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, August 12, 2017

Badminton aims to continue excellence

If the sheer numbers on the first day of tryouts is any indication, Xavier Prep badminton coaches have a lot to choose from when deciding who will be on the varsity and junior-varsity rosters for the fall of 2017. Teams should be announced by the middle of the coming week.

Head coach Susan Contreras and volunteer assistants Francis Hartojo and Sherry Yuan (new to the program this year) welcomed 42 athletes on Friday’s (Aug. 11) first day, with players shuttling between courts in the Activity Center and Vestar Hall.

The mid-afternoon workout had players “challenging’’ each other in matches. Players were encouraged to use as many types of shots and footwork as they felt comfortable using. Some of those shots were learned at open gym sessions a week ago.

The tryouts will continue on Monday (Aug. 14) and Tuesday (Aug. 15), with the final rosters announced on Tuesday night or Wednesday (Aug. 16).

“We have seen a few girls trying to use the proper footwork and working on those shots,’’ said Conteraras, who in her first season a year ago led the Gators to a 17-0 record and the seventh state championship in the school’s history.

It is difficult for players to stay sharp in the offseason because there is very little organized clubs and competitions. There is one club in Mesa, but that is about the extent of it.

“For many of the girls, this is their first experience (nine freshmen are trying out), but we also have some players coming back who were on the varsity and JV,’’ Contreras said.

“For some of the girls, their only experience is in PE (physical education class), but this is not just hitting back and forth like that. There is a lot more to it. It is quicker and there is a lot more movement involved.’’

The day will come when the players have to do a little more in terms of shots and strategy. And although some might not think so, conditioning also comes into play.

“There will be times later in the season when a (individual) match goes to a third set and they need all the energy they can get, particularly late in the season,’’ Contreras said.

The final list will have about two dozen names on it. Six will be the primary varsity players (both singles and doubles), with six more playing JV. There also will be 12 more players who will be involved in “exhibition’’ matches. Though there is not much turnover at the varsity level, there can be more movement in the JV and exhibition groups.

“It is important that all of the girls stay sharp because you never know what might happen,’’ Contreras said.

It is imperative that the girls keep playing, “because the more they play, the more fun they will have,’’ she said.

Xavier had a lot of home matches last season, but this will be reversed, with the schedule being top-heavy with road matches. Six of the team’s first seven matches are away, the first being Mesa Red Mountain on Aug. 23 at 4:30 p.m.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Picture this: another great Xavier golf team

Sr. Lynn Winsor has had many roles during her years at Xavier Prep, including athletic director and golf coach. In recent years, she also has assumed the role of paparazzi.

She takes photos at many of the school’s sports events, some of which are posted on the XCP Web site, and she is back at it as the golf season comes into view for the fall of 2017.

Winsor snapped a few photos prior to Wednesday’s (Aug. 9) first day of team tryouts at Phoenix Country Club. A list will be compiled and shown at a social gathering at the end of the season.

The Gators are hoping that will include memories of another state championship run, but they realize that nothing will be handed to them despite having won 34 titles overall.

It all starts now.

As the girls teed off for the first of three consecutive 9-hole rounds on back-to-back-to-back days, Winsor said she and co-coach Tui Selvaratnam are confident the group will produce success.

 “We have so many good golfers trying out that we do not know how many we will take,’’ Winsor said.

Candidates include a few freshmen, a few transfers and a strong group of returnees led by sophomore Ashley Menne, last year’s state co-medalist.

The final list will be announced on Monday (Aug. 14). Before then, the girls will be required to play an 18-hole round over the weekend and present their scorecards to the coaches.

The team will have three qualifying rounds next week as they get closer to the season-opening match on Aug. 22 against Scottsdale Desert Mountain at Phoenix Country Club. Xavier will play many of its home matches there and a few more at Camelback Golf Club late in the season.

All of the players, even the newcomers, have been playing in various junior golf events earlier this year.

Although the group that comprises the team that will contribute to the scoring with each match, that can change, meaning it’s good to have depth.

“Some schools don’t have big teams, but we don’t mind at all,’’ Winsor said. “The girls are out here to enjoy this activity, represent their school and in many cases will make friends for life and that is what we like to see.’’

Winsor and Selvaratnam will be evaluating the players “and watching them all play,’’ Winsor said. “We want to see how they react to each other, react to the situations that occur out on the course. Our first match will be coming up soon.

“The time we have now is important. The kids might be putting a little pressure on themselves, even the older ones, because they want to do well.

“We are all excited and enthusiastic and we want to see how low our scores are.’’

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

XCP swimmers churn, make the turns

One moment, the surface of the water at the Brophy Prep pool hardly moved, calm and serene.

