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, November 21, 2017

Gators fall flat in basketball opener

Xavier Prep basketball coach Jennifer Gillom was looking forward to playing in the (Gilbert) Highland “preseason’’ tournament because of the quality of competition – three defending state champions are entered.

She wanted to see how her Gators would fare.

And now, after the first game is over? Maybe not so much. Particularly after the way Xavier played in Monday night’s (Nov. 20) season opener against Tucson Pueblo at Gilbert Mesquite.

Xavier jumped to an 11-0 lead in the first quarter, but that quickly evaporated. Simply put, the Gators were outplayed in every phase of the game and Pueblo, a 4A Conference quarterfinalist a year ago, earned a 72-65 victory.

The road doesn’t get any easier on Tuesday (Nov. 21). Xavier will face Mesquite at 5:30 p.m. Mesquite is the defending 5A champion and routed Tucson Flowing Wells 117-12 in its tourney opener.

Asked what about the performance frustrated her the most, Gillom said, “All of it. Pueblo played smarter, outrebounded us, they outran us . . . after all of the running we’ve been doing (in practice) . . .

“Our defense is more mature than that. Overall, we have to learn to play consistently for all four quarters. We definitely have a lot to work on.’’

Pueblo also was quicker and seemed more athletic. The Warriors stepped into the passing lanes to take the ball away. They did pretty much whatever they wanted.

When Xavier had the ball, its players did a lot of standing around. When the ballhandler would come across the half-court line and get some defensive pressure from Pueblo, there often would be no one to throw to because teammates were not coming to get the ball.

Four of the Gators’ five starters scored in double figures, but very few seemed to have much of an impact.

Senior forward Montana Oltrogge scored 18 points, followed by junior wing Addison Putnam (13, including three 3-pointers), senior forward Katie Hassett and junior point guard Leilani McIntosh (10 each).

Monday, November 20, 2017

Xavier food drive shatters previous record

Xavier Prep continues to have that magic touch and is able to come through when its help is needed the most.

And that is during holiday time, Thanksgiving in particular.

The XCP community – students, faculty, staff, family and friends – recently set a record for its annual canned food drive for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix.

From Oct. 23-Nov. 17, Xavier, with its National Honor Society leading the way, gathered 83,798 cans of food for the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank. It shattered the previous record of about 40,000, set in 2016.

According to Tara Metzger, Xavier’s Assistant to the President and Principal and the NHS moderator, a new wrinkle was added this year in the form of the acceptance of monetary donations to help supplement the food collection.

For every dollar brought in, the can count increased by two.

As the result of the big effort, students will be allowed to wear sweat pants/jeans (“sweans’’) on Tuesday (Nov. 21), similar to other school community-service projects. So instead of a “Buck a Sweans,’’ the right to wear them will cost nothing as a thank you for all of the food-collecting assistance.

Most of the food was collected and placed in a “mini’’ storage unit in the parking lot near the school’s entrance, to be picked up each week, Metzger said. About halfway through this year’s drive, the money/can equivalent aspect was added.

“For some people, it is more convenient to do it that way, so it worked out very well,’’ she said.

One family donated $500, she added.

“We all get pumped up about it,’’ Metzger said. “Students, faculty, staff . . . we all get behind it.’’

Another way to help would be to actually go down to St. Vincent de Paul, located a bit south of downtown Phoenix, and volunteer to work for a few hours, as Metzger and others from the school have done.

“It makes a difference when you are actually there,’’ she said. “To see first-hand, all that goes into it, means even more.’’

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sky's the limit for Gator basketball's Oltrogge

Are you ready for your geography lesson?

Here goes: Montana is now in Arizona, but next year will be in Idaho.

Before you go scurrying around looking for a map, it’s not as confusing as it might seem.

Montana Oltrogge is right here at Xavier Prep, preparing for what she hopes will be an outstanding senior season on the basketball floor. When she graduates, she will move on to play college ball at Idaho State in Pocatello. She recently signed a national letter of intent.

The 6-foot Oltrogge is a good all-around athlete and player. She can run the floor, rebound and her shooting touch is very much improved.
Senior Montana Oltrogge isn't worried about the gator sneaking up on her. She's more concerned about helping the XCP basketball team have a strong season. (Photo by Don Ketchum).

Her first objective is to stay healthy. Knee issues sidelined her for most of her freshman season and part of her sophomore year and a few games as a junior. If she can survive the 2017-18 season unscathed, Xavier’s chances of traveling far into the playoffs will rise dramatically.

Oltrogge said that dealing with the injuries “was the hardest thing ever. People said that I would come back better than before. It’s happened a little bit so far, but I want to have it happen for a whole season.’’

One of the reasons for her optimism has been her training approach and trying to stay in shape, particularly in the weight room.

