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.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Xavier sizzles in summer, captures hoops title

Xavier Prep basketball players were happy to add to their summer wardrobe on Monday night (June 25).

The Gators were presented T-shirts by coach Jennifer Gillom, signifying the team’s 48-39 victory over Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor for the Blue Bracket championship in the Thunderbird High summer league in north Phoenix.
Xavier Prep basketball coach Jennifer Gillom hands out championship T-shirts after a win over Sandra Day O'Connor in the Thunderbird High summer league (photo by Don Ketchum).
Xavier had earned a trip to the final earlier in the day with a 51-40 victory over Phoenix Pinnacle.

“They (Sandra Day O’Connor) were a scrappy team. They gave us a run for our money,’’ Gillom said.

While Xavier probably played better overall against Pinnacle, you could not discount the effort put into this game. The Gators did what they were supposed to do at the right time and kept Sandra Day O’Connor’s offense off balance for most of the game.

Senior guard Paris Moore had one of her best all-around games of the summer, finishing with 13 points and several steals and rebounds. With point guard Leilani McIntosh unavailable due to club-team commitments, Gillom kept urging Moore, a defensive specialist, to be more aggressive on offense.

“She was really attacking the basket,’’ Gillom said.

Moore drew numerous fouls on her journey through the lane.

McIntosh was on the bench for the finale but did not suit up, due to a tweaked ankle.

Another Gator who had missed weekend play because of club commitments was junior Elysia Fleetwood. She returned to action and brought an added presence in the rebounding department and provided another option with ball-handling if her teammates needed to get out of trouble.

Gillom was understandably happy after the win.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of great things out here, and I can only imagine what we will be capable of doing when we start practice and playing games for real,’’ she said. “This makes all of us very optimistic.

“Our entire roster . . . the girls really believe they can win.’’

Xavier’s JV team also participated in the league and fell to Sandra Day O’Connor 51-33 in the semifinals of the JV White Bracket. The Gators claimed third place.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Menne wins state junior golf title No. 3

The story of Xavier Prep’s Ashley Menne continues to grow and grow.

The junior-to-be added another significant chapter on June 19 and 20 when she became the first person to win three consecutive Arizona State Junior Golf Championships at the Talking Rock Golf Club in Prescott.

About a week after earning her second straight Golfer of the Year award, Menne went out and put together back-to-back 6-under-par 66s, with no bogeys. That allowed her to win this tournament by 11 strokes.

Xavier also was well represented elsewhere on the leader board.

Junior Breyana Matthews and sophomore  Bailee Tayles tied for 11th. Junior Millburn Ho tied for the 15th spot. Senior Eve Worden tied for 21st, and senior Emily Cons tied for 34th.

Defense takes over for Gators in playoffs

When the offense is sputtering like a car engine on a cold morning, there is still a remedy that can keep a basketball team in the game.

It is called defense.

“What I tell the team is, defense can make up for a lot of things. It helps everything,’’ said Xavier Prep coach Jennifer Gillom.

On Sunday (June 24), it helped Gillom’s Gators defeat Phoenix Sunnyslope 38-23 in a Blue Bracket playoff game for the Thunderbird High Summer Girls Basketball League in north Phoenix.

Xavier (6-3) advanced to Monday’s (June 25) semifinals against Phoenix Pinnacle. Tipoff is 3 p.m. The semifinal winner will move on to the championship game at 8 p.m.

Xavier also remains alive in the JV White Bracket. The Gators defeated Phoenix Greenway 33-23 on Sunday and will play a semifinal game at 10 a.m. on Monday against Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor. If Xavier wins that one, it will play for the bracket championship at 5 p.m.

The Xavier varsity trailed early 6-2 against Sunnyslope before going on a 12-0 run. The Gators’ offense did not operate as smoothly as it did during a win over Glendale Cactus in Saturday’s (June 23) opening round.

The Gators were hit and miss in the second half, but their pressure defense kept the Sunnyslope offense out of the passing lanes and forced the Vikings into higher-percentage shots.

Addison Putnam hit three 3-pointers for Xavier in the game, and Mackenzie Coder added another from long range.

Still, the Gators did not have quite the same offensive spark as when senior point guard Leilani McIntosh runs the show. She was unavailable on Saturday and again Sunday, as was junior forward Elysia Fleetwood.

Gillom has been running more of a basic offense during McIntosh’s absence, as to not have the guards who remain attempt to do too much.

“They’re learning,’’ she said. “We are glad they are able to get some experience.

