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.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Turner fell in love with beach, will play at Stanford

When young volleyball players gathered for Xavier Prep’s annual summer camp in 2017, it didn’t take long to figure out which ones had a chance to make a significant contribution to the program.

All you had to do was watch a freshman-to-be, Serena Turner. It was the way she moved, the way she knew where to be most of the time, and the way she put coaches’ instructions into play with little or no confusion.

She went on to make the varsity roster and helped the Gators win 6A Conference state championship in the fall.

That, however, didn’t completely satisfy her desire to achieve excellence.

So she joined the XCP beach volleyball program as a freshman. The sport was not new to her. She had been playing since the eighth grade, and had played indoor since the sixth grade. She did not play indoor for Xavier as a junior in 2019 and will not play indoor as a senior in 2020.

“I fell in love with beach volleyball,’’ she said.

And she continued to soak up the sun and the beach knowledge like a sponge. It served her and the Gators well, as Xavier won the Division I crown during her sophomore season.

Turner liked beach volleyball so much that she applied for the application process (yes, applied for an application) to prestigious Stanford at the end of her freshman season. She completed all of the necessary paperwork and earlier this year was given approval, signaling her commitment that recently became official.

Serena Turner wants to win another state beach volleyball title for Xavier as a senior, then she will move on to Stanford (Xavier photo).
She is hopeful that by the time the spring of 2021 arrives, she won’t have her senior beach season stolen from her and her teammates by the COVID-19 virus as did the seniors in 2020.

The cancellation of the beach season “was heartbreaking,’’ according to Turner.

She said the beach Gators “had a good dynamic, had a real shot to win it again’’ last season.

She felt particularly bad for the seniors, especially playing partner Abby Converse, who went on to be accepted at Stanford and plans to walk on to the beach team at Stanford, according to Turner.

In the spring and particularly this summer, the 6-foot-1 Turner has not let the sand flatten under her feet. She has stayed plenty busy, playing for a club team in the Valley that attempts to beat the heat with 5 a.m. practices at a park in north Scottsdale. The team also participated in a tournament a few weeks ago at the Westworld facility in Scottsdale, playing matches in the signature barn/airplane hangar-type structure. Players did not wear masks during play, but had to use them in between matches.

Turner’s dream is to win another state beach championship for Xavier next spring. Then it’s on to Stanford, Calif., home of the Cardinal. The school’s beach team is aiming for improvement in the Pac-12 Conference that has been dominated by USC and UCLA, which have combined for two national titles each in the last four years.

One of Stanford’s former indoor players, Kerri Walsh (now Jennings) went on to achieve her greatest success in the beach game, winning three Olympic Gold Medals (with Misty May Treanor) and an Olympic Bronze in 2016 (with April Ross).

Turner aches to help the Stanford to climb the charts and calls it “my dream school. It has the academics, the athletics, and the location.’’

The goal is for Turner to perhaps get a double major in Computer Science and Environmental Science. It is the perfect place for the computer domain, as the school is in the middle of the famed Silicon Valley, home to many of the world’s greatest computer companies.

In 2019, Stanford was the world’s No. 2-ranked university for Computer Science, just behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

So there you go. Turner figures to step in and feel comfortable in academics as she has been in volleyball. But she is the first to tell you that it won’t be given to her. She knows she will have to work very hard for it.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Golfer Doss to take swings at Colorado Christian U.

The 2020 Xavier Prep golf season hopefully will begin within the next few months, with at least one Gator senior golfer already committed to a college team beginning in 2021.

She is Mary Beth Doss, who helped the Gators to a second-place finish in the Division I state tournament last season following state championship wins in 2018 and 2017. She will play golf and be a pre-med major at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood.

Doss finished at 7-over-par, tying for 16th place in the 2019 tournament over two days at the Omni Tucson National course.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

XCP swimmer Rankin commits to Ohio State

Mia Rankin has learned to develop a penchant for patience as she enters her senior swimming season at Xavier Prep.

