Jensens share trip to State Tournament
By John Kemmeter
After guiding the Amherst High School boys basketball team to the State Tournament during his son Marcus’ senior year in 2013, Amherst girls basketball head coach Gregg Jensen will get to share the same experience with his younger daughter Geena.
A junior forward, Geena has been one of the top three-point shooters in the state this season for the Falcons, who fell a win short of advancing to state last year.
Third-ranked Amherst (25-1) had a another chance to get there this year, as Geena came off the bench to help the Falcons beat Southern Door 50-39 in a WIAA Division 3 Sectional Final at Kaukauna Saturday, March 3, to earn a trip to state.
“I’m really excited,” said Geena. “This whole year, this is our goal that we wanted, and I’m really glad that we were able to accomplish that.”
“When you have an opportunity to coach your son or daughter, and when you get down there, it’s special,” said coach Jensen. “It’s one of those things that you’ll really enjoy later on, and just like her brother and all of our players here, she put a lot of time into it, and it’s going to be enjoyable.
“And it’s also special because I think we had a little angel looking down on us, her mother,” he said. “Definitely looking down to give us a little help today, and the whole season, and hopefully she’ll keep shining down on us.”
During his 29-year run as the head coach of the Amherst boys basketball team, Jensen guided the Falcons to a State Tournament appearance in 1999, and then retired after they reached the State Tournament in 2013 during Marcus’ senior season.
He retuned to coaching a year later, as he took over the Amherst girls basketball program when Geena was an eighth-grader in 2014-15, as his wife Mary told him that he was going to have to go Geena’s games anyway, and either he could complain in the stands, or coach from the sidelines and be able to do something about it.
The following summer, Mary, a speech-language pathologist and mother of three, unexpectedly had an aneurysm and died while at a basketball tournament for Geena in Minneapolis.
The Jensen family banded together through basketball, with oldest daughter Molly serving as the video coordinator for the Amherst girls basketball team, and Marcus joining his father’s staff as an assistant coach.
“Marcus does a good job, he helps us in practice and also sees things too from his playing days,” said coach Jensen. “And then we’ve got Molly on the videotape, so I know that the game’s going to be taped well.
“It’s special to have everybody involved,” he said. “It’s a fun family thing.”
“I really look up to my brother, especially with shooting,” said Geena. “Ever since I was little, I always saw him shooting and I always wanted to be like him.
“I always look up to my dad too,” she said. “And it means a lot to have him coaching me.”
Geena saw action on varsity in two games as a freshman, and then came off the bench as a sophomore last year, when Amherst carried a 20-game win streak into the Sectional Finals, when it lost 60-53 to Wrightstown to finish 24-2 overall.
Geena has continued to come off the bench this season as a junior and is third on the team in scoring with 8.7 points per game, while she ranks second in Division 3 in three-point percentage at 42.7 percent.
That earned her a spot in the WIAA 3-Point Challenge that will be held at the Girls Basketball State Tournament in Green Bay Saturday, March 10, with the Top Two finishers in three-point percentage in each of the state’s five divisions selected to compete, provided their team doesn’t advance to state.
“I said, ‘if we can get down there as a team, we’ll take that over that individual stuff,’” said coach Jensen. “Not that I wouldn’t have liked that, but the team thing is a lot better.”
Amherst carried a 21-game winning streak into Sectionals last week, where it knocked off top-ranked Wrightstown 74-56 in the Sectional Semifinals Thursday, March 1, to avenge its season-ending loss from a year ago.
The Falcons then took on Southern Door in the Sectional Finals Saturday afternoon at Kaukauna High School, coach Jensen’s alma mater, where he graduated as the boys basketball team’s all-time leading scorer and is a member of its Hall of Fame.
Geena hit a three-pointer to give the Falcons a 15-3 lead less than five minutes into the game, while she buried another three-pointer to give the team a 36-22 lead with 10:19 left in the second half.
With Amherst up 50-36 with 39.2 seconds to play, and the game and a trip to state well in hand, coach Jensen pulled his regulars out of the game and the celebration began, while he hugged his daughter Geena on the sideline.
“It was kind of funny because he said, ‘we’re going to Madison,’… but actually it’s Green Bay,” said Geena. “But when he hugged me, I almost started crying and I almost broke down right there.
“And I was like, ‘oh my gosh, we’re actually going to state,’” she said.
The celebration continued after the final buzzer, with more hugs, and pictures with friends and family.
Like the rest of the team, both Geena and her father still had smiles on their faces as the gym began to clear out a half hour later, while their thoughts also turned to who wasn’t there to watch from the stands.
“My mom was there ever since third grade, she came to every game that she could,” said Geena. “I don’t think she missed any of my games, unless there was something that she had to be at.
“I wish she could’ve been here to see this too,” she said. “But she’s still up there watching, and I know she was here tonight looking over us.”
“Especially our juniors, she was at all the tournaments in the summer with them and with those girls growing up when they started in grade school, so it’s difficult,” said coach Jensen. “But she’d have the biggest smile right now.
“It hurts for her not to see Geena perform, and her buddies, because she was all about everybody,” he said. “But to get to this point, it’s kind of sweet that we know that she’s looking down and giving us her blessing.”