High school girls basketball: (Updated) Pesnell steps down as Haughton head coach; Jenna Bolin named new coach

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Jenna Bolin, a former head coach at Ruston and Castor, is the new head girls basketball coach at Haughton, principal David Haynie announced Thursday.

Bolin replaces Jennifer Pesnell. Haynie said Pesnell is pursuing job opportunities outside the area.

“We hate to lose Coach Pesnell,” Haynie said. “She’s been here for 16 years. She’s done an excellent job. But we’re happy to find somebody as quality of a person and coach as Coach Bolin.”

Bolin is a former player and assistant coach at Southwood under Steve McDowell, who won 11 of his 12 state championships there before stepping down before the 2013-14 season.

Bolin helped him win three of them as a player from 1999-2002 and one as an assistant coach in 2008.

She was head coach at Ruston in 2014-15 and 2015-16. For the last four years, she’s been teaching English at Ringgold while helping coach track and field some.

Bolin stepped away from coaching to focus on her young family. She has a son, Jesse, 5, with her husband Forrest. He was born near the end of her first season at Ruston. Daughter Trudy, 3, came along not long after she left Ruston.

Now that both are school-age she felt the itch to get back into the gym.

“One will start kindergarten and one will be able to get into a 3-year-old program,” Bolin said. “And so I thought they’d be old enough to enjoy being at the gym, being at practice and not be so much trouble for whoever’s watching them.

“I wanted them to be able to be with me at practice and not be away from them all the time, so I just wanted to stay home while they were babies.”

She found Haughton to be a perfect fit. Her husband built their home in Ringgold and they own land there. It’s about a 30-minute commute.

“I wanted something that was close enough that was doable for a long time,” she said.

Location wasn’t the only reason she wanted to be at Haughton. She said the school feels like a place she can retire at.

“It’s like home,” she said “Everybody just seems so supportive of the girls program and athletics in general. So I’m excited about it.

“From what I see and know about Haughton, those schools are kind of like a community school where you’ve got kids that are coming up in your elementary, your junior high. They’re going to be your kids. That to me is a big selling point for Haughton. There’s a lot of support. There’s a lot of parental involvement and you don’t have to worry about kids transferring or moving to magnet schools or private schools. If they’re at Haughton they’re going to come to Haughton.

“You’ve just got to take the time and develop them. And be willing to take some time to get them to start to think like you think and play like you want ‘em to. As long as you’ve got a place where you’ve got support and you’re not having to fight for your ball players I think you can be successful.”

One of the biggest influences in Bolin’s life is McDowell. She talked to him before accepting the job.

“I wouldn’t make a decision like this without talking to him first,” Bolin said. “He’s like my second dad. He knew I was going over there (Haughton) today (for a meeting), wished me luck and said he thought it would be a good place to coach.”

“I wouldn’t have signed this paper today if it wasn’t for him. Because he’s the one who talked me into coaching. When I was in college playing he was like, Jenna when are you going to come help me coach. He told me he thought I was great with little kids, teaching them fundamentals when I was like a teenager and a college player.

“It was like the best decision I ever made was to do what he told me to and go help him. I wouldn’t get half these jobs if it wasn’t for him attached to my name. I’m not saying I can’t do the job. What I mean is like, I learned from him. And he just made me love the game so much.”

After leaving Southwood with the three state championship rings, Bolin played basketball at Arkansas-Monticello. She then joined McDowell’s staff, helping the Lady Cowboys reach four Class 5A state title games.

Bolin then got her first head coaching job at Castor. In her final season there, the Lady Tigers went 30-7 and reached the Class B quarterfinals.

In her two seasons at Ruston, the Ladycats went 15-16 and 12-18.

Haughton went 13-14 last season and missed the playoffs.

Bolin said she hasn’t seen any of last season’s Haughton games but plans to eventually watch them. She’s eager to get her new team in the gym this summer when the LHSAA allows it. One player she’s heard a little about is two-time first-team All-Paris guard Taralyn Sweeney, who should be back for her senior season.

Bolin obviously believes big things can be achieved at Haughton. But again, that’s not what drew her to the job.

“At my meeting today I felt so comfortable with the staff, administrators, the athletic director,” she said. “And the things we talked about, it made me excited to work there. Kids are kids everywhere and basketball is basketball. It wouldn’t have mattered what their record had been I would’ve felt comfortable taking the job.”