As the saying goes, Jimmies and Joes trump X’s and O’s.Still, it never hurts to have a top-tier football coach leading the way. From offseason dedication, to starting lineup decisions, to in-game adjustments, to player psychology, to piles of paperwork, to helping kids reach the next level, to discipline, to booster clubs, the head honcho’s job is never done.Each has his own unique way of dealing with more issues and challenges than most people could possibly dream up, and those decisions can have a direct correlation to both the scoreboard and the kids they teach, football, life, and everything in between.Five East Valley coaches stood out for the job(s) they did in 2013. The winner will be announced later in December, but here is a sneak peek (in alphabetical order) at the finalists for this year’s Tribune Football Coach of the Year:Steve Belles: HamiltonThis one should always be qualified, right? I mean, it’s Hamilton. Then again, if you watched this team through most of the regular season, it was a struggle — not exactly the juggernaut displays this program has been since its inception. Yet the Huskies found their way back to the title game with a limited offense, lots of special teams struggle during the season and a defense that was stout, but, at times, wobbled. Savaged by injuries from Week 2 through Week 9 — yes, injuries matter a lot, even with a roster as big as Hamilton’s — the Huskies won five games by less than a touchdown, steamrolled Pinnacle after barely squeaking out a win against the Pioneers in the regular season, then stymied Chandler’s explosive offense in the semifinals. The Huskies were beaten up by Mountain Pointe for a second time this season in the state championship game, but not many who saw the Huskies throughout most of the season pegged them as being a championship-game caliber team.
Khalia Lanier has what it takes to be a great volleyball player.Just ask her coach, Lamar Bryant.“She has the skill set and a very high volleyball IQ,” Bryant said of the athletic, 6-foot-2 Lanier.Couple that with increased confidence and you have a dominating hitter as a sophomore who helped lead Xavier to a state championship and earn Tribune Player of the Year honors.Much like her performance in the final match, Lanier started the season slow but gained confidence through the year, leading to an amazing effort in the state playoffs, especially the finals, her “coming out party,” in Bryant’s words.After going down two games to one in the state championship match, Xavier sent it to a deciding fifth game and Lanier took over. She had eight kills in the final set alone as the Gators beat Hamilton 15-8 to take its first title since 2010.
Sometimes it takes several things to put together a good season.For Gilbert senior Ashley Grijalva, those things – working on her technique, practicing and tapering – all added up to a special state meet, including a state championship in the 100-yard breaststroke.Her performance this season, capped by an all-American time in the specialty stroke on Nov. 9, earned her the Tribune Girls Swimmer of the Year honors.“A lot of little things added up,” Grijalva said in describing her season. “Working on my technique, for example, pushing off faster and gliding leads to fewer strokes, and cuts time.”Grijalva covered the 100-yard distance in 1:02.46, more than a second better than her preliminary time of the day before (and her previous personal best) and two and half seconds faster than her nearest competitor. She also came in fifth in the 200 individual medley.“It has been an honor to compete the last three years and reach the top 16 but there is nothing like being called, ‘State Champion,’” Grijalva said.