DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four 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.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

New Xavier Prep tennis courts are true blue

 After about eight months of eager anticipation, the brand-new courts at Xavier Prep’s Stark Tennis Center are open for play.

Varsity and JV players for XCP and freshman players who played competitively during the recently completed fall season were allowed to get their feet wet starting Nov. 29 on the new blue surfaces that resemble an inviting swimming pool or pond to cool off in.

What a wonderful place to play! (Xavier photos)

Where do Gators live? In a blue lagoon!

And with the addition of lighting, the courts will be available for night matches. And the courts themselves can be configured for the fast-growing sport of pickleball.

There are picnic-type tables to use for social events, along with a grassy area similar to the one that was used previously.

The only thing missing are the large ash trees that had to be removed due to overgrowth of the root system. New trees have been planted in their place and should be able to provide plenty of shade once they reach maturity.

Xavier has long been a force on Arizona’s high school tennis scene. Now we have the courts to match that!

"Perfect game' highlights hoops victory over Westwood

 Xavier Prep’s basketball team had a strong opening lap in its season opener on Tuesday night (Nov. 30) and it turned out to be a big victory lap with a 68-48 road triumph over Mesa Westwood.

Sophomore Sarah Miller was the team’s top scorer with 22 points, and grabbed six rebounds. Junior Sienna Cherwinski had 15 points and six rebounds.

Sophomore Dom Nesland and senior Maureen (Mo) Ulrich each scored 10 points. For Ulrich, it was a “perfect’’ game – she was perfect from the field (1 of 1), from 3-point range (2 of 2) and from the free-throw line (2 of 2).

Xavier will play another road game on Friday night (Dec. 3) against Phoenix Sunnyslope.

Efficient effort gives Gators season-opening soccer win

 It was the first match of Xavier Prep’s soccer season and coach Barb Chura said her players were “excited, nervous and anxious’’ entering the home contest against Glendale Mountain Ridge on Tuesday night (Nov. 30).

The Gators put their feelings aside to score a 5-0 victory over the Mountain Lions, and now some of that sentiment might return on Thursday night (Dec. 2) when XCP travels to face Scottsdale Chaparral.

Freshman Michal Cagungun (18) saw plenty of action in her first varsity match (Photos by Sr. Lynn Winsor).

The reason? It’s a rematch of last year’s Division I state championship title meeting won by Xavier 2-0 to claim the 11th crown in the school’s history.

“We are anticipating a tough match,’’  Chura said.

Xavier soccer players gather for a few words of inspiration before their match against Mountain Ridge.  

What would be an efficient effort against Mountain Ridge began somewhat slowly, with the Gators trying to gain their footing, particularly at the offensive end.

The clock ran down to the 10:04 mark of the first half before Xavier was able to put the ball in the net on a shot by senior defender Ansley Burns.

About 3 ½ minutes later, the Gators scored again on the first of two goals by junior forward Larkin Thomason. She came through again, this time on a header, with only three seconds left before the intermission.

Junior midfielder Bella Leonard tallied the Gators’ fourth goal with 23:31 left in the contest, and junior Collins Entz finished it off on her goal with just 15 seconds left in the match.

Collins Entz looks downfield for a teammate to receive the ball she will send.

Sophomore goalkeeper Kate Willmering and junior Sarah Castlen combined on the shutout. The keepers have been working with Jaden Campbell, who starred in goal for the Gators the last few seasons before graduating in 2021 and has volunteered to pass along her knowledge.

Chura listed a handful of Gators who stood out in the contest.

*Freshman forward/defender Lainey Swanson. “She was one of the best players out there for us, particularly in the first half,’’ Chura said.

*Sophomore defender Talia Coury, productive with her communication skills. “She does a good job of setting things up with her voice,’’ Chura said.

*Senior midfielder Hennessy Perez. Participation in club ball has led to a great deal of improvement. “She has more confidence and has become so much better than last year,’’ Chura said.

*Freshman midfielder Ally Brown. She is the sister of senior defender/midfielder Jayme Brown, and slices through the defense with her quickness. She also excels with her analytical skills. “She reads the game well and will only get better,’’ Chura said.

*And you can’t forget Bella Leonard. After a remarkable run in last year’s state tournament, her star continues to rise and already has made her college commitment to Notre Dame. “She plays at such a high level, it’s amazing,’’ Chura said.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Xavier basketball needs what Toni Garcia brings

 Toni Garcia has a unique type of goal for Xavier Prep’s basketball team.

As the team’s only senior, she would like nothing better than to help the Gators win the 6A Conference state championship and make the claim that other seniors before her could not.

“Yes, I would like that very much,’’ she said.

It all starts on Tuesday (Nov. 30) when Xavier travels to face Mesa Westwood in the regular-season opener. After another road game at Phoenix Sunnyslope on Dec. 3, the Gators will play their first home game on Dec. 6 against Phoenix North.

Although you might not see her name among the team’s scoring leaders, what you will notice is a player with an unrelenting work ethic. She steps into the lane and under the basket, doing whatever she can to get rebounds, putbacks after Xavier misses and positions her body in such a way that seldom will allow an opponent to get a clear path to the hoop.

