kristen Pontes-Christian has anything to say about it, that curtain will stay up for another few weeks.

Pontes-Christian, who has guided the school’s volleyball program since 2007, is stepping down after an illustrious 16-season career that has produced 10 league championships, three Sac-Joaquin Section banners, 374 career victories and incredible 58-game league winning streak between 2011 and 2015.

She has one of the top teams in the section this season and it’s not farfetched to think she could go out on top.

“Actually, last week on Senior Night, that was an emotional night,” said Pontes-Christian. “We obviously honored our six amazing seniors and then they honored me, which, I don’t really like. I mean, I appreciate that stuff, but I also don’t feel like it’s needed. But that was emotional.”

The Pride (32-5) open the Division 1 playoffs Tuesday as the No. 4 seed. They’ll play host to No. 13 McClatchy (15-9) at 7 p.m.

No. 8 Turlock, meanwhile, will host No. 9 Franklin at 7 p.m.

Kristen Pontes-Christian 2
Veteran Pitman High girls volleyball coach Kristen Pontes-Christian tackled a new challenge in 2023 — the Pride’s first-ever boys volleyball program (Journal file photo).

St. Mary’s (Stockton) garnered the top seed, while Rocklin was installed as the second seed.

Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills), which beat Pitman 17-25, 25-27, 25-19, 25-20, 15-0 in Turlock on Sept. 7, is the third seed.

Coaches and athletes are notorious for focusing on the game at hand, and not looking past an opponent. But make no mistake, Pontes-Christian’s players would love to send her out on a memorable note.

“It’s my senior year and her last year,” said right-side Ella Sniezek. “I feel like we owe it to ourselves, and to her, because she’s put in so much to the program. We all want to go as far as we can because we just want to make her proud. She’s always been that role model for us, and making her proud is the best feeling.”

Senior setter Payton Rowell agreed.

“She definitely deserves it. I’m very confident. We’ve been making a lot of progress over the weeks.”

Senior middle blocker Madison Eissayou thinks they can do even better than a section title for their coach.

“Going as far as we can and making it to state would be good,” said Eissayou. “I think we could win state, if we’re all on and do our job, I think we can.”

Reaching the state final would be a huge accomplishment, something Pitman did in 2014. Led by Lindsey Vander Weide, the Pride posted a 44-2 record, captured the Northern California, and met Redondo Union (Redondo Beach) for the state crown. 

“I think Kristen really taught me to have grit,” said Vander Weide, the former University of Oregon star who is now playing professionally with Athletes Unlimited in Arizona. “We were always the best team in league, but she had us working like worst time league. Now that I look back on it, having played collegiately and in the pros, the conditioning we did in high school was insane.

“She made me have grit. She helped me get into a high-level college. There’s a lot I attribute to her.”

Pontes-Christian began her tenure as the Pride head coach in 2007 and after three seasons had an overall record of 29-46, which didn’t do much to distinguish her from her predecessors Paola Inman and Shelly Brown, who were a combined 18-50-2 in the school’s first three seasons.

But in 2010, with a roster of players that advanced solely through Pontes-Christian’s program, the Pride were 25-8 and secured the program’s first-ever playoff victory. A year later came Pitman’s first league title, and three years after that came the first of three consecutive section championships, a span in which the Pride went 102-17.

But the 2023 team provided her with the perfect opportunity to step away.

“This senior class, I’ve had three of them since they were sophomores,” Pontes-Christian said of Rowell, Sniezek and Eissayou, who also played for her as youth on the Turlock Crush. “I definitely wanted to see them through. And I knew that the dynamic of this team, the chemistry, was very good.”

Pontes-Christian will be replaced by Ari Amini, who was part of the staff at Alhambra (Martinez) that won a pair of NorCal titles. He took over as head coach the following year and led the Bulldogs to a postseason berth.

“I feel valued that she would pass her baby off to me,” said Amini. “But I feel that pressure a little bit. I have some big shoes to fill.”