High school coaching can be a thankless job with long hours, low pay and a thousand little tasks having nothing to do with actual coaching.
But a good coach can still make a world of difference. So with the school year behind us, let’s take a look at the top five candidates (in alphabetical order) for the Tribune’s 2011-12 Coach of the Year. To cast your vote, head to eastvalleytribune.com/varsityxtra and scroll down to VXVOTE.
Our selection will be announced within the next two weeks:
Sam Duane Jr. (Corona del Sol basketball)
It’s difficult enough following the coaching lineage of an uber-successful parent (Sam Duane). It’s more difficult doing it in the same sport and at the same school as dad. None of this was Duane Jr.’s goal or style, but in taking a talented roster (Calaen Robinson, Avery Moss, Todd Peat Jr., Casey Benson et al.) and a history of playing together, the younger Duane let the kids play without allowing anyone to lose the “team” concept. After a couple years of sooner-than-expected exits, the Aztecs won a state title for the first time since dad was on the bench in 1994. Emotional about dad’s influence amidst his team’s postgame celebration after beating upstart Laveen Cesar Chavez, Duane Jr. matched his father’s acumen but with his own handprints.
Rich Hamilton (Red Mountain softball)
Legacies are difficult to follow and maintain. So are annual expectations after winning four state titles in the past six years, including a big-school first three consecutive. There’s no question Red Mountain is enjoying a wave of talented softball players consistently coming up through the ranks, but Hamilton’s staff not only gets players to buy into their philosophies (not easy to do for a 3-month season coming from club ball) but handles parents and external pressures. It’s no coincidence he’s up for national teaching and coaching awards this summer.
Dan Hinds (Desert Vista football)
Fair or not, a popular perception outside Desert Vista was of a program loaded with athletes and other amenities most successful EV high school football programs have these days, only without the success. Underachieving. Not anymore, as Hinds’ Thunder had unprecedented balance on offense, size up front and pivotal locker room leadership. It was evident in the regular season (notably against rival-Mountain Pointe, Chandler and in erasing a 28-6 halftime deficit against Saguaro) and playoffs. The throwaway “us against the world” cliche largely rang true in the Division I state championship game against three-time defending champion Hamilton, in which Desert Vista trounced the Huskies and their 53-game winning streak using a belief, preparation and adjustments that had long been questioned about the Thunder.
Dave Montgomery (Highland cross country)
It was a long time coming for the Hawks coach, who after 25 seasons as a coach was able to hoist a state championship trophy of his own. Montgomery’s teams have always been solid, but this year the Hawks had the kind of toughness that it takes to survive a tough season and come out on top. Highland finished a distant 10th in 2010, and, with its top five returning won its first state title by an impressive 37-point margin. A long-time advocate of track and cross country, Montgomery and his school finally earned a much-deserve championship.
Karen Self (Seton Catholic basketball)
She’s a stateswoman of EV girls basketball (along with Highland’s Miner Webster and Dobson’s Tyler Dumas), but the statements about her own team waffled at times. The small, private school in Chandler has enjoyed some top-notch players for the past two decades (and two years in winning consecutive state championships) but this year’s Sentinels didn’t have marquee talent or athleticism. There were four kids with any previous (but significant) varsity experience and everyone else was green. The Sentinels beefed themselves up against far bigger schools in the Highland and Nike tournaments but the power point schedule wasn’t real strong. But discipline and defense evolved, and Self’s sometimes insomnia-driven ways helped re-invent this year’s version into using defense and ball distribution as its strengths. The preachings were followed by a third consecutive state championship, this time after the school of approx. 550 kids moved from Class 4A-II up to Div. II.
John Berzins, Highland girls soccer; Curtis Ekmark, St. Mary’s girls basketball; Jeff Grover, Gilbert boys volleyball; Joe Hesse, Gilbert girls volleyball; Laurie Martin, Xavier tennis; Vidal Mejia, Chandler wrestling; Sam Messina, Chaparral baseball; Rob Ronan, Mountain View boys swimming; Jon Shores, Brophy golf.