Horizon volleyball coach Valorie McKenzie remains a winner


“The salary has not changed”

The lack of funding for education in the state added new difficulties and challenges for McKenzie and her team. A recent US Census Bureau report said Arizona ranked 51st among states and the District of Columbia in funding per student in education. The state finished just above Utah and Idaho in total funding per student, where student athletics funding comes from. The burden of fundraising for travel and uniforms often falls on McKenzie and the school’s booster club, a responsibility she had to learn to navigate on the job.

“I never did any fundraising early in my coaching career, and now the funding is huge. We have to do fundraising every year,” McKenzie said. “As sports have changed and the needs have changed, demands have changed, like as a coach to raise funds.”

Now parents also have to take on the role of reminders. Plus, Coach McKenzie has a new dynamic to uncover as she works on boosters to raise enough money.

“(The boosters) help fund a lot,” McKenzie said. “They fundraise and they get sponsorships. You now have banners in the gym with all the sponsors; it was unknown even 15 years ago. You can’t survive as an athletic sport these days if you don’t have sponsors.

The lack of financial support from the state manifests itself beyond the classroom and off the field. Arizona ranks 44th nationally in teacher compensation, an increase from recent years but still on the lower end of the rest of the country.

“What hasn’t changed is the salary; the pay is very low,” McKenzie said. “After seven years, you stop on the salary scale. You only get the interest rate based on salary. Really, what I get now, 40 years later, and when I got it then, it’s maybe $1,500 different over 40 years. The salary has not changed.

Statewide, Arizona has seen many teachers burn out and leave the state or the profession due to lack of support or lack of pay. More school districts across the state rely on certified emergency teachers as the state faces a shortage of qualified teachers. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said in an interview with KTAR-FM that she’s concerned about burnout because “all of our neighboring states are offering teachers big raises, while here in Arizona we have been stagnant for the past two years.”

McKenzie is a rare breed in the current state of breeding in Arizona. For the veteran educator and coach, not only staying in the profession for 42 years, but staying in Arizona “is a testament to her passion for students and for Horizon’s volleyball program,” Cary said.

Club recruitment and development

Club volleyball has a different focus than high school volleyball and remains primarily parent driven due to the need for their involvement. In club volleyball, players can focus more on improving their technical skills. This is also where they can jockey for college recruiting and exposure. The amount of money and hours spent on club sports can sometimes make it a daunting job.

College scouts will primarily seek players during club games in the spring, when college programs are in the offseason. But McKenzie will see college scouts attend some tournaments and attend regular-season games if she has a talented team or players.

With such a senior squad last season, McKenzie had to learn to accommodate his players without changing his team rules. The coach still sticks to not starting a player who misses practice, but now she will often cancel a Friday practice so the seniors have more time for University visits at the weekend.

“I tell my players and my parents that I’m not looking for a college scholarship for your daughter,” McKenzie said. “I want to coach 12 girls to be the best players they can be and be the best people they can be.”

McKenzie strives to be fair in the time and resources it dedicates to each player. She won’t go out of her way to help her star players.

“If a college coach calls me if he wants a video, if he wants stats, I’ll do whatever I can to help him,” McKenzie said. “I tried not to change my coaching philosophy because of college recruiting.”

If a player works hard and has a good attitude, McKenzie will vouch for her. Players like Kiera, who graduated and will be playing at NAU this fall, are a great example of that. Under McKenzie, Kiera worked to become a leader. She became a captain during her senior year at Horizon. The role forced her to step out of her comfort zone and become a more vocal leader.

“Freshman year, I was really calm,” Kiera said. “She was always telling me, ‘You need to talk to your teammates.’ Talk to them about this and that. It was hard for me to do that, especially in first year. I was one of the youngest in the team and I was learning to do all that.

SMU, Yale, and NAU each recruited Kiera. The NCAA has specific rules for recruiting, so teams are prohibited from contacting players until the summer after their second year. Once that day has arrived, the floodgates open.

“Once that date came around, when they were able to talk to you, they were trying to set up Zoom calls and tons of emails, everything,” Kiera said. “Then you would just communicate with tons of coaches. It’s stressful.”

Coaching a new generation

Coaching at the same school for over 40 years means coaching a lot of kids. It also means lots of familiar faces and familiar last names.

Tammy Murphy first met McKenzie after moving from Wisconsin to Arizona as a high school student, thanks to an invitation to a summer volleyball tournament. Although she moved across the country, Murphy had no problems at her new school after instantly connecting with McKenzie from their first meeting. Murphy’s experience with McKenzie is why his daughter, Kendal, followed in his footsteps to play for McKenzie on Horizon.

“Before every game, she would give us a poem that she would write,” Murphy said. “It was a poem about our opponents and what we were going to do to them. There was also a little gift with it. We were playing Matadors (from Shadow Mountain) and she gave us little bells to put on our shoes to that when we walked to school it reminds us of what we had to do.

A lot has changed between Murphy’s career and that of his daughter in high school. McKenzie’s ability to adapt to the game and connect with each generation has remained consistent and led to his success. Even McKenzie’s own daughter provided the building blocks for developing relationships with a long list of players. McKenzie coached her daughter, Courtney, in 2003. For the first time, she saw her coaching from a parent’s perspective and she decided to make some changes.

“We would come home and I would see her doing her homework and having to study for that exam and trying to juggle all the demands of her life as a student-athlete,” McKenzie said. “It made me re-evaluate. Do I need this three-and-a-half-hour practice? Maybe it’s only two-and-a-half hours. have an extra hour to study or just to be them.

After 42 years and an ever-changing sports culture, McKenzie is still committed to playing and coaching. During the pandemic, McKenzie coached via Zoom because her husband was immunocompromised. She attended clinics twice a year, which, as she points out, is a lot of clinics over a 42-year career. She still calls herself strict disciplinary to this day, and players past and present certainly agree. She demands the best.

“Coach has always been fair, (it) doesn’t matter if you’re a starter or a substitute,” Murphy said. “If you’re late for training, you run. If you are late for a match, you miss the first set.

The attitude of the longtime trainer in the gym also allows the girls to keep their passion alive. Kendal has been playing volleyball since she was 10 years old. She has seen many coaches in her career, some who have killed the spirit of volleyball. Murphy saw McKenzie do the opposite for her daughter; she rekindles Kendal’s love for the game.

“She shares her love of the game with our girls and holds the girls accountable,” Murphy said. “She not only helps make our girls better volleyball players, she makes them better people and better citizens.”


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