It’s lunchtime on a sunny March day at Seton Catholic High School. Coach Karen Self walks through campus waving and smiling as you can hear people from across the courtyard trying to get her attention just to say hello.
Entering the gym, she casually struts past a packed trophy case with Sentinel accomplishments from over the years.
The school has had success in multiple sports, but Self and her Seton Catholic girls’ basketball family figuratively have their own set of keys to the trophy case they are adding to it so much.
On Feb. 24, Karen Self claimed her 10th state title when her Lady Sentinels defeated Pueblo High School, 55-42, in a hard fought 4A championship game at Grand Canyon University.
The victory makes her the winningest high school head basketball coach in Arizona history if you are counting championships.
Though even after 26 years as head coach at the same school, 687 career wins, and a 2017 Arizona High School Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame induction, Karen Self claims she is as motivated as ever to be a part of Seton Catholic because of the atmosphere.
“I just love what I do and being at Seton. I have had other schools call me and tell me ‘we can do this for you,’ but you can’t give me this environment,” Self said.
Self, a native of New York, came to Arizona in 1987 when she committed to play basketball at Arizona State University.
There she met her husband, who convinced her that teaching and coaching was what she was meant to do in life. Self said she originally wanted to move back to New York to continue being involved basketball but start a career in a different field.
Seton Catholic is sure glad she stayed as a teacher and a coach. But with any success, comes fighting through adversity.
Self admitted after accepting a coaching position in 1992 at Seton Catholic fresh out of ASU, she wanted to quit coaching heading into her second season.
“I had no idea what I was doing, I thought I couldn’t do it,” Self said. “My first year I wanted to quit. I was too afraid to tell them (Seton Catholic) I wanted to quit, and I waited and waited and my husband basically told me it was too late and I had to coach my second year and that’s when the fire took hold.”
Seton Catholic went 13-13 in year one with Karen Self at the helm, but produced a 15-6 record in her second season. Things really started to take off for Seton Catholic in the next five years as the team lost just nine total games combined and won three state championships.
“It wasn’t about the success on the court but I could see what I was trying to get across was taking hold. They were finding success because they were following the plan,” Self said. “I learned that kids will do well if they can, so I try and find what is getting in their way.”
She says that she has had good influences in her life that helped her adopt this mentality.
Self said she has learned so much about leading and mentoring from ASU women’s head basketball coach Charlie Turner Thorne.
Self was quick to point out the impact her late friend Michael Eubanks has had on her as well. Eubanks, Seton Catholic’s former athletic director and dean, passed away in 2001 in a car accident.
“He definitely influenced me to bring my best every day, in everything I do,” Self said.
Self also spoke about becoming a mother and raising her four children as a major influence. She said it helped her learn patience which she has embraced as a coach.
As the wins and championships started to pile up, including seven championships in the last eight seasons, Self said the patience she learned is the best way to raise a basketball family and help develop young women on and off the court.
She has many titles as a mother, wife, coach, and teacher but perhaps the best way to describe the Self, is selfless.
Seton Catholic senior’s Sarah Barcello and Kendall Krick are both heading to Marist College on basketball scholarships this fall. Both three-time state champions credit Self in helping them prepare for life ahead.
Barcello spoke about learning to focus on things she can control and pushing herself from Coach Self.
“She’s strong and an inspiring person. She pushes us every day in school and basketball,” Barcello said. “She always tells us we have a target on our back but to worry about our own game.”
Krick highlighted how Self uses basketball to teach life lessons.
“If we ever come up short on a line while we are running, she will make us do it again and emphasizes the idea of never cutting corners,” Krick said.
Self encourages her players to try new things and not settle for easy shots according to Barcello and Krick. Both also pointed out the freedom that comes with playing for Self.
Through the years Self has found a lot of success on the court and she’s quick to give praise to those who support her every day. She admits she would not be able to coach and do the things she does without the wonderful support from administration, her family, and her assistant coaches.
Though she has found much success on the court over the past 25 years, Self really emphasized the things that happen off the court as why she enjoys coaching so much.
“Anytime I get invited to a baby shower, bridal shower, wedding or things like that, those are the moments I do this for,” Self said.
As for what is next for Coach Karen Self to accomplish? A selfless answer…
“I just got to get us ready for next year, that is where my mind is at,” Self said.