Kim Ulrich-Suss

Kim Ulrich-Suss founded Deer Valley men’s volleyball in 2002 and has been the coach since. She announced she will retire at the end of this season.

A banner reading “Deer Valley H.S. Men’s Volleyball Hall of Fame: Kim Ulrich-Suss” hangs in the Skyhawk gym in honor of one of the school’s most-beloved figures.

After 38 seasons of coaching Deer Valley High sports — 17 as the boys’ volleyball coach, having started the program in 2002 — Ulrich-Suss announced she would retire from the team at the conclusion of the 2019 season.

Among her favorite memories in a long career are a Hall of Fame induction ceremony held at Deer Valley High School, which was attended by dozens of alumni dating all the way back to the 1980s. The alumni expressed their gratitude for the influential coach, who led the Skyhawks to a state championship game in 2010.

“That was the first time a west side team had beaten any east side team in the playoffs. So, it’s a big point of pride,” she said.

Ulrich-Suss, after nearly four decades of coaching and counseling at the school, has enjoyed every moment with her teams, and is still excited about every game and practice.

After coaching girls’ volleyball and track and field for over a decade each, Ulrich-Suss was motivated by the many people who believed she could not have the same success coaching boys as she did for years coaching girls’ teams.

In the years since, she has proven it.

Not much of a yeller, she describes her coaching style as positive, taking joy in helping her players and students reach their peak performance.

“She’s really calm. Before every game we meditate and she tries to get us in our most calm selves to prep us,” senior Jack Puentes said.

Players dance happily to music in timeouts, laugh loudly and cheer even louder at impactful plays made on the court. Even on mistakes, there is hardly ever yelling or reprimanding.

However, she puts a lot of demand on players, expecting them to be quality people as well as athletes, which has resulted in a state title and deep playoff runs year after year.

“We’ve had to kick some really good athletes off, but it’s all about character here, and I want them to be great in all their lives after they leave,” Ulrich-Suss said.

For those who have bought in, the result is great coaching, but also a life-long advocate and friend.

“She means the world to us,” Deer Valley senior Flamur Gashi said.

This rendition of the Skyhawk volleyball team is extremely senior heavy. Of the 14 listed players on the roster, 13 will graduate this summer. Most of them played on last season’s team, which earned a No. 1 seed in the 2018 playoffs and reached the state semifinals.

With an 18-8 record after 26 games, a few more wins would likely guarantee Deer Valley another automatic playoff bid, and give them another shot at a title in May’s playoffs.

The chance to hoist the 5A trophy would not only prove a storybook ending for the careers of the veteran squad, but would be a perfect way to close this final chapter on Ulrich-Suss’s career.

“It would mean the world to us to send her off like that. It’s so surprising that she only has one state championship under her belt, and I feel like she deserves more, and that we have the teams that can give her one more,” Puentes said.

Beside the winning and lasting impact Ulrich-Suss has provided for the hundreds of kids who have walked through her programs at Deer Valley, she was also crucial in bringing volleyball not only to Deer Valley, but the west side of the Valley in general.

In the early 2000s, Ulrich-Suss sat in on AIA meetings and advocated for boys’ volleyball at the state’s highest levels, knowing the impact the sport could have on young developing men.

Simply put, there is no Skyhawk volleyball, or many of the division teams they face, if not for the hall-of-fame coach.

“Deer Valley, and the whole Deer Valley Unified School District, has men’s volleyball because of her, because she sat in those countless meetings and was relentless about getting the sport here, and helping it grow since then,” said co-coach Eric Palmer, a player on Deer Valley’s 2002 team and graduate in 2003.

Palmer has sat alongside Ulrich-Suss for the past seven seasons. He credits his mentor — Coach Suss, as she is known around the gym — as his inspiration to become a coach.

He began as a volunteer after graduating high school, but will fully take the program over in the coming seasons. However, not much will change, as he emulates Ulrich-Suss’s coaching style as closely as possible.

Beside the banner forever hanging in the Deer Valley gym with her smiling picture, Ulrich-Suss will continue to be a part of the team. She said she will likely come back sporadically to check on the boys.

“She’s welcome here at practice and in our gym as often as she wants to be. Always,” Palmer said.

For the final few weeks of the 2019 season, Ulrich-Suss will continue to lock arms with the players in timeout huddles, slap hands in the starting lineup introductions and laugh alongside the boys who have grown to love her so much.

Whether her last season ends in a playoff run, early loss or anywhere in between, “Coach Suss” has proven to Deer Valley that consistency and coaching ability translates to all sports — and all genders, too.

“In the 1990s people thought it would be tough to get boys’ attention,” she said with a smile. “But hey, look, it’s worked.”