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, November 10, 2018

Xavier finds best way to win -- right here, right now

Right here, right now.

That was the motivational slogan on the back of the green T-shirts worn by members of Xavier Prep’s cross-country team at the Division I state championship meet on Saturday (Nov. 10) at the Cave Creek Golf Course in north Phoenix.

The Gators took care of business by placing five of its runners in the top 22 finishers and unseated defending champion Chandler High to win XCP’s 10th title in the sport and first since 2012.

Xavier scored 71 points, with Chandler getting 93 points for the runner-up spot and Gilbert Highland taking third at 105.

Junior Mia Olsen and sophomore Jamie Stelnik led the way, finishing fifth and seventh, respectively, among 145 runners over the 5K course on the warm and breezy day.

The other three point-scorers for Xavier were junior Grace Valandra at No. 18, senior Karina Hawkins at No. 19 and senior Karina Smith at No. 22. Sophomore Sammy Braun and senior Helen Innes were 23rd and 36th, respectively.

Xavier's 2018 cross-country champions, with coach Dave Van Sickle, top left, and Athletic Director Sr. Lynn Winsor, center, in blue vest. (Photo by Don Ketchum).
“We figured that Chandler would be the team to beat, but we were focused,’’ said long-time Xavier coach Dave Van Sickle.

Asked about the team’s mindset entering the event after winning the D-I, Section I meet about a week before, Van Sickle said, “We were just in the right place. We were not too nervious and we were not too confident. We were in a good spot. We were definitely motivated.’’

The Gators’ order of finish was a bit of a surprise. In his head, he had some runners finishing higher and some lower.

“But it all worked out. It’s great,’’ he said.

Olsen and Stelnik did what they have been doing all year, running in close tandem.

“They ran the full distance every week. They run as hard as they can,’’ Van Sickle said.

Olsen said she had been working toward this moment since she was a freshman.

“It’s an amazing feeling,’’ she said. “Going into the meet, we talked about how much into it we were going to need to be mentally, and we did that.’’

Said Stelnik: “Last year, we might have been a little too confident, but we weren’t this year. We still had confidence. We knew we could do it. For me, I just wanted to stay calm and tried not to let anybody pass me.’’

The runners enjoyed the trophy presentation, and medals went to the top 21 individuals. One fan (probably a parent) passed out flowers to the girls, and the team posed for more pictures afterward, including some with Xavier Athletic Director Sr. Lynn Winsor.

It’s always good to get another title. Xavier made another strong finish for the fall sports. Golf and volleyball also won championships and swimming/diving was state runner-up.

“Let me tell you that winning does not get old,’’ Van Sickle said.

Division I championship team scores

Xavier Prep 71, Chandler High 93, Gilbert Highland 105, Phoenix Desert Vista 120, Mesa Red Mountain 156, Scottsdale Chaparral 181, Mesa Skyline 188, Glendale Mountain Ridge 199, Gilbert Perry 205, Mesa Mountain View 310, Phoenix Maryvale 329, Anthem Boulder Creek 341, Chandler Hamilton 346, Mesa Desert Ridge 358, Yuma Cibola 370, Tempe Corona del Sol 409, Phoenix Mountain Pointe 467, Queen Creek 507, Surprise Shadow Ridge 511, Chandler Basha 535.

Xavier Prep results

Mia Olsen, Jr., fifth, 19:09.15; Jamie Stelnik, So., seventh, 19:17.06; Grace Valandra, Jr., 18th, 20:00.45; Karina Hawkins, Sr., 19th, 20:12.96; Karina Smith, Sr., 22nd, 22:20.18; Sammy Braun, So., 23rd, 20:23.76; Helen Innes, Sr., 36th, 20:48.87.

Thursday, November 8, 2018


Xavier's 2018 volleyball state champions (Photos by Don Ketchum).
It didn’t take too long for Tempe Corona del Sol’s Aztecs to figure out what was happening.

They could feel it in the air and in the vibration beneath their feet. It was something they would not be able to stop.

The Blue and White Wave.