“I feel a lot stronger now,’’ she said. “I want to be able to finish more layups, including those with contact (from an opponent). Rebounding, too. I want to get as many as I can.’’

And there is the matter of putting the ball in the basket, not just layups.

Year by year, it seems that Oltrogge’s shooting range has increased. She said much of that improvement has come through working with Jennifer Gillom, XCP’s assistant coach for her first three years and now the Gators’ head coach.

As a junior, Oltrogge averaged 15.3 points in 15 games, 4.9 rebounds, shot 50 percent from the floor and 71.8 percent from the free-throw line.

“Montana is coming into her own,’’ Gillom said. “Her maturity level has really blossomed. It’s not just physical, but in the example she sets, being a more vocal leader. I know she wants to leave here with a state championship.’’

Oltrogge said Gillom, who was Xavier’s head coach from 2006-11 before going on to coach in the WNBA, has created more of a team atmosphere where the players are more supportive of each other than ever.

“I think we are going to push the ball down the floor quite a bit,’’ Oltrogge said. “A lot of fast-break stuff. We have a lot of athleticism.’’

Oltrogge said her relationship with Idaho State began in club ball but also carried over to Xavier. She continued to talk to the coaches, took a trip to Pocatello and met some of her future teammates.

“It (Pocatello) is totally a college town,’’ she said. “There seems to be about a thousand people there each game, which is pretty good. When I visited, I had people come up to me and say, “We’re going to come and watch you play next year.’

“The players there all love the school and I’m looking forward to going there (pre-med). The coaches say that I am going to have to work for my position, and that’s the way it is supposed to be. That’s the way I did it here at Xavier.’’

Tournament -- The Gators will open the season on Monday (Nov. 20) and continue most of Thanksgiving week in a tournament co-hosted by Gilbert Highland and Gilbert Mesquite. Xavier’s first three games will be at Mesquite. The first opponent will be Tucson Pueblo, on Monday at 5:30 p.m.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Xavier confident entering new hoops season

Xavier Prep’s basketball season begins on Nov. 20, and new head coach Jennifer Gillom is setting the bar high for her team coming out of the gate.

“That is what you should do. You have to be confident,’’ she said.

The Gators will be playing five games over four days (Nov. 20, 21, 24 and 25) at the (Gilbert) Highland Lady Hawk Thanksgiving Classic at Highland and Gilbert Mesquite. Xavier’s first three games will be at Mesquite.

The tournament will feature 14 teams and without a doubt will have the strongest field of any early season event in the state.

It will have the defending state champions in the 6A Conference (Surprise Valley Vista), 5A (Mesquite) and 4A (Chandler Seton Catholic). It will have 6A semifinalist Gilbert High, 6A quarterfinalists Highland and Phoenix Horizon, 5A semifinalist Scottsdale Chaparral and 4A quarterfinalist Tucson Pueblo.

Pueblo will join Xavier in Pool D, along with Mesquite and Tucson Flowing Wells. Xavier will face Pueblo in its tourney opener on Nov. 20 at 5:30 p.m.

Other teams in addition to 6A first-rounder Xavier are Scottsdale Desert Mountain, Avondale Westview, Mesa Desert Ridge and Gilbert Leading Edge Academy. Desert Mountain's roster lists senior forward Alana Kelley, who transferred from Xavier after last season.

Xavier varsity basketball coach Jennifer Gillom.
Gillom, who played for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and coached in the league, was Xavier coach from 2006-11 and posted a 97-32 record.
“We expect to win it,’’ she said boldly. “It’s a tough tournament. We had some close losses last year to some of the teams in the tournament. We want to be able to set the tone.’’

Gillom, an assistant varsity coach the last few seasons, has been putting the Gators through their paces in the first few weeks of preseason practice.

“I have been impressed,’’ she said. “We (coaches) have thrown a lot at them these first two weeks, and they are soaking a lot of it in. They understand that we are also preparing many of them for the next level (college). It’s not about coming in and going through the motions like some players do. These girls are here to work.

“It’s also more about just trying to catch the ball and score. It’s many other things. We are emphasizing the little things, too.

“We are definitely not a one-player team. We give it the top effort, whether it’s in practice or a game. We are well-balanced and we have depth. Whatever we do with the lineup, we won’t skip a beat.’’

Staying healthy also is of the utmost importance. The team has struggled with injuries the last two or three seasons. If they can avoid that, they could wind up being in the state championship conversation.

The Gators’ top two players are senior forward Montana Oltrogge and junior point guard Leilani McIntosh.

Oltrogge, slowed by knee injuries in her early years at Xavier, averaged 15.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and shot 50 percent from the floor and 71.8 percent from the line. She recently signed a national letter of intent with Idaho State.

McIntosh is one of the top point players in the state. She continues to refine and expand her playing style and adds a level of speed that permeates the rest of the roster. McIntosh averaged 12.6 points, 2.3 assists, 3 steals and shot 43 percent from the floor a year ago.

