DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for more than three decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Gators send a message, and it's not SOS

While many Xavier Prep students were participating in an annual ski trip to Colorado’s high country on Friday (Jan. 18), the school’s basketball team was back in Arizona, seeking a lift as it attempted to climb Mount Hamilton.

Hamilton’s Huskies were the top-ranked team on the Arizona Interscholastic Associaton’s power points list, and had easily defeated a tough No. 2-ranked Gilbert Perry team on Thursday (Jan. 17). No. 3 Xavier had lost to Perry on Jan. 8, so the odds were stacked against the Gators.

During pre-game warm-ups in the Hamilton gym, Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom could sense something different about her team. The Gators had a good week of practice, and appeared to have their focus.

“I felt it from the beginning,’’ Gillom said.

She was spot-on.

Xavier trailed only twice, with the first basket of the game and the first basket of the second half. But the Gators otherwise handled every challenge thrown at them and with what might be considered their best game of the season, were able to plant the victory flag atop Mount Hamilton, 49-40.

The Gators are 19-3 overall and are in a three-way tie with Hamilton (17-5) and Perry (15-6) for the 6A Conference Premier Region lead at 3-1.

Gillom had more of a bounce in her step as she headed toward the locker room to celebrate afterward.

“I have been waiting so long for that (Xavier) team to show up,’’ she said. “The leadership we got from our seniors, our execution on offense and defense . . . I haven’t seen that happen for a long time.’’

Xavier had led just 20-19 at halftime, but that one-point differential was a BIG point.

“It sent a message that we were able to play with them (Hamilton) and would be able to continue to play with them,’’ Gillom said.

The senior trio of point guard Leilani McIntosh and guards Paris Rasheed-Moore and Addie Putnam were the driving force.

McIntosh scored five points to keep Xavier afloat in the early part of the fourth quarter and finished with 15 points. Rasheed-Moore, who had 12 points, drove to the basket and made a key three-point play with 1:58 left in the game to increase the Gators’ lead to six. And Putnam got 10 points, all in the second half.

Just as important was the effort of junior post player Tanya Barakat in the second quarter.

With junior guard-forward Elysia Fleetwood saddled with three first-quarter fouls, Gillom put the 6-foot Barakat in the game to provide more of a physical presence around the basket.

Barakat responded with back-to-back baskets and came up with a handful of big rebounds.

Gillom had watched Barakat in practice during the week, liked what she saw and decided to give her a chance.

“That (game performance) was huge,’’ Gillom said. “She is really coming along and is starting to believe in herself.’’

It is something all of the Gators need in the coming weeks. To look in the mirror and remember what it took for them to defeat Hamilton.

Xavier will play next on Thursday (Jan. 24) with a non-region home game against Mesa Mountain View, then have a rematch with Perry at home on Friday (Jan. 25).

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

XCP sloshes to 1-0 soccer win over Pinnacle

Senior midfielder Karla Alvarado scored a first-half goal and sophomore goalkeeper Katie Harris got her second straight shutout on Tuesday night (Jan. 15) as Xavier Prep’s soccer team defeated Phoenix Pinnacle 1-0 at a rain-soaked Petznick Field.

Loyal spectators huddled wherever they could to stay as dry as possible.

Xavier (8-3-1) will return to action on Jan. 25 with a contest at Chandler High.

Xavier Prep soccer players try to stay dry underneath a canopy, above. Gators' Ansley Burns (red shoes)  follows through after sending a pass upfield to a teammate, below. (Photos by Sr. Lynn Winsor).

Second-half defense rescues Gator hoops

If one thing doesn’t work, you have to adjust and try something else. If you don’t change, you could be in big trouble.

Xavier Prep basketball coach Jennifer Gillom had to switch strategy after the Gators trailed Chandler High on Tuesday night (Jan. 15).

The deficit was only four points, so it wasn’t insurmountable. But Gillom didn’t want the Wolves to increase their lead.

The full-court pressure that Xavier has used to control many of its opponents wasn’t working all that well against Chandler, which features guards that have quickness and good passing skills.

Gillom switched the Gators’ defense to a zone, which they have used intermittently along the way.

Xavier held Chandler to just four points in the third quarter and only seven in the fourth and went on to secure a 48-38 victory in a 6A Conference Premier Region game at Chandler’s House of Payne.

Xavier is 18-3 overall, 2-1 in region, while Chandler is 11-9 and 1-2.

“I thought our defense turned things around, as well as our willingness to crash the boards,’’ Gillom said. “Getting those rebounds will help get you extra possessions, and we did that. It was a good group effort.’’

Xavier’s second-half defense was successful against Chandler 6-foot-4 junior Maya Peat. She finished the game with 10 points, but only three in the second half.

And on the glass, senior Paris Rasheed-Moore increased her productivity. She had 13 rebounds for the Gators.

“That helped us tremendously,’’ Gillom said.

Xavier had four 3-point baskets, two each from senior Addie Putnam and sophomore Mackenzie Coder. Gillom said Coder’s 3s, one in each half, came at key points and allowed the team to stay close and later to maintain its lead.

Putnam led the Gators with 17 points and senior point guard Leilani McIntosh added 12.

Xavier will return to Chandler on Friday night (Jan. 18) for a game at Hamilton. The Huskies were the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s No. 1 power-points team as of Wednesday morning (Jan. 16).

