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, February 10, 2018

Hook, Xavier celebrate another soccer crown

Earning a soccer championship requires a lot of skill, a player’s survival instinct with hand-to-hand combat and, yes, even head-to-head combat.

Xavier Prep’s Nicole Hook can attest to the latter scenario. She was right in the middle of all the action in Saturday’s (Feb. 10) 6A state championship game against Gilbert Perry.

After sitting out for about 17 minutes with what appeared to be a broken nose late in the first half, she returned to the field at Gilbert Campo Verde High. In the second half, she headed a ball into the net off a corner kick from teammate Abby Hubbard with 22:32 left in regulation and it was enough for the Gators to hold on for a 1-0 victory, giving them their second straight title and 10th overall.

Top-seeded Xavier finished 15-3-2 and No. 2 seed Perry finished 22-3. Perry had been the only Arizona team to defeat the Gators, and the other two losses were to California teams in a holiday tournament.

Xavier and Perry traded numerous scoring opportunities through the first half. It appeared that Perry might have received a break when Hook was forced to leave with blood dripping from her nose after she and a Perry player smacked heads. Xavier head athletic trainer Laurie White worked as quickly as she could to get Hook back in the lineup, but that would not come until Hook passed concussion protocol.

Hook said she was a bit worried at first if the bleeding could be stopped and she could return.

Xavier coach Barb Chura also was concerned “about the anchor of our back line who had been playing so dominant.’’

Anchor of the back line and a key element of Xavier’s “set pieces’’ – plays off free kicks, corner kicks or throw-ins.

During the season, Hook had scored on such a play on a few occasions.

Another opportunity came at the 22:32 mark of the second half, when Hubbard’s kick sailed into the air space in front of the goal and Hook used her height to score the most important goal of her career.

“It was a tough game, and it was a perfect (corner) kick by Abby,’’ said Hook, who was bumped again during the game’s final moments.

Of closing out her prep career in such a manner, Hook said, “It was amazing. I couldn’t ask for a better team to do this with.’’

After Hook’s goal, it was up to Xavier senior goalkeeper Kinsey Ehmann and the Gators’ defense to try to hold on.

Perry had several corner kicks and free kicks, but could not get the equalizer.

Xavier tried to get and maintain possession any way it could.

With about 10 minutes left, a Perry shot skittered across the front of the goal but did not go in, instead rolling just out of trouble on the left side.

“It was a little scary, but I have a great defense backing me up,’’ Ehmann said.

The clock indicated 8:27 when junior Kyla Ferry attempted to leap over a hunched-over Perry player and get to the ball in midair. Ferry was bumped during the process and whirled around in the air like a rotor from a helicopter. The crowd oohed and aahed on that one.

Ehmann turned away a free kick and a corner kick with less than a minute left. She got the ball with :10 showing, looked back at the clock and booted the ball high in the air. It was her fourth straight shutout of the playoffs and Chura pumped her fists in the air.

“It was a good feeling,’’ Ehmann said. “I was really happy that we won.’’

Xavier lost seven players to graduation from last year’s title team and had just a few starters back this season and quite a few young players.

“This was amazing, a real testament to all of their hard work,’’ said Chura, who joined assistant coach Rafael Rios for team picture with the trophy afterward. “It is really hard to get here. I don’t think people realize that.’’

Gators seeded 5th. meet Horizon in opener

Xavier Prep’s basketball team was announced on Saturday (Feb. 10) as the fifth seed in the 6A Conference state tournament that begins on Wednesday (Feb. 14).

The Gators, who finished 22-5 during the regular season, will open play at the Activity Center against No. 12 seed Phoenix Horizon. Xavier defeated Horizon 71-43 in the Highland Thanksgiving tournament on Nov. 24 in Gilbert.

The winner will advance to a quarterfinal game on Feb. 17 against the winner of a first-round game between No. 13 Phoenix Mountain Pointe and No. 4 Gilbert Highland.

6A Conference state basketball tournament

First round, Wednesday, Feb. 14. All games, 6:30 p.m.

(Seedings in parentheses)

Chandler High (16) at Goodyear Millennium (1), Tucson High (9) at Mesa Red Mountain (8), Phoenix Horizon (12) at Phoenix Xavier Prep (5), Phoenix Mountain Pointe (13) at Gilbert Highland (4), Mesa Dobson (14) at Gilbert High (3), Chandler Hamilton (11) at Scottsdale Desert Mountain (6), Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor (10) at Phoenix Pinnacle (7), Phoenix North (15) at Surprise Valley Vista (2).