It has served her well in her first three seasons in the water for the Gators. Patience helped her achieve her greatest success in the longer events, knowing when to make her move in the 500-yard freestyle, 200-yard individual medley and relays.

She helped Xavier win the Division I state championship as a freshman in 2017, with second-place finishes as a sophomore in 2018 and a junior in 2019. She competed in the 500 free, 200 IM and some relays at the state meets.

Now, nobody seems to know when, or if, Rankin will be able to get back in the pool for XCP this fall. She knows that she and her teammates will need to have patience as they await word from the school’s athletic department, the Diocese of Phoenix and the Arizona Interscholastic Association as they sort out the COVID virus scenario.

In the meantime, Rankin can look forward to 2021 and beyond after recently announcing her commitment to study and swim for the prestigious program at Ohio State.

Xavier Prep swimmer Mia Rankin (Xavier photo).
“I’m really excited about going there,’’ she said, although she hasn’t actually visited the campus due to quarantine issues that surfaced with the onset of the invasion of the virus.

She hopes to be able to get there sometime soon.

“We (she and OSU coaches) talked at the beginning, and I was able to meet most of the team over the phone and Zoom,’’ she said.

Rankin has continued to swim for her Phoenix Swim Club club team at the pool adjacent to the Phoenix Country Day School on the city’s northeast side, but some of the time in the water has been curtailed due to the virus.

She is hopeful that she and the new group of seniors will not be as affected as were athletes from 2019-20. Most of the spring sports were stopped in March, barely before their seasons got going.

“I feel bad for the girls who graduated this year. They couldn’t finish what they started,’’ Rankin said. “I hope we can get back to a regular school year (on campus) and if it means having to wear masks, it would be OK.’’

Her final four college choices were Ohio State, the University of Arizona, Southern Methodist and Indiana.

“Recruiting can be a hard process,’’ she said.

OSU coaches have sent Rankin a few videos that will offer some advice on practices and some exercises, etc., to help her prepare for being a Buckeye.

Rankin expects to swim in the longer events, particularly the mile. She said the team lost its top miler, which she hopes will open the door for her at that spot.

Xavier’s coach is Rankin’s father, Mark, who took over the program late in the 2017 season after the death of his wife and Mia’s mother, Maureen “Mo’’ Rankin.  Before she died after a courageous battle with cancer, Mo helped put the Gators in position for a run at the state title, which they ultimately achieved.

Mo would have been proud to see her swimmers finish strong, and she would be more than proud of Mia as she takes the next step.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Wearing a mask, and other athletic tasks

Now that graduation has been completed for the 2019-20 school year at Xavier Prep, the attention is turning toward 2020-21, and all that will go with it.

A significant piece of the puzzle will be the school’s outstanding athletics program.

Officials from the school and the Diocese of Phoenix, along with guidelines for return to activity from the Arizona Interscholastic Association, will figure prominently in what happens next as the COVID-19 virus continues to affect all walks of life.

And exactly what will happen? We just don’t know, to be honest. Many ideas continue to be tossed around among the XCP sports hierarchy, athletic trainers and medical personnel, coaches and various other staff members.

A meeting for fall sports coaches and others on Wednesday (June 17) followed approval of guidelines by the Diocese that closely mirrored those from the AIA.

Fall sports coaches are awaiting approval from the Diocese to have open gyms and fields (dates TBA), with that leading to fall tryouts in early August as preseason practices officially begin in preparation for the regular season that likely would start in late August/early September.

The fall sports ledger lists badminton, cross country, freshman tennis, golf, swim/dive, the club sport of mountain biking and spirit line activities. Crew (rowing) and the Hotshots shooting and archery groups also participate in club competition.

Each coach must submit a proposal plan that lists the best way(s) for their sport to succeed in both daily practices and games. Some paperwork filled out by the athletes and/or their parents also likely will figure into the mix.