“Overall, I’d say I am happy with the way we are playing. I don’t look at the shots so much as I look at the intensity, how they play generally and the execution. We are working on it.’’

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Winning mentality key for Gator hoops

The development of their basketball skills has been coming along nicely for Xavier Prep’s Gators in the Thunderbird High girls’ summer league over the last few weeks.

Now they are in the tournament, and it is time for them to develop a winning mentality.

For much of the first half against Glendale Cactus on Saturday (June 23), the Gators did not show that trait very much. They trailed by five points at halftime.

The second half was a different story. Xavier outscored the Cobras 36-18 in the next 20 minutes to earn a 55-42 victory. And the Gators did it without two of their top players, senior point guard Leilani McIntosh and junior forward-guard Elysia Fleetwood, who were not available.

Xavier heads to the next round, on Sunday (June 24) with a 4 p.m. game against either Phoenix Sunnyslope or Laveen Cesar Chavez. Semifinals and finals are Monday (June 25).

Gators coach Jennifer Gillom said her team learned to play without a key player last season when star forward Montana Oltrogge had to sit out for a few weeks with shin splints. They are facing a similar scenario now.

“You have to keep playing, rely on what you do best,’’ Gillom said.

One player who stepped up in a big way on Saturday was senior guard Addie Putnam. When McIntosh is in the lineup, Putnam sits out on the wing much of the time, letting the ball fly on her trademark 3-point shot.

Against Cactus, her role expanded to ball-handling in addition to shooting, and playing defense. She appears to be in much better shape than last season, with more quickness and agility, and Gillom said part of that can be attributed to Putnam’s desire to earn a college scholarship.

Putnam finished with 29 points.

Another player making an impact was sophomore Tori Saucedo. She scored eight points, all in the second half.

“She was a big contributor out there. She is kind of quiet, but she does some good stuff,’’ Gillom said. “She is another option for us, and that’s what we need.’’

The coach wants her players to continue to be aggressive, just like they were in the second half.

“The players made up their minds that they were going to attack the basket,’’ she said.

They will need improvement with their rebounding by keeping their opponents away from the basket as much as possible. Cactus often put up second and third shots in the first half, but that didn’t occur nearly as much in the second half as Xavier came back.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Beach volleyball fun is within reach

What a difference a year makes.

When Xavier Prep held its first beach volleyball summer camp in 2017 on the school’s new Cavanaugh Courts, it had eight participants.

In 2018, those girls are back and brought a full contingent of players with them – 35 in all – as the (hopefully) future Gators stick their toes in the sand this week.

The camp began Monday (June 18) and runs through Thursday (June 21) and is led by XCP beach coach Tim McHale, assistant Kristen Preach and a handful of varsity players who will lead the team next spring.

Each day focuses on certain skills. During the first day, for example, it was passing the ball with consistency. The second day, service. The third day, hitting, along with photos and commemorative T-shirts. The last day was due to feature brief competitive matches.

“It’s a credit to these girls to wake up early (camp runs from 7-9:30 a.m.) and make sure they are hydrated,’’ said Preach, a former indoor player at Xavier and Grand Canyon University in Phoenix who also assists with Xavier’s indoor team.

“There are a lot of younger players (beginning with fifth graders to be in the next school year) and it’s cool to see. The game is growing so much.’’

There are a few players with club experience, but beach is a whole new game. Instead of six players on the court at a time, there only are two. There is a significant difference when it comes to strategy, where to move and being more athletic.

“It’s how you move in the sand, and the surface is an issue in itself instead of the wood floor,’’ Preach said. “The (beach) court is a bit smaller. You have to adjust your swing and there definitely are more contacts (with the ball). There’s not much standing around. And you find out that it’s still a game of momentum.’’

As the temperature rises, players are instructed to take frequent breaks and take on more fluid while resting in the shade of the fence that surrounds the courts as well as sitting under the blue Xavier canopies.

The smaller players are not as big or strong as their older sisters, but they did not shy away from the activity. They were there, diving in the sand and trying to get as much power on their swings and distance on their serves.

Good communication is essential for beach players. Calling for the ball – “mine, mine, mine’’ – and talking about which player is going where helps in achieving success.

McHale, who coached Xavier to six straight beach titles from 2012-17, explained terminology and had his varsity players demonstrate the differences in positioning for beach in contrast to indoor.

He said one of the most important things about setting is to try to position yourself by facing in the direction you want the ball to go. Your teammate knows where the ball is going, but the opponent might be a step or two behind.
Great job, campers and coaches !!

Gators get their share of time in summer hoops

In basketball summer leagues, winning is a goal but not the only goal.

