Art Rojas is back in charge for St. Mary's Academy girls basketball.
Rojas, who went 119-70 with two Mt. Hood Conference titles and four 6A quarterfinal appearances in seven seasons as the Blues' coach from 2007 to 2014, has been hired to replace Sheena Moore.
Rojas returned to the program as the JV coach last season and became the interim varsity coach for three weeks when Moore stepped aside for personal reasons. The Blues went 7-16 and 2-21 in their two seasons under Moore.
Since leaving the Blues, Rojas assisted for two seasons at Central Catholic (2017-19) and was the interim head coach at Grant in 2021-22. He is eager to put his stamp back on the program at St. Mary's Academy, where he is in his 16th year of teaching.
“I just realized that the only place I want to coach is at St. Mary's,” Rojas said. “No disrespect to any other school, but I love teaching there. It's a wonderful place to teach. I feel it's extremely important to be in the building.”
Rojas, 58, has coached girls basketball for more than three decades. He has been a head coach for 23 seasons at Moses Lake, Wash. (1992-96), Ferris of Spokane (1996-2006), Hudson's Bay of Vancouver (2006-07), St. Mary's Academy and Grant.
He led Moses Lake to its first-ever regional appearance and took Ferris to five regionals and two state tournaments, finishing third in 2002. In his one season at Hudson's Bay, the team went undefeated in league play reached the final 16 for the first time in school history.
He did not coach for three seasons after leaving the Blues.
“It was fun in a way I hadn't had before,” he said. “I was able to go see a few of my former players, go to their senior nights in college, and do things I always wanted to do. That was rewarding.”
But the itch to coach didn't go away.
“You say you're getting out of coaching, but I think you know it's kind of a part of who you are,” he said. “There's just some of us that are lifers, and I know that I'm one of them. I have a lot of energy to do it again. Energy-wise, I kind of put myself with a Pete Carroll.”
In 2021, Rojas joined the Grant staff at the request of coach Michael Bontemps and became the interim coach for the entire season when Bontemps stepped away for personal reasons. Under Rojas, Grant finished 12-14 and made the 6A playoffs.
Rojas said he implemented much of his system in coaching the Blues last season. His next step is to rebuild the program's infrastructure.
“A couple of things went away during COVID,” he said. “It's hard for all the schools, as far as feeder programs, and I would think especially for the private schools. Right now I think kids are hungry to start belonging to things again. That's my task is to get the feeders going again.”
Rojas said he will restart his Little Dribblers program for grades 1-8. He already is working twice a week with eighth-graders who have committed to St. Mary's Academy.
He said St. Mary's Academy has an advantage in selling its unique academic program.
“If I had kids, I'd send them to St. Mary's in a heartbeat,” he said. “What you see from when they are freshmen to when they are seniors, it's amazing. It's about relationships.”
The Blues have had two winning seasons since 2015, when Dewey Taylor III succeeded Rojas and guided them to their first state championship game in 16 years.
Eager to reconnect the team to its winning ways. Rojas said he is hopeful to involve his ex-players (Nae Torregano was a varsity assistant last season) and include former Oregon Reign club coach Bryon Sheng, who was instrumental in developing players in Rojas' previous stint.
“St. Mary's is a strong community,” Rojas said. “There are a lot of people out there in our basketball community who'd love to see us be good again and are dying to come back and help out.
“We had a lot of athletes and we had a lot of smart basketball players. It was a fun run. Right now my job is to re-establish connections and get out there and show them we can have some fun.”