Updated: April 10, 2014 at 10:07 pm
Her coach referred to her as a general. Someday for Gabby Purnell, a role as an officer would suit the Mesa Ridge point guard just fine.
"My dad (Donald) is in the Army, and I want to follow in his footsteps," Purnell said. "I want to become an Army officer. Growing up in a military family, I believe that has given me a lot of leadership skills, and that transferred to the basketball court."
Indeed it did. Purnell, a senior, helped lead Mesa Ridge to a perfect 28-0 season and the school's first state championship in any sport.
On paper, The Gazette's 5A/4A Girls' Basketball Peak Performer of the Year averaged a team-high 12.7 points, to go along with 4.5 assists and 3.0 steals.
But perhaps her intangibles, those qualities you can't measure statistically, brought out the best in the Grizzlies.
"She flat out led us," Grizzlies coach Jeff Beatty said. "She did an incredible job as our floor general. She made all the offensive decisions on the floor. She made sure the ball was distributed well. She was such a wonderful player for us."
Purnell ended a four-year varsity career on top. In the semifinals, her last-second pass to Tiffani Jackson resulted in a buzzer-beating basket as the Grizzlies shocked defending champion Pueblo South, avenging the Grizzlies' only loss during the 2012-13 season.
And for an encore, Mesa Ridge suffocated the state's top offense in Broomfield, imposing its defensive will and raising the Class 4A gold ball at the Coors Events Center in Boulder.
"We just needed to play our game," Purnell said. "We couldn't let other teams dictate how we played. Our defense pretty much won every playoff game. Beating (Pueblo) South was a big weight off our shoulders, but we knew we weren't done. My teammates and I did a good job of going out and playing our kind of basketball."
By winning the state title, Purnell finished unfinished business from three seasons before, when the Grizzlies lost to Longmont in the 4A state semifinals.
Now, Purnell awaits some real business, first deciding where to take the next step on her way to achieving that longtime goal of Army officer and athletic trainer.
While she said West Point leads the way, Air Force and Sacred Heart also have come knocking, especially since Mesa Ridge's championship run.
"She's been a hot commodity once the season ended," Beatty said. "She has some Division I offers now. I'm excited for her. I'm glad she's finally getting this opportunity I thought she deserved to begin with."