Xavier Prep’s Gators won their second straight 6A Conference volleyball championship at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday night (Nov. 7), scoring their second straight 3-0 sweep after defeating Chandler Hamilton in the semifinals.

Junior Bri McKnight unloaded a shot deep into Corona del Sol territory and it bounced off an Aztec’s hands and over the back line for the final point, putting the stamp on the victory – 25-21, 25-20 and 25-18.

Xavier finished with a 33-9 record, Corona del Sol 29-14. The Gators also had swept the Aztecs 3-0 in a match earlier in the year at Corona.

When McKnight saw what she and her teammates had done, she cupped her hands over her face as if she couldn’t believe it. Tears began to flow and not long after, the Blue and White Wave of boisterous Xavier faithful spilled onto the floor.

McKnight, an outside hitter, saved her best match of the season for last. She had 20 kills and 13 digs. Senior setter Shannon Shields had the perfect touch on most of her passes with 40 assists, as well as 12 digs. Senior libero Ashley Yeung was key on the back row with 17 digs and sprawling on the floor to reach the ball on several occasions. Junior middle blocker Jasmine Knight had 12 kills.

McKnight and Knight are expected to return as seniors next year, and sophomore outside hitter Serena Turner will be back. The Gators got a bonus from Turner in the title match – she had been out of action for several weeks with an ankle sprain, but worked feverishly to get back in time for the playoffs and contributed a pair of kills along with one dig.

Gators raise another title trophy.
Asked about her reaction to the win, McKnight said, “I realized that we just did it. I kind of dropped to the floor. I am beyond happy.’’

She was ecstatic that she could help send Shields and Yeung, two of her best friends on the team, out with a flourish.

Shields exuded the confidence that carried her for most of her four years on the varsity. She never seemed to get too high or too low, but all the while had fun. She said she and the Gators were well aware that Corona was capable of coming back from an 0-2 deficit as it did in a five-set semifinal shocker over top-seeded Gilbert Perry.

“We said, “We are not going to be Perry,’ ‘’ she said. “We did not want to let up.

“When we beat (Phoenix) Pinnacle (in the quarterfinals), we knew we would make it to the finals.’’

As McKnight was happy for her, Shields was happy for McKnight.

“The way she played was crucial for us,’’ Shields said.

During timeouts and in between games, the Gators raised what looked like a shoebox over their heads and touched it. Coach Lamar-Renee Bryant would not divulge its contents, only to say it carried a number of things “special to us. It’s a tradition.’’

After Xavier closed out the first game with a 3-1 run in the final moments, Corona was in control for much of Game 2. But Xavier hung tough, getting a kill from senior Jennelle Yarwood to the back corner and a kill from McKnight from the middle of the back row to win it.

In Game 3, it was as if the big win over Perry and the 0-2 deficit had taken its toll on the Aztecs, energy-wise. The closest they got was within 14-13 and the Gators marched toward victory.

During timeouts, Bryant said she would tell her players to play in five-point increments, “and that made the game more manageable for us.’’

It was a satisfying conclusion for Bryant and her players.

Playing in a couple of high-profile mid-season tournaments (Durango in Las Vegas and the Nike in the Phoenix area) took a lot of energy out of the Gators, and she said it “took about a month’’ for them to return to normal.

Late in the season, the team encountered “a few bumps,’’ according to Shields, namely losses (two each) to Perry and Hamilton.

Bryant admitted that her team had been struggling.

“Except for the last two (Hamilton and Corona del Sol),’’ she said, smiling.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

XCP swimmers in new Meet of Champions

The swimming season isn’t over yet for Xavier Prep’s Gators.

As part of a new idea, the Division I state runner-up will have several athletes compete in the Meet of Champions on Wednesday (Nov. 7) at Phoenix Country Day School. Action begins at 5:30 p.m.

The event is similar to those held after track and field seasons have been completed, where the best performers from every classification compete against each other.

Xavier is expected to feature all three of its relay teams, including the state-champion 200-yard medley.

The school also will be represented in six individual categories.

