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With new coach and new-look roster, Montana Western men set for conference play

Posted at 12:32 PM, Jan 05, 2024

DILLON — Like his counterpart Britt Cooper with the women's program, first-year Montana Western head men's basketball coach Patrick Jensen has plenty of familiarity with the Bulldogs.

He was the associate head coach under Mike Larsen for the past five seasons and was promoted into the head coaching role after Larsen's departure last March.

His first season at helm has gotten off to a promising start, with the Bulldogs rolling to a 7-6 win through the non-conference portion of their schedule and now focusing in on their Frontier Conference opener at home against MSU-Northern on Saturday.

"Our nine new guys guys did an incredible job of coming in an buying into what we're about and just hit the ground running," said Jensen.

After playing for Scott Anderson at Missoula Loyola and then heading to Havre to play for MSU-Northern, Jensen got his first assistant coaching role at Idaho State where he was the director of player development.

After three years with the Bengals, he wanted to move into a role that was directly involved with on-court activity and also wanted to get back to his home state.

"It was my first time being out of the state. ... I really enjoyed it but definitely wanted to get back," said Jensen. "Move up in the coaching world as far as responsibilities. That was what attracted me to this position, was to get that full-time experience and be the top assistant coach."

When Larsen stepped down, Jensen's 10 years of playing and coaching in the Frontier combined with his three years in the Big Sky Conference made him a shoo-in to be tabbed as Western's 13th head men's basketball coach.

"Playing in the Frontier for five years and then coaching in it for five years, I know what it takes, what you need to win night in and night out," said Jensen.

One of the key weapons on Western's retooled roster has been junior transfer Jalyn Stepney, a Seattle native who spent his freshman and sophomore seasons at Shoreline Community College.

He's averaging just under 18 points per game including a season-high 33 points on 10-of-16 shooting against Eastern Oregon on Nov. 3.

He credits his eye-catching production through Western's early slate of games to developing a quick chemistry with his new teammates, many of whom, like him, are adjusting to life with a new program.

"When we had those open gyms, everyone bonded and we were competing and everyone worked together," Stepney said. "And in practice, everybody trusts each other."

The Bulldogs will also be leaning on their veteran leadership, like redshirt junior Michael Haverfield who's heading into his fifth season with the program. His new coach has faith in him, and the feeling is mutual.

"It was a smooth transition, and most of us knew (Jensen)," said Haverfield who joined Western during Jensen's second season with the Bulldogs. "He's done a great job with everyone and it's been a lot of fun this year."

The Western women tip off against MSU-Northern at 2 p.m. on Saturday and the men at 4 p.m.