They have a home game against No. 2 Gilbert Perry on Thursday night (Jan. 17) before hosting Xavier, which is No. 3. Xavier’s region loss was to Perry.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Shannon Shields chosen Gatorade Volleyball POY

Shannon Shields has been a big part of the Xavier Prep volleyball tradition in her four years with the Gators.

Especially as a senior. Her teammates selected her as the player to get their pre-game warm-ups started by taking a pass high above the net and slamming it down on the other side.

That was an impressive display of power, but what was even more noteworthy was her success on the court as one of the top setters in the nation.

She had an uncanny knack of knowing where all of her teammates were and making sure she got them the ball in the right spot, even if they were behind her, to produce a point.

She led the Gators to their second straight 6A Conference state championship.

Shields was just as impressive in the classroom and with community service. She crafted a 3.87 weighted grade point average, was a member of the student council and was involved with the Kitchen on the Street project that feeds the homeless.

With that type of resume, it shouldn’t really be a surprise at the news that Shields is the recipient of the Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year Award, joining former Xavier players Khalia Lanier, Bianca Arellano and Stephanie Preach, who also won the award.
“Shannon was a four-year starter and outstanding on and off the court,’’ said Xavier coach Lamar-Renee Bryant. She was a great leader and her teammates would follow her lead. She liked to have fun playing the game. The award is a great recognition of a very deserving young lady.’’

Shields was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America Second Team. She was the 6A Premier Region Player of the Year and is one of eight finalists for the azcentral Player of the Year Award that will be announced at a ceremony in June.

And she’s not done with volleyball – far from it. She will move on to play and study collegiately at the University of Louisville.

The 5-foot-10 Shields finished her senior season with 974 assists, 401 digs, 143 kills, 49 aces and 39 blocks, and for her career had 3,704 assists, 1,172 digs and 519 kills.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Winning ways return for Gator hoops

After an emotional two-point loss in its 6A Premier Region opener at Gilbert Perry on Tuesday night (Jan. 8), it was imperative that Xavier Prep’s basketball team needed to come back and defeat visiting Chandler Basha on Friday night (Jan. 11). The Gators couldn’t really afford another region setback.

They did what they set out to do with a dominating 65-36 victory at the Activity Center.

After ending its three-game losing streak, Xavier stands at 17-3 overall and 1-1 in region play. Basha fell to 7-12 and 0-2.

Xavier used its trademark pressure defense mixed with a zone to keep Basha from getting close.

Senior guards Leilani McIntosh and Addie Putnam and junior guard-forward Elysia Fleetwood put most of the Xavier points on the board early on. The Gators led 26-6 at the end of the first quarter.

Because of the big lead, Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom had the opportunity to give her reserves some good playing time. Xavier had nine players in the scoring column.

Guards Victoria Saucedo and Bianca Nava looked good, as did post player Tanya Barakat.

Xavier was outscored 11-2 in the fourth quarter, when a running clock was used with a lead of more than 30 points.

Basha got a strong effort from forward Amiyah Josey, who scored 23 points.

Putnam led Xavier with 15 points, followed by Fleetwood with 13 and McIntosh with 12.

Xavier has two region games on the road next week, at Chandler High on Tuesday (Jan. 15) and Chandler Hamilton on Friday (Jan. 18).

Broderick goal, strong defense lift XCP soccer

Senior Allison Broderick scored a first-half goal, and goalkeeper Katie Harris and the Xavier Prep defense made it stand up for a 1-0 soccer victory over host Tempe Corona del Sol on Friday night (Jan. 11).

Xavier (7-3-1) will have a home match against Phoenix Pinnacle on Tuesday night (Jan. 15) at Petznick Field. After that, the Gators would not play again until Jan. 25, when they play at Chandler High.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Chaparral shows Xavier soccer it is the real deal

In a matchup of two state-champion soccer teams, Xavier Prep and Scottsdale Chaparral met on Thursday night (Jan. 10) at Chaparral.

Xavier, two-time defending 6A Conference champ, had its hands full with Chaparral, moving up to 6A this season after winning it all in 5A a year ago.

Despite missing a couple of key players who were nursing injuries, the Gators gave it all they had but came up short, 2-0.

Xavier slipped to 6-3-1 while Chaparral is 10-2-2.

“Chaparral is a really good team,’’ said Xavier coach Barb Chura. “They are stronger and faster, but I thought we competed really well. They play with physicality. In the rest of our games, we are probably going to face that. So we have to find a way to deal with it. We’re going to have to be as good (physical) as they (opponents) are.’’

The coach added that her team needs to pass better and be quicker about it.

Chaparral appeared to have quicker reaction time on defense. Whenever the Gators would make a pass, at least two or three of the Firebirds would be there to surround the recipient.

It appeared as if the contest would be scoreless at halftime, allowing the Gators to regroup.

But the Firebirds scored their first goal at the 1:45 mark by Lauren Carlson. The shot had just enough height to get over the fingertips of Xavier keeper Katie Harris as she reached up to try to stop it.

Carlson also would score the second goal with 5:32 left in the game off a deflection.

Xavier had been looking to tie it up before that score, but a couple of different opportunities were unsuccessful.

One came in a scramble on a free kick by the Gators, and the other came when a power shot by Lindsay Hubbard was stopped by the Chaparral keeper.

Xavier has a quick turnaround, with another road match on Friday night (Jan. 11) against Tempe Corona del Sol (3-2-3).The Gators will return home on Tuesday (Jan. 15) against Phoenix Pinnacle.