AZ’s 4 nat’l Coaches of the Year have 177 years on the job

When the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association released its 2019 list of National Coaches of the Year last week, the first name that jumped out at us among the four Arizona high school coaches included on the list was Valorie McKenzie.

Phxfan has chronicled the long career of the Horizon High School volleyball coach since she notched her 500th career win in 2004. That was the year she reached the milestone by winning the Carol Chase Memorial Tournament at Sunrise Mountain High School.

We also remember the year she considered hanging up her whistle before the season even started. She said at the time that she even submitted her resignation, and then withdrew it because she couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her players.

And then her Huskies went on to knock off top-seeded Ironwood Ridge HS in the semifinals of the 2009 state tournament and go on win one of the three state titles she has accumulated during her 39 years directing the Horizon program. In addition to her three state titles, her teams have advanced to the semis nine times.

Hard to believe that was a decade ago…and McKenzie is still on the sidelines.

She is the only head coach the Horizon players have known, actually starting the program when the Scottsdale school first opened in 1980.

But McKenzie’s four decades dedicated to the sport turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. By the time we got done adding up the long list of coaching experience among the other three Arizona winners, all from different sports, we were well on the way to nearly two centuries.

The tally came to over 177 years. Here’s how it breaks down:

Cherry Roberds has been the tennis coach at Miami High School, serving the small community of 2,000 in Gila County for the last 53 years — an unbelievable statistic in itself. She has also led teams in boys’ tennis, girls’ volleyball, and badminton to state titles. She was inducted into the National High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2003.

Dave Van Sickle has accumulated 10 state championships in his 35 years running the cross country program at Xavier College Prep in Phoenix. The dynasty he built at the Catholic girls’ school was built on those state titles, as well as seven runner-up finishes and places among the top three over 12 of the last 13 seasons.

And Lois Emshoff, who is coaching badminton at Chandler High School, was awarded the COY designation in the “other sports” category, since badminton is not sanctioned on the national level. Emshoff, who was a catalyst to help convince the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) to include badminton among its sanctioned sports, has been a part of the sport for over 50 years.

Along the way, she has won five state championships and is a member of various halls of fame, including those at Agua Fria High School, the Arizona Badminton Association, and the Arizona High School Athletic Coaches Association.

Since 1982, the NFHS has been recognizing coaches in the 10 boys and girls sports with the greatest participation, and two “other sports, one each for boys and girls.

The next level after the national COY awards is sectional recognition. Arizona had eight coaches who earned Section 7 Coach of the Year honors.