There is the aspect of giving as many players as much playing time as possible, trying to balance the minutes.

Xavier Prep coaches have been doing just that in the Thunderbird High summer league, and Tuesday’s (June 19) game against Scottsdale Chaparral was a prime example.

The Gators feature about 15 players and doing the math, means three waves shuttling in and out of the lineup.

Against Chaparral, the defending 5A Conference champion, the defending 6A runner-up Gators looked good at times, not as much at others. Some of the girls got limited experience on the varsity last season, others will be up from the junior varsity this winter, along with a key transfer.

Xavier had leads at various points but were unable to hold on, falling 43-38.

The Gators are 4-2 entering their “regular season’’ finale against Cave Creek Cactus Shadows on Thursday (4 p.m.). The focus then shifts to a playoff over the weekend. It will be a “one (loss) and done’’ format, and Xavier’s first game will be Saturday (June 23) against Glendale Cactus at 11 a.m.

Xavier scored the game’s first basket off a steal and layup by guard Paris Moore, a senior to be. By the time that XCP scored again, it trailed 13-4. Nine of Chaparral’s first 13 points came on 3-pointers.

The Gators managed to get back into it, pulling to within 19-17 at the half (games are played in 20-minute halves with a running clock).

Senior point guard Leilani McIntosh went to work early in the second half, scoring seven of Xavier’s nine points in a 9-0 run, with Moore scoring the other bucket on another steal.

The well nearly went dry for the Gators as Chaparral responded with a 17-2 run. Xavier made another challenge, pulling to within 39-35 with 1:34 on two free throws by McIntosh. Chaparral then converted four of its own foul shots to maintain its advantage.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Girls have a (basket) ball at summer camp

It’s amazing what a trip to the 6A Conference championship game can do for a basketball program.

All you have to do is take a quick peek inside Xavier Prep’s Activity Center this week, at the swarm of girls attending the annual basketball camp.

Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom said she has 37 campers here probably one of the most attended camps in recent memory.

The daily sessions run from 2-4 p.m. and feature a wide range of drills to discover and enhance skills at various “stations,’’ as well as brief 3-on-3 games.

Gillom is assisted by junior-varsity head coach Laura Forbes and freshman coach Wendy Woudenberg. There also are close to 10 of Gillom’s current players who will return this winter, as well as the recently graduated power forward Katie Hassett.

Gillom surveys the beehive buzzing with activity and smiles.

“You can see it (enthusiasm) out there. You always have that with a new bunch, but this one seems to have even more. We are really happy for the interest. When you start winning, people notice.’’

Monday’s (June 18) first day started off with a game that Gillom called “Pac-Man.’’

It featured dribbling along the lines of the court, with the campers being followed by those wearing yellow jerseys chasing after them, much like the Pac-Man video game. If a camper is touched by the yellow jersey, they have to sit out.

There is more dribbling after, then shooting, starting with the proper way to place the ball in the hand before releasing it. Agility and hand-eye coordination were tested with a three-player “weave’’ up and down the floor.

Work at the stations then took over. Hassett, one of the state’s top rebounders last season, showed the younger ones how it’s done, not standing directly under the basket because rebounds would be few. She suggested taking a few steps back.

Gillom planned to add a few new drills each day and review the ones previously introduced.

“Some girls have played on a team, but we are still giving them a ton of new stuff, how we do things here at Xavier,’’ she said.

Among the group are about 15 girls who will be freshmen this fall, all eager for a chance to try out for the freshman team.

“Everybody is learning how to communicate, learn about leadership. We are excited to see how far they can go,’’ Gillom said.

Notes – After camp on Monday, Gillom traveled to Thunderbird High in north Phoenix to lead the varsity team in a summer-league game.

Xavier defeated Phoenix Horizon 53-43 to run its record to 4-1. The Gators were due to play again on Tuesday (June 19) at 5 p.m. against Scottsdale Chaparral. Their final “regular season’’ game will be played on Thursday (June 21) at 4 p.m. against Cave Creek Cactus Shadows.

Xavier will play a “playoff’’ game on Saturday (June 23) at 11 a.m. against Glendale Cactus. The playoffs are in a “one and done’’ format. If the Gators win, they would play again on Sunday (June 24) at 4 p.m. against either Laveen Cesar Chavez or Phoenix Sunnyslope. Semis and finals are on Monday (June 25).

**The Thunderbird league also has a JV division. Xavier was 2-3 after Monday’s play.

The JV division also will have a “playoff,’’ with the first game on Sunday at 11 a.m. against either Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep or Phoenix Greenway.