The swimmers are Maddie Wright (200- and 500-yard freestyles), Mia Rankin (200-yard individual medley and 500 free), Gracie Munk (100-yard butterfly and 100-yard backstroke), and Paola Guerra (100-yard breaststroke).

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Gators, Corona in volleyball title rematch

Every night, when the lights are shut off at Xavier Prep and darkness starts to creep in, the 2017 6A Conference volleyball championship trophy sits in its rightful place of honor and begins to weep. It is lonely, and yearns for companionship.

It needs a new sibling.

The 2018 volleyball team is going to do its best to make that happen.

The second-seeded Gators (32-9) are set to meet No. 4 Tempe Corona del Sol (29-13) in a rematch of last year’s title match on Wednesday (Nov. 7) at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena. Firsts serve is 8 p.m. The contest will be preceded by the 5A championship match.

Both teams reached this point in surprising fashion in Monday’s (Nov. 5) semifinals.

Xavier had lost to No. 3 Chandler Hamilton three times, once in an invitational and twice during the regular season, including a shutout in the last one on Oct. 23. But the Gators, with one of their best all-around efforts of the season, controlled the semi pretty much throughout and recorded a 3-0 sweep, 25-21, 26-24 and 25-16.

Corona del Sol staged a big-time rally to stun top-seeded Gilbert Perry. The Aztecs dropped the first two games, 25-18 and 25-15 before roaring back for a 25-21, 25-21, 15-7 victory.

How did Xavier do it against Hamilton?

Senior setter and Under Armour All-American Shannon Shields described the Gators’ mindset.

“We were all talking about this the other day, and there was just a good feeling,’’ said Shields, who had 28 assists and provided several key serves. “We wanted to play this with a lot of energy and teamwork, and as seniors, we wanted to help push the team through. Basically, we had lost to Hamilton too many times and we went “all in’ to stop that.’’

Said coach Lamar-Renee Bryant: “We managed ourselves better. We talked about how golf (champion) and swimming (runner-up) had been competitive and we wanted to do that, too. This is the time where we feel we can start to shine.

“All of the girls contributed, and it sure makes the coaches smile.’’

In the first game, Xavier had a five-point run to overcome an early Hamilton lead, but the Huskies came back. They held an 18-14 lead when Bryant called timeout after a long Xavier serve. The Gators went on to lead briefly before Hamilton pulled even. It was 21-all when Xavier took over. Hamilton blocked a Xavier shot out of bounds, Gator senior Jennelle Yarwood had a service ace, junior Juli Westfall had a kill and junior Bri McKnight had the finishing kill.

A long serve by Xavier enabled Hamilton to pull even at 23 in Game 2. McKnight had another kill and Hamilton returned a shot out of bounds go give Xavier the win.

In Game 3, Hamilton had three service aces in a row for an early lead, and it looked as if the Huskies were on the way to forcing a Game 4. Xavier came back to tie it at 9, and an ace by Shields put the Gators ahead for good. They pulled away and never were seriously challenged after that.

Xavier was strong defensively all night. Bryant called the blocking effort one of the team’s best of the season. Senior Hayley Nash led the way with four. Senior libero Ashley Yeung had 12 digs and three aces. Junior Jasmine Knight led the team with 13 kills, Westfall had nine and McKnight seven.

Now Xavier must find a way to hold off Corona del Sol. Xavier swept the Aztecs at Corona, 3-0, on Sept. 11, but the Aztecs have four transfers, senior Mary Shroll from Tempe Prep (former 2A Player of the Year), setter Ashley Hayden and middle blocker Jenna Bolena from Phoenix Desert Vista, and setter McKenna Olsen from Gilbert Mesquite.


It would be a good idea for fans planning to attend the final match to visit the Arizona Interscholastic Association Web site,, for parking information (including fees), as well as entry and bag policies.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Gators swim well, but Chaparral much better

Xavier Prep swimming coach Mark Rankin cringed when he saw that 2017 Division II state champion Scottsdale Chaparral would be moving up to Division I in 2018.

