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Jensen returns to front Crater volleyball

CENTRAL POINT — Leaf Jensen may have left the Crater High volleyball program after the 2003 season but the volleyball bug never left him.

Jensen, who coached the Comets from 1997-2003, was recently given the keys to the Crater program for the second time. He replaces Jen Mendenhall, who stepped down after two seasons as head coach due to personal reasons.

Since leaving Crater, Jensen has spent time assisting the volleyball team at Southern Oregon University and coaching at Scenic Middle School, where he has been a teacher for the last 17 years.

"Leaf is well connected in the volleyball world and has head coaching experience that offers a lot to Crater High School," said David Heard, the athletic director at Crater. "It is also advantageous for us to have a teacher in the district as our head coach."

Jensen originally left Crater to spend more time with his young family but returns to the Comets with the same spark he had when his coaching life first began.

"The timing is kind of nice," said Jensen, 42. "My son will be a senior next year and I've been able to watch him do his thing. My daughter is a seventh-grader this year. I've been coaching her at Scenic, so that kind of rekindled the interest."

Jensen also knows what to expect this time around.

"I'm a little older, a little wiser now," he said. "I know the amount of work that's coming, but I'm really excited about doing it."

Jensen took Crater to the state playoffs during the 2001 and 2002 seasons — the Comets' first trips since 1988. In 2002, Crater won a road playoff match as the now-defunct Southern Oregon Conference's No. 4 seed.

Since Jensen's departure, Crater bounced from Class 5A to the Class 6A level. Next season, the Comets will return to 5A as part of the Midwestern League with Ashland, Eagle Point and four Eugene-area schools.

"I think we'll be fine," said Jensen. "I know I'll bring a consistency and settling factor to the program because I've been involved before. I know how to run a program and how to run a club."

Jensen will also get to pick the brains of SOU head volleyball coach Josh Rohlfing — his brother-in-law — and former South Medford coach Adam Wagman. Both Rohlfing and Wagman, who now runs the North Valley program, coach with mOcean Volleyball Club.

"(Rohlfing) is an amazing resource to have," said Jensen. "I'll get to go through spring practices with them, and it'll give me a chance to re-introduce myself to the pace.

"It'll be great having these guys to work with."

"Being a middle school teacher will help because I get to meet a lot of them when they are young and I can keep them involved in the program," added Jensen. "Consistency is also a big thing. I plan on being there for a while."

The Comets struggled in recent years at the 6A level, having won just three of 32 league matches over the last four seasons.

Crater will lose three seniors but returns the bulk of its lineup next season.

"I'm really looking forward to it," said Jensen. "It was neat going to a basketball game the other night and having all these volleyball players approach me to talk about the team. It's a pretty exciting thing."

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 541-776-4483, or email kgoff@mailtribune.com