A player that every team needs.

Toni Garcia will have a leadership role in addition to her solid work ethic on the court (Photo by Don Ketchum).

Asked about the road she has taken to reach this point, Garcia says, “It has all gone by so fast. I remember the tryouts for the freshman team. I wanted to have fun with it and it has been. It has been kind of crazy at times. I remember being around 5-7 or 5-8 and was hoping to grow a few more inches.’’

She did just that and now checks in at around 5-11.

“I’m taller than some of the girls (opponents) and that helps me with the rebounds and the putbacks,’’ she said.

When she was a freshman, Garcia was quiet. Now her senior role involves speaking up as she did when the team gathered in a circle during a recent practice.

“I think coach (Jennifer Gillom) wants me to speak up,’’ Garcia said. “You know, “Be heard,’ pick them up.’’

Gillom said Garcia learned from older players in the past and can use that this season.

“We also think she has more potential on the floor,’’ Gillom said. “She can probably score more in the right situations, like maybe a 15-footer, also taking it to the basket.

“She wants to help the other players to get in a habit of wanting to do well. To hold each other accountable, like, “I’m doing my part and you do your part.’ ’’

Said Garcia, “We played as a team in the past, but this season, we seem to be doing that even more. We have 14 individuals coming together.’’

Spoken like someone who yearns to achieve her goal.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Soccer's Perez ready for productive senior season

 As far as memorable moments in sports are concerned, few reach the level of the goal scored by then-junior Hennessy Perez in Xavier Prep’s 2-0 victory over Scottsdale Chaparral to earn the Division I soccer title in 2020-21.

It came early in the contest (only 5:14 had elapsed), but the Gators held on and scored an insurance goal with 55 seconds left in the match.

After the final whistle sounded to signal another remarkable achievement for the Gators, Perez said she told her father “that it seemed like time had stopped.  I couldn’t believe that it happened at first. But it was real. I was really excited. Everybody was really excited.’’

Senior midfielder Hennessy Perez and her Xavier soccer teammates are excited about a chance to repeat as state champion (Photo by Don Ketchum).

The excitement has not disappeared. Perez, a midfielder, is one of four senior returnees and the Gators have a truckload of versatile underclassmen in their bid for the 12th state title in the school’s history.

“We are taking things serious,’’ Perez said. “There are a lot of new players and we (seniors) want to be as nice and helpful as we can so that the younger players can confide in us about whatever they need.’’

Last season “all went by so fast,’’ according to Perez, and now it seems like the pace is more traditional in nature.

“We are working hard,’’ she said. “It’s a mentality thing. You have to be in the right mindset. You want to make it more of a positive. We want to create a family environment, not something just for yourself.’’

She likes what she has seen from the team thus far.

“This is a good group of girls,’’ Perez said. “I think we have a good chance to defend our title. All our players are very skilled.’’

After Tuesday’s (Nov. 30) regular-season opener at home against Glendale Mountain Ridge, Xavier will encounter a tournament-type atmosphere with a rematch on the road against Chaparral on Friday (Dec. 3).

Perez will be there, ready to provide a steadying influence. That’s what seniors are supposed to do.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Xavier archers have clear focus in tournament

 Forty-three Xavier archery athletes gathered last weekend for the November state qualifier event.

Some archery competitions have resorted to virtual events, but this was in person. There were 20 other schools in addition to Xavier, with 307 archers from across the state, according to coach Kelsey Gerchar.

One of the top Xavier efforts was by a new archer, Olivia Fisko, who took second place in the Female High School Division for 3D with a score of 267.

Xavier had four archers finish in the top 10 in 3D, and four in the top 10 of the Bullseye category.

The top 3D archers were 5th-place Alexa Ojeda (257 with 10 tens), sixth-lace Ana Bhatti (257, 5 tens), 8th-lace Evelynn Papez (253, 6 tens) and 10th-place Adela Campo (251, 10 tens).

The top Bullseyes archers were 5th-place Felicia FitzGerald (271 with 9 tens), 6th-place Isabella Beninato (264, 11 tens), 7th-place Ana Bhatti (263, 7 tens) and 8th-place Adela Campo (262, 12 tens).

Congratulations to these great Gator archers!!

Wheels of fury carry successful XCP riders

 Time certainly did not stand still for the Xavier Prep club mountain biking team on Saturday (Nov. 20).

The Gators unleashed fury on the 12 Hours of Fury event at the McDowell Mountain Park in Fountain Hills.

According to Xavier coach Rich Perrott, the event is a relay race with quad teams, and the quads with the most laps win.

Xavier riders swept the top three podium (awards stand) spots for the Junior Girls category.

The winning group was Aria Tseffos, Mary Hill, Bailey Finch and Grace Morgan. Second place went to Rachel Reyes, Alyssa Isaac, Lizbeth Sanchez Garcia and Gabriela Evans. And third place went to Maggie Meaney, Megan Walker, IKirsten Findlay and eighth grader Maddie Weisman.

Mountain biking is a fast-growing sport, and Xavier is right in the middle of all the action!!