It might come as a surprise to most people that Horizon High School volleyball coach Valorie McKenzie was seriously thinking about retiring.
It would probably be even more surprising to hear that that was 12 years ago.
More than a decade later, McKenzie is still directing the Huskies’ program, leading this year’s squad to a 35-5 record and beginning a run through the playoffs as the favorite to win the 2021 5A state championship.
Ironically, the year she thought about retiring, 2009, was the year the school won its first-ever state title in girls volleyball. McKenzie admitted back then that she had actually submitted her resignation before the season began, but then withdrew it after deciding she couldn’t leave her players.
Five years earlier, McKenzie had reached the 500th-win plateau by winning the Carol Chase Tournament in September of that 2004 season. At that time, she had put in nearly a quarter-century at the Scottsdale school, and it took another 17 years to get the rest of the way to 1,000 wins.
It wasn’t easy winning that first state title in 2009. The Huskies, who were a No. 5 seed in the playoffs, had to upset No. 1 seed Chandler High School in the title game. And they were a young team, with just three seniors, which made it all the more difficult.
Since then, Horizon has added two more state championship trophies to the hardware haul.
This time, the Huskies are the top seed as they pursue number four. And this time, the team isn’t waiting until a potential championship match to get their coach that 1000th victory by defeating No. 16 Williams Field HS in the opening round.
The Huskies breezed through that first round, winning 3-0 and completely dominating the match, 25-12, 25-22, 25-11.
It gets tougher as the tourney advances, of course. But McKenzie likely isn’t focused on her own stats. She’s locked in on getting a fourth gold ball for the school to which she’s devoted the last 42 years of her life.
And it’s not even her alma mater. McKenzie graduated from McClintock High School in Tempe.
This Horizon team, which is ranked among the top 25 in the nation, is on a fast track to the title. McKenzie considers this group among the best she has coached in over four decades at Horizon.
And that’s saying a lot for a coach who has sent hundreds of players on to the college game.