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

XCP finishes 22-5, awaits state seeding

Xavier Prep’s basketball team finished its regular season on Tuesday night (Feb. 6) with a 58-42 road victory over Catholic rival Phoenix St. Mary’s.

Xavier finished the season at 22-5 under head coach Jennifer Gillom.

The Gators could end up anywhere from 4 through 6 when the 6A Conference state tournament begins on Feb. 14. That means they would have a home game in the first round on Feb. 14. If the Gators were to win that first one, they also likely would have another home game on Feb.  17.

Semifinals are Feb. 21 and finals are Feb. 28, both at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena.

The final bracketing will be determined in part by the outcome of eight “play-in’’ games for teams 9-24 in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s power rankings.

The top eight seeds, of which Xavier is one, will know their fates on Saturday (Feb. 10) in a bracket show that will be streamed live on

Xavier is led by senior inside players Montana Oltrogge and Katie Hassett, and junior guards Leilani McIntosh, Paris Moore and Addison Putnam. Oltrogge sat out the last few weeks of the regular season with shin splints, so it is unknown what her status will be for the playoffs.

6A Conference automatic qualifiers

(Seeds will be determined on Feb. 10.)

Scottsdale Desert Mountain

Gilbert High

Gilbert Highland

Goodyear Millennium

Phoenix Pinnacle

Mesa Red Mountain

Surprise Valley Vista

Phoenix Xavier Prep

Play-in games

(Thursday, Feb. 8 – seedings in parentheses)

Phoenix Desert Vista (24) at Tucson High (9)

Chandler High (17) at Gilbert Perry (16)

Yuma Cibola (18) at Phoenix North (15)

Mesa Westwood (21) at Phoenix Horizon (12)

Tucson Rincon/University (22) at Chandler Hamilton (11)

Avondale Westview (20) at Phoenix Mountain Pointe (13)

Glendale Copper Canyon (19) at Mesa Dobson (14)

Anthem Boulder Creek (23) at Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor (10)

Gators survive duel in semi, play for soccer title

Xavier Prep has had a long history of soccer excellence, and it showed again on Tuesday night (Feb. 6) in the 6A Conference semifinals at Campo Verde High in Gilbert.

The Gators gave themselves a chance to win their second straight state championship by making Kyla Ferry’s first-half goal stand up against Chandler Hamilton for a 1-0 victory. It was the second 1-0 victory for the Gators over Hamilton this season.

Top-seeded Xavier advances to Saturday’s (Feb. 10) 11 a.m. title game against No. 2 Gilbert Perry at Campo Verde. Perry (22-2) handed the Gators (14-3-2) one of their losses, 3-0, on Jan. 9 at Perry. Perry advanced by defeating Phoenix Pinnacle on penalty kicks 5-3 after a 1-1 tie in regulation and overtime.

Hamilton had several good chances to score in the semi, but was stopped by Xavier senior goalkeeper Kinsey Ehmann or was whistled for offside on a few other occasions while trying to get a step in front of the blue and white-clad Gators.

As the first-half clock began to wind down, Xavier needed a spark.

It came from just about out of nowhere when sophomore Jocelyn Rupp sent a high-arcing ball toward the goal on a free kick. It came down just to the right of the goal and the ball was re-directed to Ferry, who was standing near the front of the net.

Ferry was able to send the ball past the goalkeeper and Xavier had a 1-0 lead with 6:48 left in the half.

Asked about the play afterward, Ferry said, “The ball came in and I think Abby (Hubbard, senior) headed the ball over and it landed right in front of me. Fortunately, I was able to finish it off. I was thinking, “Thank you for the gift.’ ’’

In the second half, Xavier became more aggressive, particularly on defense. Hamilton still had its chances, but had to work much harder for them.

Ferry, a junior who has committed to Colorado, is listed as a forward but is versatile enough to play in other spots, particularly midfield, where XCP coach Barb Chura had her working some of the time against Hamilton.

“We learned that (versatility) when she was a freshman. She was all over the place,’’ Chura said. “She has that ability to win balls in the air.’’

The coach repeated her claim that Ferry not only is one of the best players in Arizona, but also in the nation.