Chaparral is considered by many to be among the top teams in the nation, and Rankin, whose Gators won the Division I title a year ago, knew that his team would have a big challenge.

It came to pass on Saturday (Nov. 3), when Chaparral left Xavier and everybody else in its wake to stake its claim as the new D-I champ at the Skyline Aquatic Center in east Mesa.

On an afternoon of spectacular weather, Chaparral defeated second-place Xavier by a whopping 176 ½ points (477 ½-301). To get an idea of the Firebirds’ dominance, Xavier’s point total was just 20 off of what it scored last year on the way to its title.

“I was very pleased with the way we swam,’’ said Rankin, who led the team with Jenny James. “We had some great swimming and there was great swimming all the way around.’’

Xavier won the first event of the day, the 200-yard medley relay, and had a number of other top-level finishers.

It started with sophomore Mia Rankin, who was third in the 200-yard individual medley and second in the 500-yard freestyle. She became an automatic All-American with her effort in the 500 free and is under consideration for All-American status in the 200 IM.

In the 500, she got a measure of revenge against Chandler High’s Destiny Kling, who won last year’s race by touching the wall only .18 of a second ahead of Rankin. This time, Rankin was second with a healthy six-second advantage over third-place Kling.

Xavier, always strong in the relays, finished third in the 200-yard freestyle relay and second in the 400-yard freestyle relay.

Freshman Gracie Munk finished second in the 100-yard backstroke. She and Rankin also contributed to some of the relay events.

And Xavier’s divers also looked good in the 1-meter competition on Saturday at Phoenix Country Day School. Senior Alyssa Largay and junior Maddie Sewell switched spots from their back-to-back finishes in 2017. Largay went from 11th to 10th and Sewell from 10th to 11th.

Freshman diver Samantha Klein gave the Gators a big boost with a No. 14 finish. Diving coach Frank Pipitone said Klein had been working on a few dives with greater difficulty with hopes that she would score more points, and she did just that.

“That was probably our highlight,’’ said Pipitone, who also coaches the divers at Brophy Prep. They helped the Broncos win the boys’ D-I title.

“It was a tough meet, but I am very proud of our girls,’’ Pipitone added.

Coach Rankin can take comfort in the fact that most of his swimmers are underclassmen and will return next season. Unfortunately, so will Chaparral’s.

“We will stay as close to them as we can. You never know what might happen,’’ he said.


A meet official did a classy thing afterward as the champion and runner-up trophies were about to be presented.

He led the Gator girls in a cheer, “Mo! Mo! Mo!’’ in honor of Rankin’s late wife and Mia's mother, Maureen “Mo’’ Rankin, well known in Valley and state swimming circles. She was the Gators’ coach last year before cancer she had eradicated earlier returned and took her life in late September after a courageous battle with the disease. Mark Rankin joined James and the two led XCP to an emotional title triumph.

Girls’ Division I team scores

Scottsdale Chaparral 477 ½, Xavier Prep 301, Mesa Mountain View 268, Mesa Red Mountain 170, Gilbert Highland 138 ½, Chandler High 117, Mesa Desert Ridge 110, Chandler Hamilton 99 ½, Tucson High 96 ½, Phoenix Desert Vista 91, Phoenix Pinnacle 69, Gilbert Perry 65, Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor 46, Peoria Liberty 44, Mesa Westwood 35, Mesa Skyline 35, Tempe Corona del Sol 30, Queen Creek 26, Chandler Basha 16, Anthem Boulder Creek 16, Surprise Valley Vista 14, Mesa High 11, Yuma Cibola 1.

Xavier Prep results

200-yard medley relay – Championship race: First, 1:46.18 (Gracie Munk, Paola Guerra, Olivia Paliscak, Kelly Scott).

200-yard freestyle – Championship race: Maddie Wright, fourth, 1:51.79. Consolation race: Vica Dow, First, 1:54.65.

200-yard individual medley – Championship race: Mia Rankin, third, 2:03.57 (All-American consideration). Consolation race: Sydney Millane, fifth, 2:13.44.