Senior post-forward Katie Hassett offers a strong complement to Oltrogge. Hassett averaged 7.6 points a game and likely will be counted on to at least reach double figures this time around. She also averaged 5.9 rebounds and shot 44 percent from the floor.

McIntosh also is tough defensively and will be joined by fellow junior Paris Rasheed-Moore, who will use the same speed that allowed her to be a success in track to put pressure on opponents in the backcourt and on the wings. Rasheed-Moore averaged 2.7 steals, 8.2 points, 5 rebounds and 2.1 assists.

Xavier has had some good 3-point shooters in the past, but lost one to graduation in Brittany Robinson, who connected on 20 of the long shots last season. That will mean more opportunities for junior Addie Putnam (15) and McIntosh (14).

Xavier Prep basketball 2017-18

Head coach – Jennifer Gillom. Assistants – Patrick Mangosing, Rikki Mulloy.

Roster – Cara Coffman (Jr.), Telisa Colelay (Jr.), Payton Davis (Sr.), Elysia Fleetwood (So.), Katie Hassett (Sr.), Truly Helton (Jr.), Mary Long (Sr.), Leilani McIntosh (Jr.), Bianca Nava (Jr.), Montana Oltrogge (Sr.), Addie Putnam (Jr.), Paris Rasheed-Moore (Jr.), Lisset Salcedo (Jr.), Isabel Wirth (Sr.).

Friday, November 10, 2017

Gator volleyball has quite a view from the top

In the days leading up to Thursday night’s (Nov. 9) 6A Conference state championship volleyball match, coach Lamar-Renee Bryant spoke of Xavier Prep’s 75th anniversary celebration.

She mentioned that it was fitting with the state titles won by golf and swim-dive, a state runner-up by cross country and a solid season from badminton.

And Bryant wanted her team to be included in that conversation.

So go ahead, shout it from the mountaintops: “The Gators are state champs!’’

Xavier, which fell to Tempe Corona del Sol in last year’s semifinals (Corona went on to win it all), atoned for that loss with a 3-1 victory over the Aztecs at Gilbert Mesquite.

After dropping the first game, the Gators rebounded to win three in a row. Scores were 23-25, 26-24, 25-17 and 25-17. A deep blue sea of screaming Xavier fans saved their biggest enthusiasm for the end.

Xavier finished 40-3, Corona del Sol 41-3. All of its losses were to Xavier.

“This was our mission, our goal, and we did it,’’ said Bryant, who earned her second title for Xavier (the first came in 2013, her first season).

“We wanted to go out there and play all-out, have no regrets.’’

The stars were many for the Gators, but perhaps it was fitting that 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter and co-captain Lanie Wagner exterted her influence in her last prep match.

Bryant said that Wagner “did not have her best day’’ in Tuesday’s (Nov. 7) five-set win over Gilbert Perry in the semifinals.

Against Corona del Sol, the situation “was a totally different story,’’ Bryant said.

“She was determined, she was serious,’’ Bryant said. “You couldn’t have written a better story.’’

Wagner, who will study and play volleyball at the University of Georgia, had 22 kills, 17 digs, 2 service aces and 2 blocks.

Another senior, Ericka Snopko, had 7 kills and 4 blocks, while sophomores Bri McKnight and Jasmine Knight had 13 and 7 kills, respectively.

Junior setter Shannon Shields did a good job putting the ball in the right place to allow her teammates to score, and senior libero Alyna Draper had some key serves and played well defensively along the back line.

Both players, who are good friends, collected state titles for Xavier in beach volleyball, but this one might rate an edge.

“This is amazing,’’ Draper said. “It lets you know that all the hard work you put in over these last few years has paid off. We really worked together as a family.’’

Said Shields: “It is the best feeling, that Alyna and I were able to win a ring together.

“We just showed up and played the way we needed to. I think we were more motivated. We had confidence, even after that first loss, and we couldn’t be stopped.’’

Now Shields must try to figure out what to do for an encore in 2018.

Draper, Wagner, Snopko and Alexis Diaz-Infante will graduate, but XCP will have plenty of talent returning.

In addition to Shields, there are current juniors Ashley Yeung, Jennelle Yarwood, Trinity Cavanaugh, Hayley Nash and Kate Spellman. Current sophomores are McKnight and Knight. And there are two freshmen – Serena Turner and Christianna Griedl.

“It’s going to be great,’’ said Shields of next year. “Some teams will be rebuilding, but we will still have a lot of power. I am locked in right now and ready to go out and win another one.’’

The opening game was tied at 23, but Corona del Sol finished with the “W’’ on a kill shot by senior star Brooke Nuneviller and a net violation by the Gators.

It was much the same in the second game. The contest was tied at 24 and then Wagner came up with a kill to the back corner and the Aztecs made a return that was out of bounds.

