Things almost seem back to normal these days in the Rams Athletic Center at Rio Rancho High School.

Coach Lori Mabrey is yelling instructions and flashing thumbs up as she watches hopefuls on the court, much like she did 17 years ago.

Mabrey, married to New Mexico High School Coaches Association Executive Director Buster Mabrey, a former coach, was a Rams assistant from the team’s inaugural season (1997-98) until 2005, when Cibola High School coach Doug Dorame resigned to become athletic director and girls basketball coach at Albuquerque High.

She got the Cougars’ job, and stayed there until she resigned following the 2020-21 season. Her CHS teams were 12-8 vs. the Rams in games played in the RAC during her 16 seasons.

When she got the job “down the hill,” she was asked what she’d take to her first head-coaching job.

“I’m going to try to employ my own system, the Lori Stephenson way of doing things — half-court defense and solid fundamentals,” she said. “We’re going to set some goals, first and foremost — try to win a district championship and then a state championship. I’m going to set high goals.”

Those goals won’t change, following the success she had on the Cougars’ sideline: Five championship-game appearances and one state title, in 2015 – and more than 300 victories there.

The Rams, who lost in a state semifinal game in The Pit in March 2009 – the last Rams game coached by McIntyre – have only managed to get as far as a state quarterfinal game and haven’t made the postseason the past three seasons.

When Scott Peterson handed in his resignation, it was almost reminiscent of something from “Ghostbusters”: Who ya gonna call?

You get the picture; it was Mabrey.

At her camp in the RAC last week, where Mabrey said she was seeing 40-some girls show up – not always the same girls, though – each day, the focus was on getting better.

“Lots of eighth- and ninth- and 10th-graders” were showing up, and Mabrey said she’d contact the middle schools sending students to RRHS as freshmen, plus AAU groups and Rio Rancho’s Girls Youth Basketball of New Mexico facility.

“We got kids in and out all summer. I told them nothing’s mandatory, but everything’s free, and you’re invited to all of it,” she said. “If you can make it every single day, make it every single day.”

Returning to the RAC, she said, felt like a breath of fresh air.

“Just the commitment to athletics in general … I think these girls are a little spoiled, to be honest with you,” she said. “I looked at the weight room; I’m like, ‘My God.’ It’s amazing. The facilities are well taken care of. I’d have to get to Cibola, and I’d have to sweep the floor every day and make sure everything was ready to go, little things I think coaches take for granted up here.

“It feels full-circle for me,” she added

“It’s going to take a little time to get it going. There’s some big, athletic kids in the gym,” Mabrey said.

That’s the best place for basketball players to be.

Her goal for 2022-23 season?

“The goal is definitely to win more than we drop and to be in that district title game,” she said. “I know we’ve got our hands full with Volcano (Vista, two-time defending champs and unbeaten last season), but I think Cibola’s down a little bit; I think Cleveland’s down a little bit. I think Atrisco (Heritage Academy) is where they are.

“With a good defensive effort on our part and solid fundamentals, I think we could push to be in a district-tournament game.”

Mabrey will have three of her former Cougar stars working for her at this week’s camp, Monday-Friday, at Lincoln Middle School. That trio includes Amaya brown, who recently transferred from Florida State to the University of New Mexico, with one season of eligibility remaining.

“I don’t know how many years I have left in my, but I’m having a great time right now, and pretty excited about our future here.

Lori Mabrey, a former Rams girls assistant basketball coach, now holds the reins as the new head coach entering the 2022-23 season, which can’t start soon enough for her. (Herron photo)