“This uptick (in virus numbers across the state), has us, particularly indoor sports (volleyball and badminton) watching and waiting,’’ said Xavier Athletic Director and co-head golf coach Sr. Lynn Winsor.

“As an athletic office, we are taking a conservative path into starting open gym/open field.’’

“We are waiting for that green light,’’ said Lamar-Renee Bryant, whose volleyball program is one of the best in the state on a yearly basis.

Bryant also coaches a summer club team in the southeast Valley that had a practice on Monday (June 22) in Tempe. The coach said her players were in small groups for the most part and all wore masks.

That is expected to be a way of life for volleyball, at least in the immediate future as masks and distancing as much as possible are key elements. Badminton and volleyball are the only fall sports that practice and/or face other schools during the regular season in the Activity Center or at next-door Vestar Hall.

That leaves cross country, freshman tennis, golf and swim/dive as the outdoor sports, which already have some distancing built into their competition.

The cross-country runners might be the first to go out. Coach Dave Van Sickle has held informal workouts early on summer mornings in the past and his runners are ready. During competition, the runners mostly start in a large group, but things stretch out over the course that usually is around 3 miles.

Divers can work in safe intervals and the swimmers compete in one lane per swimmer (including relays, where no two athletes are in a lane at the same time). Swimming coaches are consulting with their colleagues at neighboring Brophy Prep, with its pool serving as the home location for both schools.

Long-time Xavier teacher, coach and administrator Susan Contreras participated in last week’s meeting and said that XCP head athletic trainer Laurie White and school nurse Cara Gillem are playing big roles in the process.

“They explained just about everything and it was very informative,’’ Contreras said. “They let us what we need to know in this situation.’’

Wading through the fact-gathering process can be a daunting task.

“Overwhelming,’’ Contreras said. “There’s so much information out there and a lot of it seems to change daily.’’

The AIA guidelines were put together by the Sport Medical Advisory Committee.

According to the AIA, “The challenge is to reintroduce physical activity in a manner that follows federal, state and county public health guidelines to reduce the spread of illness amongst athletes, coaches, athletic training staff and community.’’

The process will involve three phases. When one has been completed, there is a move to the next phase and then the final phase.

The trick is to get all school districts on the same page as much as possible, in order that the athletes, coaches, staff and spectators can be protected. This includes a cleaning and disinfecting protocol, between practices and the games between the lower-level teams and the varsity. That should keep the maintenance staff and others busy.

“We want to be able to protect everyone, both home and away,’’ White said.

The AIA has 12 pages of guidelines. For an in-depth look, go to and click on the blue ribbon across the top of the home page.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Menne, Knight chosen their sport's Athlete of Year

Ashley Menne

Jasmine Knight
Xavier Prep’s 2019-20 sports season came to a successful conclusion on Thursday (June 18) with two Gator senior graduates being selected as their sport’s Athlete of the Year by the media outlet in its fifth annual azcentral Sports Awards presentation.

Congratulations to golfer Ashley Menne and indoor volleyball player Jasmine Knight!! Menne also was one of three finalists for the overall Athlete of the Year honor that went to Tempe Corona del Sol wrestler Sierra Thrun.

Unlike past years, this year’s awards were not handed out at an in-person ceremony, due to the invasion of the COVID-19 virus, which continues to be a menace to all walks of life. This year’s awards were announced as part of a streaming video program that included participation of many well-known sports stars from across the country.

The golf award was announced by pro golfer Gary Woodland, and the volleyball award was announced by Misty May-Treanor, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in beach volleyball.

Menne, a three-time Arizona state individual champion who finished as state runner-up as a senior, will go on to study and play at Arizona State University. And Knight is looking forward to a big career at Virginia Commonwealth.  As a middle blocker, she led the 6A Conference with a .405 hitting percentage and used her powerful jumping ability to post 447 kills.