Corona del Sol jumped to the early lead in Game 3, but Xavier finally gained control near the midway point. The Gators finished it off with a block. They were strong on the block all night against Nuneviller and her teammates.

Game 4 was pretty much a repeat of Game 3. Corona del Sol grabbed the early lead and Xavier gained a lead it would not relinquish on a shot by Snopko. Xavier got help from the Aztecs in the decisive last moments in the form of a net serve and a return shot into the net.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Gators want to put smudges on title trophy

Xavier Prep volleyball coach Lamar-Renee Bryant would like to see her fingerprints and those of her players all over the 6A Conference state championship trophy.

Will it happen?

We will find out on Thursday night (Nov. 9), when the top-seeded Gators face No. 2 seed and defending champion Tempe Corona del Sol at Gilbert Mesquite. First serve is 7:30 p.m.

“They don’t just hand out trophies to everyone. You have to earn it,’’ Bryant said.

Whichever team wins, they certainly will have earned it. This match offers one of the most highly anticipated pairings of the year or any year.

Both teams left every ounce of energy on the floor in the semifinals on Wednesday night (Nov. 7).

Xavier was stretched to five games against No. 5 Gilbert Perry for the third time this season, and the result was the same – a 3-2 victory by the Gators.

And Corona del Sol’s 3-2 victory over No. 3 Phoenix Mountain Pointe came after Corona del Sol extricated itself from a 0-2 hole.

Xavier (39-3) and Corona del Sol (41-2) will have plenty of motivation against each other.

Xavier’s quest for the 2016 title ended in the semifinals against Corona del Sol, so the Gators aim to atone for that. Xavier did get a bit of revenge earlier this season with victories over the Aztecs in the Nike Tournament of Champions and the Gilbert Invitational tournaments. Those were Corona del Sol’s only losses of the season.

Scores for Xavier against Perry were 23-25, 25-15, 25-20, 20-25 and 15-11.

“We knew it would be a battle. Perry is such a great team,’’ Bryant said. “But we were able to take care of business when we needed to.’’

News of the Gators’ success traveled fast. As she was being interviewed after the game, Bryant took a call from Kristen Largay, a former libero for Xavier who now is playing for American University in Washington, D.C.

“Once a Gator, always a Gator,’’ Bryant said.

Given what is at stake against Corona del Sol, Bryant is going to need each member of the team to step up their play, as they did against Perry.

Sophomore outside hitter Bri McKnight put the Gators on her shoulders at various points of the match. She was particularly tough in the fifth and deciding game, having three kills in a row and providing a key service ace.

Senior libero Alyna Draper and junior libero/defensive specialist Ashley Yeung kept things alive for the Gators with their work along the back line, digging out many of the Perry shots.

Juniors Kate Spellman and Trinity Cavanaugh chipped in with some key serves, and Serena Turner had some crucial kills, showing maturity beyond her freshman standing.

McKnight had 26 kills, 3 aces and 9 digs. Turner and sophomore middle blocker Jasmine Knight had 10 kills apiece. Draper had 29 digs and Yeung had 18. And junior setter and all-purpose player Shannon Shields had 42 assists, 14 digs and 6 kills.

In the first game, Xavier started a bit slow and Perry maintained its pace throughout. The Gators pulled even at 23, then were called for being under the net and allowing a Perry service ace.

Game Two was all Xavier. Shields applied the finishing touches with a kill to the back corner. A kill by McKnight in Game Three put Xavier up 2-1, setting up a possible finish in four games.

That didn’t happen as Perry responded with a quality effort in Game 4.

The Pumas could not endure some self-destruction in Game 5, having four service errors. Still, they were within 13-11 with a key block. Xavier locked it up with the final two points when Perry was called for a double hit, followed by a return shot that fell short and into the net.

Note – Junior outside hitter Hayley Nash did not play against Perry and likely will not be available for the title match after suffering an ankle injury in practice on Monday (Nov. 6).

Signees another example of athletic excellence

Xavier Prep athletes who signed national college letters of intent were, front row, from left, Kailey Klein, Melissa Fedorka and Alyna Draper. Back row, Caroline White, Kaitlyn McCoy and Montana Oltrogge. (Photo by Sr. Lynn Winsor).
They signed on the dotted line, and the next chapter in their academic and athletic career has been secured.

Six Xavier Prep senior athletes made it official on Wednesday (Nov. 8) when they signed national letters of intent to play and study at colleges across the country.

They are beach volleyball’s Kailey Klein (Cal State Northridge), softball’s Melissa Fedorka (Lehigh, Pa.), indoor volleyball’s Alyna Draper (Virginia Commonwealth), beach volleyball’s Caroline White (Texas Christian), swimming’s Kaitlyn McCoy (Boise State) and basketball’s Montana Oltrogge (Idaho State).