The contest was physical throughout, with players from both sides hitting the ground.

Some players might turn to the official for a call, but for the most part, the Gators got up and kept going. Freshman midfielder Olelade Adebayo was an example. She tumbled to the ground but got right up and went after the ball.

As Hamilton moved in for an attempt to tie, the ball headed toward the goal. It appeared that the ball might have just enough space to get past her and into the upper part of the net. But she jumped and reached high to flick the ball off her fingertips and back over the net. Crisis averted.

The Huskies rushed the net again as the game slipped away. They had another free kick and sent the ball toward the net. This time, senior defender Nicole Hook used her height to her advantage and headed the ball outside.

“When the ball drops in the box, you never know what’s going to happen, so you have to be ready,’’ Chura said.

“In the second half, we knew it was one of those games where we were just going to have to hold on.’’

The 2017-18 edition of the Gators is one of the more blue-collar teams Chura has had, she said.

“The older players have helped bring the younger ones along. They believe in them,’’ she said.

The win took a lot of energy out of the Gators, but they will have plenty of time to regroup.

“We worked hard today, and we are going to try to come out and play our best on Saturday,’’ Ferry said.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Another shutout sends Gators to soccer semis

Close, yet so far away.

Xavier Prep’s soccer team can see the 6A Conference state title on the horizon, but a lot of work remains for the Gators if they are to win a second trophy in a row.

The top-seeded team earned its second 3-0 playoff victory in as many tries in a quarterfinal game at home on Saturday (Feb. 3), putting away No. 9 Gilbert Highland. Xavier had defeated Phoenix Mountain Pointe 3-0 in the opening round on Jan. 30.

Xavier (13-3-2) advances to the semifinals on Tuesday (Feb. 6) and will meet No. 5 Chandler Hamilton (14-5-3) at Gilbert Campo Verde at 5 p.m. The other semi will feature No.3 Phoenix Pinnacle (15-2-2) against No. 2 Gilbert Perry (21-2) at 7 p.m.

Xavier defeated Hamilton 1-0 at Xavier on Jan. 9.

The Gators scored two of their goals in the first half, by senior Abby Hubbard and sophomore Taylor Brown, and picked up the final tally with 24:59 left in the second half by senior Nicole Hook.

Senior goalkeeper Kinsey Ehmann made some key stops in the second half to help preserve the shutout.

All three XCP goals came on “set pieces’’ (plays) where an open play such as a corner throw, a corner kick or a free kick is put into play near the goal and is either redirected or headed into the net.

“We are good at those (set pieces). We practice them all the time, because you never know when you are going to need something like that,’’ said Xavier coach Barb Chura.

The coach knew that Highland (15-7-1) would be a formidable opponent, based on a game between Highland and Xavier on Dec. 11 and won by the Gators 2-0.

“I think we are better now than we were then,’’ she said. “We did a good job today capitalizing on our chances. We kept the ball in their end of the field most of the game.’’

Xavier hoops runs into roadblock

It was one of those nights that you hope never happens but know that it probably will because no team is perfect.

Not many things go right, and you end up in a place where you don’t want to be – on the losing end.

No matter what Xavier Prep’s basketball team did on Friday night (Feb. 2), nothing seemed to go right.

Host Phoenix Pinnacle wasn’t exactly poetry in motion, but compared to the Gators, it was.

The Pioneers were in constant motion at both ends of the floor, and the Gators often stood around like statues. They watched as Pinnacle crashed the boards and when the Pioneers applied defensive pressure, seldom came to the ball to help out their teammates.

The contest remained close most of the way, but Pinnacle was able to come away with a 58-53 victory.

Xavier had a five-game winning streak snapped and slipped to 21-5. The team plays its final game of the regular season on Tuesday night (Feb. 6) at Catholic rival Phoenix St. Mary’s. Pinnacle also is 21-5.

About the only things that worked for XCP were the shooting touch of junior Addison Putnam (five 3-pointers), who scored 17 points, and the play of junior Leilani McIntosh, who totaled 16.

Xavier led by a point after the first quarter but was unable to pull away. Pinnacle had a two-point advantage at halftime.

Pinnacle led by eight with about three minutes to go in the third quarter, but just two entering the fourth.

The Gators led by two early in the fourth on a three-pointer by junior Truly Helton. That would be Xavier’s last lead of the night.