Lauren Koval
ASU Student Journalist

Valorie McKenzie and the Horizon Girls' Volleyball Team

December 1, 2017 by Lauren Koval , Arizona State University

Valorie McKenzie is the coach of the Horizon High School girls volleyball team, a position she has held since the school opened in 1980.

McKenzie is dedicated to the school as well as the volleyball program. This is evident in the fact that she wants to not only have a successful team, but teach the girls on her team valuable life skills.

This passion for volleyball has been long brewing. 

Growing up McKenzie played a variety sports. In high school, she participated on her school’s volleyball team.

As she expanded her horizons into college she passed on volleyball and played field hockey and gymnastics.

Years after college, McKenzie was a teacher at the local middle school, Desert Shadows Middle School, when a position as a volleyball coach at a new school presented itself. McKenzie applied for the job, knowing that seniority within the school district would be the best chance at getting the job.

Once the school opened she became the new volleyball and physical education teacher.

McKenzie not only coached the volleyball team for Horizon she also taught Pilates, yoga, nutrition and a variety of other health courses, but her passion was always volleyball. As a coach the players can tell just how much she cares about the sport.

Kat Yung is a Horizon senior who has committed to play collegiate volleyball at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, she expressed just how passionate McKenzie is. 

“You can tell she really loves the sport,” Yung said. “She always goes the extra mile. Something that really stands out about her is the fact that she genuinely cares about all of her players’ well-being. She always tries to know us on a more personal level.”

Yung echoes McKenzie’s philosophy on volleyball.

“I want to have girls experience confidence, commitment, discipline and character building as well as leadership,” McKenzie said. “To be a successful team you must be prepared, disciplined, and have commitment to the sport. All of these aspects together make it a team effort, volleyball is a team sport.”

Volleyball may be a team sport, but it is ever-changing. The differences between club and high school volleyball are becoming more apparent with each passing season.

These rule changes range from specialization to scoring.

To most accurately describe the rule changes in volleyball, picture a tier system. This system begins with international play to produce the most exciting games possible for viewers and television.

Following international rule changes the club level begins to adapt these rules then high school and college.

One of the major differences is specialization among positions. Girls on the club level aim to perfect one single position. Players at the high school level and even internationally are being asked to be more well-rounded players.

To keep up with these frequent rule changes McKenzie attends coaches’ clinics at least once a year. She then takes this knowledge and brings it to her coaching style to stay as prepared as possible.

Occasionally the knowledge is not always physical and tangible it may be mental. Keeping a tough mental attitude is just as important as the game itself.

Tori Anderson, a senior at Horizon who will attend Embry Riddle Aeronautical University with Yung in the fall, has been on the varsity volleyball team all four years of high school and has dealt with her teammates changing and forming a new team dynamic.

“It is tough because every year the team has been different with past seniors graduating and the team dynamic changing a bit each year,” Anderson said. “We've always had great team chemistry in the Horizon volleyball program that makes everyone feel like family.

Just like team dynamic, game mentality cannot always be taught, but McKenzie does the what she can to teach the girls that the game is just as much mental strength as it is physical strength.

Karen Scanlon was coached by McKenzie for the past three years she has played varsity volleyball at Horizon. Being mentally prepared is just as important as being physically ready to play the game.

“Her coaching style was a little bit more about the mental side of the sport,” Scanlon said. “She didn’t overwork us or make us run too much. She liked to focus a lot on making us smarter players, especially because throughout my four years at Horizon we didn’t have the biggest or tallest player so it was perfect to make sure we understood different aspects of volleyball. She has so much knowledge and wisdom that whenever she told us to do something we just did it,  no matter what it was, because we had so much respect for her.”

This respect, teamwork and overall skill resulted in the Horizon girls’ volleyball team defending its title of 6A Desert Valley Region champions this season.  

In 2013 McKenzie was inducted into the Arizona High School Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame.

McKenzie has more than 800 wins as a girls volleyball coach. Even though she retired from teaching in 2013 she has kept on as the volleyball coach because of her passion for the sport.

Aiming for 900 wins does not seem like much of a challenge because of her ability to coach and the players she sees come to the court.