Seton honors a Self-made legend for Women’s History Month SanTan Sun News

Seton honors a Self-made legend for Women’s History Month

Seton honors a Self-made legend for Women’s History Month
Sports and Recreation
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By Zach Alvira, STSN Sports Editor

In 27 years leading the Seton Catholic Prep girls basketball program, Karen Self has reached just about every milestone imaginable.

She holds the Arizona high school record for most basketball state championships with 10, and was a win away from her 11th this past season. The 2019 title game was Seton’s sixth straight. It also marked the Lady Sentinels’ 25th consecutive region title.

The one milestone that Self has not reached – yet – is most wins. The Arizona record of 816 is held by former Highland High girls coach Miner Webster, who retired in 2018. Self, at age 49 with 710 wins, is within reach.

“In the big scheme of things, sure, I suppose it’s something that is out there,” Self said of the record. “But I don’t think of it on a daily basis. What’s more on my mind is the future of our program.”

Seton Catholic is celebrating Women’s History Month by saluting Self, who has made Arizona sports history with her lengthy list of accomplishments.

Self was a year removed from Arizona State University when she was hired. She didn’t know anything about the school. She found out from a friend that it was looking for a girls basketball coach.

Seton was not having much luck attracting top-notch candidates. Self applied.

“I think I was one of just two applicants, so I was lucky enough to get the job,” Self said. “I can’t imagine they would give a 23-year old this job now. I made a lot of mistakes but that’s how we learn. I have definitely grown up here in a similar way to the kids who grow up here.”

Self was recruited to play at Arizona State as a freshman while playing high school basketball in upstate New York. The Sun Devils were the first to call, even before local colleges near Self’s home. She took an official visit to Tempe, recalling freezing temperature and snow as she left New York on that November day. She was greeted by sunshine and 72 degrees upon arrival in Tempe.

“When I got here, they said they were sorry it was cold,” Self said. “I thought they were crazy. It felt amazing.”

Self studied business and economics at ASU but wasn’t sure that was the career route she wanted to take after she graduated. Instead, she accepted an assistant coaching position at Endicott College, a Division III program near Boston.

She stayed for six months and then returned to Arizona when the season ended to be with her then-boyfriend and now husband, Rory.

She was hired at Seton shortly after.

“I was so afraid of talking in a group setting that I couldn’t talk to the players unless I had a ball in my hand. It was like a security blanket,” Self said. “I was so young and so much closer to the age of the players. The parents scared me to death.”

Before Self arrived, Seton’s girls program had three coaches in three years. With no seniors on the team during Self’s first season, she said her players didn’t care about wins or losses. They wanted continuity.

“The only question they had for me was if I would stay more than one year,” Self said. “It struck me. These kids just wanted someone to stay.”

The Lady Sentinels were 12-14 in her first season, and 15-6 in her second. Seton had flipped a switch.

The Sentinels captured three state titles and lost just nine games during the next five years. It took less than a decade for Seton to join the premier programs in the state.

“The kids all bought in,” Self said. “A championship wasn’t on my radar initially. I never thought that would happen in my first five years.”

Self also helps coach track and field. She teaches economics, Advanced Placement Macroeconomics and a college-level math course. She tries to make it to all school events, including football games and plays.

Self has no regrets about devoting so much of her life to Seton Catholic. To her, it’s all about making an impact on the lives of the students she interacts with.

Over the years, Self’s players have raised awareness and funds for multiple nonprofit organizations and causes. This year’s designated charity was Donate Life AZ, in honor of the late Tiffany Tate-Eckes. Self and the team also dedicated the 2018-19 season to Tate-Eckes, a Seton Catholic assistant coach who passed away in September after a lifetime of major health issues.

Self takes pride in seeing former players and students move on to do great things after their time at Seton. She remains in touch with past players and attends their college basketball games when she can and even some weddings.

“It’s amazing, I love to see them be successful and be happy in whatever they pursue,” Self said. “When you have a kid who is open to being molded and you are able to help them get to the next level and are a part of that process, you can’t help but want to follow them through their careers and lives.

“Honestly, it means the world to me when kids still reach out.”

The bond with the players and her four children – including teenage triplets – are the reason she said she never will leave the school, not even if offered a coaching job at the next level.

“I will retire from Seton Catholic,” Self said. “I think we all have our own gifts and talents. For me, I think I am most well-suited for high school basketball.”

There’s no telling how long Self will stay, but she is hopeful of going another 10 to 15 years.

Even as she closes in on becoming the state’s all-time winningest basketball coach, it is bettering the lives of her players that means the most to her.

“I want my players to look back at their high school career and realize they loved their experience, team and coaches,” Self said. “I don’t want them to remember the wins or losses.

“To me, it’s about the relationships they made. That’s most important to me.”

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