The next moment, the water thrashed and churned as girls from Xavier Prep made their way down the lanes, divided by plastic barriers strung the length of the pool.

Tuesday (Aug. 8) was the first day for tryouts for the Gators’ swim team, as 42 athletes concentrated on the freestyle and some cardiovascular work under the watchful eye of second-year head coach Maureen “Mo’’ Rankin and assistant coach Jennifer James.

Coach Frank Pipitone and assistant Laura Forbes guided aspiring divers through their workouts later in the afternoon. Swimmers and divers will continue their auditions on Wednesday (Aug. 9) and Thursday (Aug. 10), with the team’s first official workout on Friday (Aug. 11) at 5:30 a.m.

How many girls that will make the team and the number that will not is still “up in the air’’ at this point, Rankin said. She said that the coaches had a certain number in mind, but that was before seeing many of them in the pool, how they looked and the shape they were in.

The other strokes will be the focus over the final two days, as will the sprint events and aerobic drills.

“We know we will be a lot better team than last season (when the team finished fourth at state),’’ Rankin said.

Xavier’s chances will be bolstered by about 15 incoming freshmen “who are quality swimmers,’’ Rankin said. “They will push for the No. 1 spot in certain events.’’

There are a handful of swimmers who will participate in more than one event (individually), but some will specialize in one particular event, an indication of the team’s depth. But the coach wants the girls to continue to work on all of their strokes, which will be key elements of relay events.

“I looked forward to this first day for a lot of reasons,’’ Rankin said. “And I’m looking forward to watching the girls grow and improve as we continue.’’

The girls’ team spirit and unity was evident when they gathered in a big circle at the close of the workout and went through some boisterous cheers.

Rankin said the biggest challengers to Xavier come state meet time will be Chandler High and Phoenix Desert Vista.

The team will participate in an intrasquad meet at Brophy on Aug. 25, and the first meet of the regular season will be on the road, on Aug. 31 against Anthem Boulder Creek at the Anthem Community Center. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Volleyball players working hard to make teams

The invasion came Monday (Aug.  7) as dozens of volleyball players swarmed the courts in the Activity Center and Vestar Hall for annual tryouts.

Tryouts will continue on Tuesday (Aug. 8) and Wednesday (Aug. 9) with the final rosters posted on Wednesday evening. Early official practices will run Thursday (Aug. 10), Friday (Aug. 11) and Saturday (Aug. 12).

Monday was an important day for the freshmen. It was the girls’ first day of school, followed by the tryouts. Approximately 36 prospects showed up at Vestar, wearing white T-shirts with numbers on the back in black magic marker.

Near the conclusion of the first session, eight players whose skill levels were a bit more diverse than others were asked to stay around and participate in the varsity and junior-varsity workouts that came after.

Freshman coach Jamie Itule said about 80 percent of the girls trying out had some sort of club experience.

“We have a good, solid number of girls out here,’’ Itule said. “Some are here for the very first time, others have more experience. If I could say one word about this first practice, I would say “competitive.’ ‘’

Passing the ball is the players’ biggest asset at this point, Itule said.

Varsity coach Lamar-Renee Bryant oversaw the proceedings and was pleased with the players’ mindset.

“There is a lot of excitement for them,’’ Bryant said. “The girls are working very hard because they want to be a part of this great Gator program.’’

The session for the older girls was divided into two groups – those who likely will play on the varsity and the others on the JV.

“It was a good first day,’’ Bryant said afterward. “Some of the main things you have to learn are to give your maximum effort at all times, have a positive attitude and support your teammates.’’

There were times when the Activity Center was a bit too quiet for Bryant’s liking. She wants to hear more noise.

“You have to be able to communicate,’’ she told the players. “You have to say what you see, let your teammates know what is going on when you see what your opponent is trying to do.’’

Xavier will have its annual four-way scrimmage with Chandler Hamilton, Chandler Basha and Phoenix Sunnyslope at Hamilton on Aug. 23.

The first varsity match will be at Xavier on Aug. 29, against Mesa Mountain View. The Gators will play in three tournaments this fall, the Durango Classic in Las Vegas, the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix and the Gilbert Invitational at Gilbert High. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Now's your chance with fall sports tryouts

