FITLIFE at Horizon Volleyball

It’s Friday afternoon and time for my next visit.  This week I am in the gym at Horizon High School for a volleyball match between Horizon and Desert Mountain with coach Valorie McKenzie.  If you have been around volleyball, high school or club, in the Valley at any time over the last 35 years or so you have probably heard of Coach McKenzie.

She has been the Head Volleyball coach at Horizon since 1980 – the year the school opened!  Wow! What an incredible commitment to the development of these young ladies as athletes and students.  She began teaching the same year spending the first 10 years at the Middle School level and then moved on to High School for the other 28 years so far.  Her teaching assignments included Fitness, Nutrition, Weight training, Pilates, Yoga, Lifetime Sports and Racquet Sports.  Her entire career has been spent teaching and coaching in the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

Speaking of careers, what a career she has had. She was elected by her peers (2012) to the Arizona Coaches Hall of Fame.  She has well over 800 wins, sending teams to the State Playoffs 33 times with 2 runners-up finishes and 3 State Championships.  Valorie has National Recognition being named both National Coach of the year (2014) and Western Region Coach of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association.  She was identified by The American Volleyball Coaches Association Victory Club Award for her over 800 wins. And locally The Arizona Republic awarded her the prestigious Big School Coach of the Year Award as well as name her the Northeast Valley Coach of the Year.  Finally, The Arizona Coaches Association awarded her the 5A Region Coach of the Year for both Pima and Desert Valley Regions and the Distinguished Service Award.

When I asked her for her most memorable moment she said it’s the most difficult question she is continually asked.  Her response was, “We have had so many big wins, but I guess it would be our first State Championship in 2009.  We had a losing record that season going in.  The team just had great chemistry and were so coachable.  They improved everyday with their work ethic.  I had tried to retire and I had some very special players on that team.  It was a special season and moment to see Sarah McGaffin dump for the win!”   

I met Valorie in 1993 when I went to work as the Head Athletic Trainer at Horizon High School.  She and I developed a great relationship and fortunately for me one we have maintained ever since.  After I left Horizon to open FITLIFE Health Systems coach McKenzie and I talked about developing a program for her players to decrease injuries and improve performance.  At that time rotator cuff impingement, ACL tears and lateral ankle sprains were a constant concern. She knew that to convince the girls that this program was worthwhile she would have to be right by their side. So, she and her assistant coaches joined their players during their workout and continue to do so to this day.   Only a few years ago we had a plank competition and Valorie took 1st with a time of 5 minutes!!

The program has evolved over the years with an emphasis on conditioning in the summer and strength training during the season.  In the middle of July, the players can prepare for try-outs with 3 weeks of training at FITLIFE.  We block out the gym for the girls 3 times a week and push them with agility, speed, endurance and explosive sessions.  Once they have made the team we start in-season program meeting on Saturdays, Varsity by themselves and Junior Varsity and Freshman combined.  The first session we test each girl’s athletic ability including measurements they can use for college recruiting.  Then FITLIFE staff discusses with the coaching staff their teams results and we begin our strength training sessions.  The entire program trains with us on Saturdays during the season with the Varsity missing only when they have weekend tournaments.  At the end of the season we re-test the players and give them their results.  Each year we are amazed and encouraged by their improvement, the lack of injuries and their dedication.

Thanks to coach McKenzie and her staff once again for giving FITLIFE the opportunity to be part of the best High School Volleyball program in the State.  Go Huskies!!

Have a safe and healthy weekend.

John Neel AT

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