Bio

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 AIA365.com, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

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.

Note

It would be a good idea for fans planning to attend the final match to visit the Arizona Interscholastic Association Web site, azpreps365.com, for parking information (including fees), as well as entry and bag policies.

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