Seniors-to-be Alyssa Flores, left, and Autumn Jackson are optimistic about returning to the sport they love after a two-season absence. (Gary Herron/The Observer)




I’ve had a lot of really good coaches in the past, but, really, none like this that pushed me to be my best — Alyssa Flores


Although the temperature outside was in the 90s, it probably felt hotter inside the Lincoln Middle School gym this week to about 40 girls who participated in new Rio Rancho High School girls basketball coach Lori Mabrey’s hoops camp.

During a 10-minute water break, two Rams hopefuls spoke to the Observer, each happy to return to the game they love after leaving the game after freshman seasons. They’re optimistic about their chances of playing — maybe even as starters —  considering last year’s team said goodbye to nine seniors.

Guards and seniors-to-be Alyssa Flores and Autumn Jackson have been friends off the court, too, since they met as freshmen, and ARE excited about the coaching change. Former rams coach Scott Peterson resigned after the 2021-22 season – the third in a row without a postseason appearance.

“Since I was about 6,” Flores said, when asked when she began playing the game.

“I like her passion. She’s a really good coach,” Flores said. “I’ve had a lot of really good coaches in the past, but, really, none like this that pushed me to be my best.”

The camp in the Leopards’ gym, where Mabrey was helped by some of her former standouts from her days coaching at Cibola High – Amaya Brown, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Mexico in 2016 among them – was Mabrey’s first, but she’s been overseeing open gyms in recent weeks.

The two also attended the open-gym sessions, held in the Rams Athletic Center.

How has she improved in such short time?

“Definitely my defense. My defense improved a lot; I noticed that,” Flores said. “And my shooting as well. My form is a lot better than it was.”

For those who know Mabrey and her style, they know she’s a stickler for fundamentals.

“I’m really excited for my senior year. We’ve got a really good coach,” Flores added.

Jackson came to Rio Rancho from Shiprock, known in the past for having great girls basketball teams. She’s attended RRHS the past three years.

Jackson said she stopped playing when the pandemic began, but agreed with Flores that she’s happy about the coaching change.

“I’ve been playing since third grade. I was playing back at home, with the Kirtland girls, too,” she said, unaware Mabrey – her name was Lori Stephenson when she was a standout at Kirtland Central – came from the Four Corners.

“I like how she breaks down a lot of her plays; ball-handling, too, and defense,” she said. “Having us go over it over and over till we get it right.”