Story by Zachary Larsen
Back in the 1980s, the Camelback Spartans were unstoppable.
Camelback high school’s volleyball program won five 5A state championships from 1980-1990, including back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1989 to 1990.
Now, the team’s former head coach, Nadine Sass will be inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association (NHSACA) Hall of Fame Jul. 28 .
“I’m very humbled and blessed to have been nominated and to have accomplished this honor, which is a huge honor and I’m grateful for it,” Sass said.
Sassy National HOF Coach! Congrats to legendary Camelback VB Coach Nadine Sass on her induction this summer. State Champs 5 times from 1980-90, she had more hits than Madonna in the 80s. AzPrepsLive 98.7 pic.twitter.com/taBGtzUiJM
— Kevin McCabe (@KevinMcCabe987) July 10, 2021
Sass is already a member of the Arizona High School Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame and Phoenix Union High School District Sports Hall of Fame.
Before coming to Camelback, she coached at East High School for two years before an opening came up to become the next volleyball coach with the Spartans. Her coaching career at Camelback started in 1979 and ended in 2000, a 22-year stint that ended with 360 wins and an 85% winning percentage.
In Sass’ view, it was her players that carried the team and made her job easier.
“I really had a great group of athletes at Camelback,” she said. “They all came in as sophomores and I put them on varsity as sophomores and then they were seniors, we won the whole thing. [It] was really awesome for the program and for Camelback because then more kids knew about the volleyball program or came out and tried out for the team.”
One of the best players to come out of the program was Nichelle Burton, who helped lead the team to a 62-0 record and two state championships during her time at Camelback. She also went on to win a National Championship with Long Beach State in 1993.
Developing players like Burton was one of the reasons Sass enjoyed being a head coach.
“My favorite part was identifying the athletic abilities and bringing the best out of every player,” she said. “I would spend extra time with each individual evaluating where we were. But it was almost like counseling time to where I could spend one-on-one time and just more than anything boost their confidence.”
Sass’s success also led to the school renaming the gymnasium under her name once she retired in 2000.
“They had a huge picture of me which they put up in the gym,” Sass said. “They had a ceremony for me in the gym with parents, friends and family which was really awesome. So that was quite touching and just really amazing.”
When she is inducted to the NHSACA Hall of Fame in Lincoln, Nebraska, Sass will be back in her hometown. Lincoln High was where her coaching career started in the 1970s, making it a special moment for her and the rest of the family as they celebrate in the place where it all began.
“They’ve missed a lot of my career and to have in Lincoln, they’re all going to be there which is so rewarding and so special to me that they can be there for my final award and kind of the combination of my whole career,” Sass said.