If you ask Jessica Larson about her life story, chances are she’ll explain her journey using the X’s and O’s of basketball and the pluses and minuses of a challenging mathematics equation.
Larson found her way to Susanville in 1989 after Gary Kloppenburg, who was coaching the Lassen College women’s basketball team, and is now with the WNBA World Champion Seattle Storm, recruited Larson to play for the Lady Cougars. As a standout student-athlete in the classroom and on the basketball court, she was set to graduate from Burney High School. She was looking at several schools, but decided on LCC because of the women’s basketball program that Kloppenburg was building, and at that time they offered academic dorm scholarship. These two factors helped to push Lassen to the top of her list.
Larson loved her time at LCC. She started both years at Lassen and helped lead the Lady Cougars to a 26-6 record her sophomore year. Her final game for Lassen came the hands and hail Mary by Santa Rosa City College in the regional finals. One more win and the Lady Cougars would go to the CCCAA State Tournament in Los Angeles. The game lasted three hours and was decided in quadruple overtime.
“I remember our playoff game against Santa Rosa like it was yesterday,” said Larson. “I wanted to win so badly. I managed to stay in through the third overtime, but had fouled out by the fourth. I was holding on to my teammates hands on the bench, we knew we had won! Then the shot from half court left the girls hand, and went in. I didn’t cry much in basketball but I did that day.”
That game was the last of her college career, however she is still a fixture at Lady Cougar’s basketball games, watching many of her former players excel at the college level. She graduated with her AA from Lassen and transferred to Chico State where she studied business marketing with a minor in math. Upon graduation from Chico State, she had several reputable companies recruiting her out of Sacramento but was drawn to teaching. Teaching was something she had never really considered for a career but was lucky enough to connect with her friend and mentor, Joan Archer, who helped guide her both as a teacher and a coach.
Larson returned to Susanville and was reunited with her then boyfriend, and now husband, Jake Larson, whom she met in her sophomore year, while they were both attending LCC. The two met on a blind date set up by Jake’s sister and continued to date through her last two years of school.
When a job opened up at Herlong Middle School, Larson jumped at the opportunity to teach. She was not only hired to teach math but also asked to coach both the girl’s and boy’s junior high basketball teams. Larson had played basketball since the fourth grade but as she recalls, “nothing had prepared me to be a coach … with so much to learn about strategy and team bonding.” She taught at Herlong for two and a half years, and then jumped at the opportunity to teach at Lassen High School in 1996. She began coaching the Lady Grizzlies’ JV team in 1998 and took over the varsity program in 2012.
At the helm, Larson has led her varsity teams to two CIF Division 4 Northern Section titles in 2017 and 2019, making it four overall for the program and in 2019, her team won a league title; a first for the Lady Grizzlies. She only had one losing season in her 23 years at LHS. But with all the success, Larson focuses on what’s important to her – building relationships. From attending the weddings of her former players to sharing the love of the game and encouraging them to be strong, outgoing leaders, including her daughters, Jenae, who played one year at Lassen College, and Jamie, whom she has the honor to coach.
“It is fun, emotional and trying at times,” said Larson. “But more importantly it is fulfilling. Watching my girls on the court brings me so much joy. Being able to share the love I have for the game is a huge blessing in my life. They are both wonderful, strong young women that I am proud to call my daughters.”
As much as she loves coaching basketball, nothing compares to her love for her family and teaching. She acknowledges the difficulties with balancing coaching, teaching and being a wife and mom and gives so much credit to her husband has been her biggest supporter throughout her coaching career.
“I wouldn’t have been able to stick with it all these years without Jake,” said Larson.
Between coaching and teaching, Larson has stayed busy, coaching as many as five teams when her daughters were younger while teaching full-time. She finds sports to be a source of confidence, something she has excelled in as a student-athlete and coach, but teaching is her source of happiness and inspiration.
“I always tell my students that I love school and that’s why I have never left,” said Larson. “If I am having a bad day, my students make me smile. I tell people that 90 percent of the days I have the best job in the world. Everyone is given gifts and mine were math and sports. I am just blessed that I listened to my heart and found the perfect job.”
Her life in coaching began 25 years ago, and in March, with her youngest daughter set to graduate, she announced her retirement as the head coach of the Lassen High School Lady Grizzlies. With the free-time that her retirement from coaching basketball will provide, the Larson’s will turn to the outdoors, a mutual passion of theirs, to find balance and connection. They love spending time with family and friends camping, snow skiing, wakeboarding and exploring California and neighboring states in their all-terrain vehicle.
Her announcement to retire from basketball doesn’t carry over to the classroom. She isn’t in a hurry to leave teaching just yet and fills the void of the hardwood by coaching the Lady Grizzly Varsity Volleyball team, a sport that allows her to stay connected to Grizzly athletics but still have plenty of time for other endeavors. It’s all about passion and balance for Larson and calculations of the heart… family plus teaching plus athletics equals happiness.