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Former Ram to lead the Sartans; man she replaces heads to the Cleveland Storm

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — A former Ram has a new head coaching job, thanks to a Rio Ranchoan leaving that post — but taking a new one here in Rio Rancho, where he lives.

Confused? You won’t be for long.

Brio Rode, a Rio Rancho High School Sports Hall of Fame inductee, has been named the new girls basketball coach at St. Pius X High School.

Rode — RRHS’s only two-time Gatorade winner (2001, ’03) — will succeed River’s Edge resident Phil Griego, who recently resigned and will become the boys junior varsity coach at Cleveland High School.

A member of RRHS’s Class of 2004, Rode played five seasons for the Rams, then coached by Bob McIntyre, and became the first Ram to score 1,000 points — and still owns the girls’ single-game scoring record, 35 points, which she managed in a Mel Otero tournament game on Dec. 7, 2001.

Rode averaged 19 points, six assists and three steals in her senior season; 19.7 points and 5.4 rebounds a game as a junior. As a member of the Rams, she helped get the team to five state tournaments, including three semifinal rounds.

In her final game as a high school player, she scored 41 points and was named the MVP in the 2004 East-West All-Star Game.

She then went to play at the University of California, followed by short stints at Seward County Community College and San Francisco State. A founder of the Student-Athlete Headquarters (SAHQ) in southeast Albuquerque, Rode also spent four seasons as a coach at Sandia High School, moving up through the ranks from boys C-team coach to JV coach and then as a varsity assistant to head coach Alvin Broussard.

“I’ve been blessed with good basketball coaches and basketball IQ,” Rode, 34, said.

This new opportunity with the Sartans, who had back-to-back 19-win seasons before an 18-win season in 2018-19, came out of nowhere, she said, after Griego decided it was “time to leave” after 23 years of coaching the Sartans. Along the way, his teams won state championships in 2006, ’08 and ’09.

“I have not applied for a single job,” Rode said. “The St. Pius (athletic director, Jim Cook) called and asked if I would be interested. It was a blessing.”

Ironically, in another odd twist to this story, Rode’s mother, Charlotte (nee Goodwin) is a former Sartan who played for former St. Pius X coach McIntyre in the 1980s in San Sebastian Gym on the original SPX camps, on what is now the site of ABQ Uptown. And the man Griego’s replacing, Nick Gerard (pursuing a higher degree), was one of RRHS’s first hoops stars and the school’s first North all-star (in 2000).

“Nick Gerard has decided not to coach the 2019-20 campaign at Cleveland,” CHS coach Sean Jimenez said. “He has a third child due here pretty soon and he wants to work on getting his level 3 license. Nick has been a huge part of Cleveland’s success with myself and coach (Brian) Smith. He will be greatly missed.”

So, Rode says, “It’s kinda come full circle. My mom’s my No. 1 supporter — she knows my passion is to coach.”

Someday, another piece of this puzzle may fit in: Rode’s 8-year-old daughter Amiyah, who also loves the game, could become a Sartan.

“I’m good friends with coach Phil; I know he’s done a good job there,” she said. “They have a good foundation, and it was good to get some insight from him.”

That insight session, she recalled, lasted two hours. Griego said Rode was a bit hesitant about coaching girls, and now he’s looking forward to coaching boys.

If you know Rode, you know she’ll fit it.

“I’ve got to get to know the girls, what they can do and their style. I’m more a fundamentals-, life-lesson coach. If they work hard and harder than anyone else, then the outcomes are beneficial,” she explained. “I’m going to go in, get to know them, build trust. We’ll be doing hard things together.”

Basically, she said, “Girls are better, honestly, as far as what you ask fundamentally — it doesn’t have to be super-complicated. I want them buying into the system, have each others’ backs — it’s not just the X’s and O’s.”

Although the Sartans’ 2019-20 schedule is all but completed, and doesn’t include a game with the Rams, Rode said she’ll hope to get her alma mater on the Sartans’ schedule in her second season on the SPX bench.

“I have one focus — get in there and get them working hard,” Rode said. “I do it right next to them.”

She said the players will ride “The Energy Bus,” which is a book — players will be “on” same bus, headed in the same direction.

Rode said she gleaned advice from McIntyre and Lori Mabrey, a former Rams assistant and currently the girls coach at Cibola High, and the next step is to complete her staff.

“I haven’t gotten that far,” she said last week. “I think who you have on your sideline is really important. I want people I trust, with knowledge and loyalty. I have some ideas; I have good people in my circle.”

“She’s got a really good group of kids, plus some who’ll be varsity kids right away,” Griego said. “It’s a nice strong team; I was afraid of leaving the program there (with a weaker team).

“There’s never a good time to leave — you always have a great group coming up,” he said. “I’m pretty sure we have at least two six-foot kids coming in, plus some really good guards coming in. It’s a strong group — it’s always tough.”

Saying goodbye, of course, was tough, but he’s looking forward to saying hello to the Storm.

“I loved every moment of it; nothing bad ever happened. It was just time for me to make the move — it was time for me to do something else,” Griego said.

Strangely, in spite of the large coaching network in the state, Griego had never met Jimenez.

“My son-in-law’s uncle is good friend of Sean,” he explained, and Jimenez called him. “I wanted to coach boys again; we hit it off really well — it just fell in place for me.”

“I had the pleasure of interviewing and hiring Phil Griego, who has an outstanding résumé,” Jimenez said. “While we didn’t personally know each other, we knew of each other. I have followed his career.

“When I got into high school coaching in New Mexico and have seen the success he had with St. Pius girls, winning three state championships in his 23 years at St. Pius, Phil will bring a lot of coaching experience to our staff.  He is a tremendous family man with impeccable character.”

“I always wanted to coach in our community, just a few minutes from home,” Griego said.

A native of Belen, he has two brothers — Ken and Danny — who coached the Belen Eagles boys teams in past decades.

“Phil will fit in perfect with Cleveland High School,” vowed Jimenez. “I look forward to coaching with him.”

Brio Rode lofts a shot during a Rio Rancho High School game back in 2001. She knows her way around a gym, that’s for sure.