50-yard freestyle – Consolation race: Olivia Paliscak, second, 24.80; Kelly Scott, sixth, 25.12.

1-meter diving – Alyssa Largay, 10th, 375.60 points; Maddie Sewell, 11th, 373.20; Samantha Klein, 14th, 353.25.

100-yard butterfly – Championship race: Gracie Munk, fifth, 57.24; Jordan Herrera, eighth, 58.33. Consolation race: Olivia Paliscak, second, 57.92; Haley Hubbard, sixth, 59.42.

100-yard freestyle – Championship race: Vica Dow, eighth, 53.92. Consolation race: Kelly Scott, seventh, 54.57.

500-yard freestyle – Championship race: Mia Rankin, second, 4:51.59 (Automatic All-American); Maddie Wright, sixth, 5:05.49. Consolation race: Carlie Herrmann, sixth, 5:17.65.

200-yard freestyle relay – Championship race: Third, 1:38.07 (Kelly Scott, Olivia Paliscak, Vica Dow, Maddie Wright).

100-yard backstroke – Championship race: Gracie Munk second, 56.81. Consolation race: Sydney Millane, seventh, 1:01.36.

100-yard breaststroke – Championship race: Paola Guerra, fifth, 1:06.84.

400-yard freestyle relay – Championship race: Second, 3:31.65 (Gracie Munk, Maddie Wright, Vica Dow, Mia Rankin).

Mountain bike riders finish fourth overall

The five-race Arizona Interscholastic Cycling League season came to a conclusion on Sunday (Nov. 4), and the combined club team from Xavier Prep and Brophy Prep finished fourth overall after a fifth-place finish in the final race at the White Tank Mountain Regional Park in Waddell.

In the three-mile JV-1 girls race, XCP junior Heather Kwapiszeski finished seventh on Sunday and eighth overall.  Junior Erin Hill finished 11th and was 12th overall.

In the three-mile JV-2 girls race, junior Camdyn Rael was 31st and 26th overall. Junior Catherine Wandachowitz was 33rd and 31st overall.

Hailey Schwartz had a good season in the Freshman category with a seventh-place finish and seventh overall finish.

And in the 1-lap, 5-mile category for seventh graders, Mary Hill was second in the race and was the overall points leader.

Congratulations to all of the riders, and to coach Rich Perrott and his staff for helping XCP show great improvement.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Sr. Lynn gets the Hall and the wall

A surprise tribute to Sr. Lynn Winsor was unveiled in the Activity Center (photo by Ronna Layne).

Xavier Prep's one and only . . .
Sr. Lynn Winsor, the Xavier athletic director, golf co-head coach and vice principal for activities, got some bonus recognition on Thursday (Nov. 1). It was in addition to being one of the newest inductees into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame later that evening in Scottsdale.

After the Thursday morning’s Mass at school, she was led to the Activity Center, where a large permanent sign had been painted on the east wall.

It read, Sister Lynn Winsor, BVM, XCP Class of 1961, Arizona Sports Hall of Fame, November 2018.

A well-deserved tribute, indeed. All of this only two days after leading Xavier’s golf team to its 36th state championship and eighth in a row.

Winsor was inducted into the Hall with late former Arizona Cardinal and Arizona State player Pat Tillman, former Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Grace, former Olympic swimming medalist Gary Hall Jr., University of Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea, and former Scottsdale Chaparral softball coach Jeff Oscarson.

Gators look fresh and strong in quarterfinals

Who was that team wearing blue and white, moving back and forth and around on the Xavier Prep’s volleyball court on Thursday night (Nov. 1)?

Xavier’s Gators!!

The team had been a bit inconsistent down the stretch of the regular season, but still managed to earn the No. 2 seed in the 6A Conference state tournament.

In the quarterfinals against No. 10 seed Phoenix Pinnacle, the Gators played like the team with which their fans had become familiar for most of the season, winning 3-1. They looked fresh, with a renewed energy.

Or, as coach Lamar-Renee Bryant put it, “Xavier 2.0.’’

