New Rivendell coach revamps girls basketball program
|Published: 02-02-2024 9:31 PM
ORFORD — At small high schools across Vermont and New Hampshire, coaches can often be few and far between, and many of them have to stretch to help maintain active varsity and junior varsity teams at their schools.
At Rivendell Academy, however, this concept is taken to a new level.
New girls basketball coach Ross Jensen has taken the reins of the school’s entire basketball program — coaching the middle school, junior varsity and varsity Raptors as part of year one of a bottom-up rebuild.
“I get to put my stamp on everything. … help all players at all different levels grow and build a unified culture here.” said Jensen.
Jensen, 49, comes to the Upper Valley with solid coaching experience from several states prior to the Rivendell job. He coached at Athol High School in Massachusetts the past two years and spent the season before as head coach at small-school powerhouse Pacelli Catholic in Wisconsin.
“When I looked at his resume, I was kind of surprised he’d want to coach (at Rivendell)” said Rivendell athletic director Jamie Bourn. “Having a coach with this kind of experience is definitely unique, and I think I was lucky to bring him into the program.”
He inherits a team that hit rock bottom last season.
After years of diminishing results since success in the early 2010s, the Raptors won just a single game and were blown out in the first round of the VPA Division IV playoffs by Leland and Gray.
“I wanted someone who understood that they were getting a tough job. This isn’t a seasoned, experienced varsity program; it’s something that needs building from the ground up,” said Bourn.
Rivendell’s practices mirror this ethos.
All three squads work out together up to six times a week, splitting off occasionally so the team’s more senior players can work on more advanced skills and learn the same basic offensive sets and multitude of defenses run in the Rivendell program. Conditioning is also a shared task, with players ranging from 13 to 18 all working to keep pace with each other in intense exercises.
After practice, the varsity team stays on for up to an hour more to break down film of themselves and opponents.
The end goal of this process is to create a shared “championship culture,” described by Jensen as “hard work, passion, toughness and teamwork” at all levels of the program.
Rivendell’s players have largely embraced the new program. While a small number of players have fallen off, a majority remain committed and are doing their best to adjust.
“I think we’re a pretty consolidated area, so once you get out of that you kind of get new perspectives, and he’s brought that in,” said senior guard Mason Fahey. “He brings a really good insight to the game.”
The hire marks an attempt to address Rivendell’s lone weak point in its overall sports success. The small interstate school district has proven to be a strong multi-sport contender, with both soccer programs routinely topping their Southern Vermont League divisions and making deep playoff runs. The boys basketball program has won 20 games in three of the past four seasons as well as the VPA D-IV championship last winter.
“We’re always looking to grow and expand on athletics here (at Rivendell), and this was a real opportunity to do that,” said Bourn, currently in his second year as athletic director.
The on-court results haven’t quite arrived yet, with the varsity Raptors sitting at 4-10, but clear gains have been made. Three of those losses are by 3 points or fewer.
And after giving up 50 or more points on 13 occasions last season, the Raptors have allowed an opponent to break that threshold just once this year. There was a rocky two-game start to the year, but then the team barely lost to rival Oxbow on a buzzer-beating three-pointer and put a scare into undefeated Long Trail in a six-point loss.
A large reason for Rivendell optimism moving forward comes from the youth of the varsity team. With just two seniors, the Raptors are led largely by a trio of freshman starters in guards Lily Murray and Lyza Taylor, and forward Peyton Gray, all of whom have emerged as strong contributors in their inaugural varsity season.
“I’ve had a lot of coaches just tell me that I’m good and haven’t helped me improve because of that,” said Murray. “Ross is actually pushing me to become better, rather than just telling me that I’m there.”
While Rivendell is not a clear contender in this year’s playoffs, Jensen remains extremely bullish on the team’s outlook.
“I think we’ll start competing for championships very soon.” he said.