Pitman High varsity volleyball coach Kristen Pontes-Christian was recently named the 2016-17 Northern California Volleyball Coach of the Year by the California Coaches Association and will be honored at the Doubletree Hotel in Sacramento on June 17.
“I was shocked and never thought I would even come close to winning. The whole thing still seems very surreal to me. I don't coach to receive awards. I coach because I love the game,” said Pontes-Christian, who just concluded her 10th season.
The personal connections that Pontes-Christian has been able to make with her players and their families, is a key reason why she continues to coach.
“Some of my closest friends have come from this game and profession, and that's part of the reason I love this rewarding profession,” said Pontes-Christian. “Being a volleyball coach was my dream right after high school when I started coaching club volleyball at the age of 18.”
Pontes-Christian took advantage of her early opportunities and became head coach at 24 years of age.
“Coaching is also what got me into teaching at the high school level,” she said. “Everything happened so quickly when I unexpectedly took over the program. The first few years were definitely a learning curve and very difficult at times, but each year got a little better and I would say by the third year, I felt like I had my vision for what I wanted the program to be.”
From that point forward, she knew what was needed in order to take the program to the next level.
In her first three years only one team was able to top .500 and that was her third year in 2009. From that point on, Pitman has been a threat to all programs they face.
“Honestly, part of the success comes from the program vision that we can always do better each season and accomplish something new,” said Pontes-Christian. “Also, we always have the post-season in mind even from the beginning when we start over summer, so we know our end goal no matter what.”
From 2011-2015, Pitman won 58 consecutive Central California Conference games before Turlock snapped that streak back on Nov. 2, 2015.
“I never envisioned having the success that we've had the past six years,” said Pontes-Christian. “I still sometimes think back to the NorCal or State championship matches in 2014 or the section championships the past 3 years and it honestly feels like a dream. It all has happened so fast.”
Since 2010, Pitman has notched a 207-42 (.831) overall record.
“I know every season is a new one and it doesn't matter how far you got the previous year because you still have to get there again and one bad match can end it all,” she said. “I also have wonderful team parents who go above and beyond to fundraise and do anything needed to help make my job easier.”
Pontes-Christian said her success wouldn't have been possible without her support system.
“All of my amazing past and present coaching staff have assisted towards building this program,” said Pontes-Christian. “Especially my dad, who has been the most amazing support system for me as a coach and is the one I can always count on to coach each year.”
Every decision made each season is always with all three levels in mind and not just the varsity team, said Pontes-Christian.
“I would say the difference between Pitman and other local programs is that we are consistent with our high expectations for all players in our program,” she said. “I don't treat my program as three separate teams or groups of girls, but instead we are one program of amazingly talented volleyball players.”
Pontes-Christian also helped with getting younger players interested in volleyball.
“Helping start Turlock Crush seven years ago was the best thing I could have done for this program,” said Pontes-Christian. “Giving local players an opportunity to start playing earlier with scholarship opportunities and keeping lower costs in this area.”
Pontes-Christian has been the coach at Pitman for the past 10 years and has accumulated an overall record of 236-88-2 during that time.
Pitman won their third straight Division-I Sac-Joaquin Section title last season over crosstown rivals, Turlock High. It was the first time in program history that these two teams from the same town had met in the championship match.
“I love to coach players with just as much passion and intensity for the game of volleyball as I have,” she added. “My future coaching goals would be to always reach the fullest potential of every group of girls I have the chance to coach and to continue to strive for more blue banners.”