Coach Lori Mabrey exudes intensity on the sideline. (Herron photo)

Having missed the postseason for three seasons in a row, a former Rio Rancho High School assistant coach has been hired to return the Rams to playing games beyond the District 1-5A tournament.
Back then, she was Lori Stephenson.
Since leaving RRHS in 2005, she became Lori Mabrey and took the Cibola High girls team to five state championship games, winning one.
As those in the know will say, hiring Mabrey — the wife of New Mexico High School Coaches Association Executive Director Buster Mabrey — was a no-brainer.
“She’s a proven winner and I think we’re getting a girls’ basketball coach with a strong reputation in the metro area and the state of New Mexico,” Rio Rancho Public Schools Executive Director of Athletics Bruce Carver said. “She’ll have a big challenger here at Rio Rancho, but our hope is eventually we’ll compete with Hobbs, Volcano Vista and La Cueva in girls’ basketball.”
Mabrey resigned her post with the Cougars in May 2021; under first-year coach Joe Sena, Cibola went 6-20 overall and 2-6 in District 1-5A last season, also missing the postseason and knocked out of the district tournament by the Rams.
“During COVID, I got a little burned out,” she said.
That proverbial “burnout,” she said, was overcome when she became “invigorated” and sparked a desire to be on the sideline this past season when she led an Albuquerque Academy team of sixth-grade girls to a parochial league championship.
Yeah, she’s still got it. And the Rams still want it.
“I think it’s amazing that she’s back home,” said former Rams standout Brio Rode, a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in the state during her five-year career with the Rams, when Stephenson was head coach Bobby McIntyre’s assistant.
“She is amazing for the game; she’s amazing for the girls,” Rode, the girls’ head coach at St. Pius X, said. “I’m excited to see her back — as a Ram, it makes my heart happy. This was a good decision for the Rams.”
First on Mabrey’s itinerary is hiring some assistants, to “hire the best staff I can get.” Although she’s made a few calls and gotten some input, “Nothing’s set in stone.”
Also on her list of to-do’s is meeting her future players’ parents and interested community members.
Reasons for optimism
It’s a process of “one step at a time,” she said, knowing “this first summer will be the toughest,” because she has some commitments to handle through her current contract with a charter school.
“It’s going to take some time. If anybody can do it, Lori can,” Carver said.
Back in the RAC, she replaces Scott Peterson, who announced his resignation in March after seven seasons at the helm, missing the state tournament the past three.
Mabrey departed her Rams post when Doug Dorame resigned his Cibola job as head coach down the hill; Stephenson successfully applied for that position.
“I probably stayed (at RRHS through the end of the 2004-05 season) so long because Mac is so awesome. I consider him a mentor and I love the man; I learned so much from him. The fact that he’s allowed me to grow so much in his program is why I was allowed a head position,” she said, alluding to McIntyre (1997-2009), the Rams’ original head coach.
“It was a hard call — it’s going to be bittersweet leaving him,” she said at the time, although the “sweet” part came when “her” Cougars went to state championship games in The Pit in 2009, ’11, ’15, ’16 and ‘18, winning all the marbles in 2015.
Mabrey was a star at Kirtland Central High School (Class of 1986) before playing at Clarendon Junior College and then Eastern New Mexico University.
Becoming the new Cougars coach then wasn’t her only opportunity: “I had been offered the Pojoaque job,” she said. “I wanted to stay in the city.”
“I think we made a very wise decision,” then-CHS Athletic Director Phil Schroer said. “She was really awesome in her interview and I know she’s going to do a good job.”
Obviously, she did, with five championship games to her credit.
Mabrey passed along her favorite RRHS memories upon her departure to Cibola:
“Going to state for the very first time in year number two (1998-99); getting an outstanding group of kids in Bridgette Johnson, Krystle Jim, Danielle Goodman and Stephanie Hightower; seeing someone like Brio Rode go to a Division I school.”
More good times in the RAC await.