Are we now seeing a team that can challenge for a second straight state title?

The answer will come soon, on Monday night (Nov. 5) when Xavier faces No. 3 seed Chandler Hamilton in a semifinal match at Gilbert Highland.  Hamilton (33-9) has defeated Xavier (31-9) three times this season, including once in the Gilbert Invitational and twice as the Premier Region rival, the most recent on Oct. 23.

The Xavier-Hamilton match begins at 5:45 p.m. and will be followed by the other semi between top-seeded Gilbert Perry (32-3) and No. 4 Tempe Corona del Sol (28-13). Semifinal winners will play for all the marbles on Wednesday night (Nov. 7) at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena.

The scores in the win over Pinnacle were 25-18, 20-25, 25-21 and a dominant 25-9.

“We played with more confidence,’’ Bryant said. “Our seniors knew it was going to be “go time.’ They knew it would be their last time on this court.

“If we are to beat teams like Hamilton and Perry (another Premier rival), we are going to need to play more like this. We know what we have to do.’’

Xavier got some big games from some of its seniors. Setter Kate Spellman had a fine all-around effort with three service aces, 19 assists and 10 digs. Setter Shannon Shields had 27 assists, libero Ashley Yeung had 22 digs and outside hitter Hayley Nash had three service aces.

In addition, junior middle blocker Jasmine Knight had 12 kills and five blocks, and junior outside hitter Juli Westfall continued her late-season rise with 14 kills.

Shields honored

Shields, who will play at Louisville starting next year, had been named to the Under Armour Volleyball All-American Second Team, in connection with the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Runners 1-2 in sectional, now ready for state

Just like in 2017, the race for the Division I cross country state championship is expected to come down to two teams – winner Chandler and runner-up Xavier Prep.

But it was Xavier that was the most impressive on Thursday (Nov. 1) in the Division I, Section I meet at Cesar Chavez Park in Laveen.

The Gators had five runners finish in the top 10 (63 runners total), including the winner, junior Mia Olsen, and runner-up, sophomore Jamie Stelnik.

Other top-10 finishers in the 5,000-meter race were sophomore Sammy Braun, seventh, senior Karina Smith, ninth, and senior Helen Innes, 10th. And two more Gators ran well – senior Karina Hawkins, 13th, and junior Grace Valandra, 16th.

Olsen finished 18th at state a year ago, Stelnik was 11th, Innes was 19th and Hawkins was 20th.

Thursday’s race was a challenge. Cesar Chavez Park is a lovely setting, but can be somewhat of a danger for those trying to run in such an important event. There are potholes seemingly every couple of feet, and one misstep could cause a runner to tumble with an ankle injury or worse, possibly a knee.

“We were lucky to get through it and stay healthy,’’ Olsen said. “You need to stay healthy, stay strong at this point of the season and I think we are.’’

Stelnik was happy to contribute to a strong effort by the team, “but we can’t get too confident. We have to continue to work like we have during the season. You never know what’s going to happen at state.’’

The course at the state tournament has covered the smallish, rolling hills at the Cave Creek municipal golf course in north Phoenix for quite some time. This year’s event will be Nov. 10 (Saturday).

“We have run all types of courses during the season and trained for hills, so it shouldn’t be anything new. We are still one of the top contenders,’’ Hawkins said.

Figuring out the hills and accounting for the weather, which could be warmer than Thursday’s race, will be part of the equation, according to Braun.

“The race will start at 12:30 (p.m.), so we might have to be a little more conservative at first, but we know we are going to have to finish strong,’’ she said. “It looks like it will be us and Chandler.’’

She added that the team would start its final week of preparation with its usual distance work, then taper down leading up to the meet.

According to Xavier coach Dave Van Sickle, Chandler was missing a runner or two on Thursday. But the Wolves did have the fourth- and fifth-place finishers, Mihajla Milovanovic and Becca Taylor, respectively. Milovanovic was third at state a year ago, Taylor eighth.

“I like the way we are matched up,’’ Van Sickle said. “It looks good for us, but you still have to go out and do it when it counts.’’