Hello, Gators . . .
We’re sure you know by now that the 2017-18 school year is beginning, and that means the fall sports seasons are right around the corner.
Teams are or will be having open gyms and tryouts, so get your gear together and head out to your favorite venue. All XCP students must have their annual physicals on file.
Badminton – Open gym for new players on Monday, Aug. 7 (1-3 p.m.) and Tuesday, Aug. 8 (3:30-5:30 p.m.) in the Activity Center. Open gym for all players on Wednesday, Aug. 9 and Thursday, Aug. 10, from 3:30-5:30 both days in the Activity Center.
Cross country – Tryouts for all athletes Aug. 8-10 beginning at 5:15 a.m. (yes, that is 5:15 a.m., no typo) at the Brophy College Prep track.
Frosh tennis – Another year for coach Laurie Martin and her award-winning no-cut program. That means a cast of thousands (OK, dozens, but that’s still a lot).
Position rounds for all immediate and advanced players who have played at least some tennis are Monday, Aug. 14 through Thursday, Aug. 17 from 3-5 p.m. at the Stark Tennis Center. New and beginning players will gather on the courts on Monday, Aug. 21 after school.
Crew/rowing (club) – All interested athletes should attend a lunch meeting at Lutfy Hall on Aug. 15. There should be additional information under the team heading on the XCP Web site.
Golf – The chart-topping XCP group is ready for a new season. A mandatory meeting for all will be held Aug. 8 at 2:45 p.m. at Lutfy Hall. Co-head coaches Sr. Lynn Winsor and Tui Selvaratnam will go over rules and what they will expect from their players.
Tryouts will be held at nearby Phoenix Country Club (7th St. and Thomas Rd.) Aug. 9-11. Sessions will be held from 2:30-5 p.m. on the first two days and from 2-4:45 p.m. on the third day.
Swim-dive – Xavier girls will make a splash in the neighboring Brophy Prep Aquatic Complex on Aug. 8-10 from 3-4:30 p.m. The team will hold its first official practice on Aug. 11 at 5:30 a.m.
Second-year head coach Maureen “Mo’’ Rankin says that “Gators were meant to swim.’’
But Gators also are meant to dive, and coach Frank Pipitone will guide his group on Aug. 8-10 from 5-7 p.m., with the girls joining the swimmers for the first official practice on Aug. 11 at 5:30 a.m.
Volleyball – Players will begin to refine their skills at open gym sessions at the Activity Center on Aug. 1 (3-5 p.m.), Aug. 2 (3-5 p.m.) and Aug. 3 (4-6 p.m.).
Freshman tryouts will be held Aug. 7-9 at Vestar Hall, 1-3 p.m. the first day and from 3:30-5:30 p.m. the other two days.
Tryouts for sophomores, juniors and seniors will be held those same dates. Times are 3-5 p.m. the first day and 5-7:30 p.m. the other two days.
Let’s make it another great year!!          

Friday, July 14, 2017

Winsor more than just a Face in the Crowd

Xavier Prep athletic director and golf co-head coach Sr. Lynn Winsor is the subject of a profile in the Faces in the Crowd section of the latest (July 17) issue of Sports Illustrated.

The article chronicles Winsor’s tenure at XCP that goes back to the early 1970s and includes 34 state championships, including six in a row through the fall of 2016. Winsor also had a similar SI profile in 1993.
Accompanying the new article is a recent photo of Winsor, former Gator golfer Cheyenne Woods and associate athletic director and golf co-head coach Tui Selvaratnam.
In June, Winsor was selected the All-USA Girls Golf Coach of the Year for the 2016-17 school year by the American Family Insurance Group and USA Today.
Congratulations, Sr. Lynn!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Gators' dive coach Pipitone earns award

Winning an award for coaching is a great achievement, but it’s how you get there that just might be even more special.
That is how Xavier Prep diving coach Frank Pipitone looks at it.
“A kid with good character might be better than one with good diving skills,’’ Pipitone said Monday (July 10) after being notified of his selection as the Girls Diving Coach of the Year for the 2015-16 school year by the Arizona Interscholastic Swim and Dive Coaches Association.
Pipitone, who will be coaching his sixth season at Xavier in the fall (he also coaches the Brophy Prep divers), said the character of the Xavier goals “is so far above the standard that it makes a coach’s job a lot easier.’’
The award winner is chosen by the state’s coaches “and it’s nice to be recognized,’’ Pipitone said.
The best part for Pipitone is watching a meet where his athletes implement a dive that they have seldom used because they are learning, and then have them post a decent score.
“Of course, you want to win, but when you see them dive and come up with their head above the water with a big smile on their face, they can tell they did a good job and it means they are learning. Those types of things are why I coach,’’ he said.
A school is allowed to send only four divers to the state meet. Xavier had four divers (three sophomores and a freshman) finish fourth, seventh, 17th and 18th. Divers qualify by reaching a certain provisional point total during the regular season.
“That’s one thing that makes my job more of a challenge is when you have even more than four girls reach that point total and you can take only four. But it’s a good problem to have,’’ Pipitone said.
He is looking for more of the same this fall.
“We’ll be competitive,’’ he said.
Official practices are due to begin around the second week of August.