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.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Go-ahead goal lessens soccer player's pain

 Doesn’t it just figure? You’ve worked and worked so hard to get ready for your school’s season-opening soccer match, and what happens?

For Xavier Prep senior forward Larkin Thomason, one of the Gators’ most productive offensive players, it was kind of an eerie situation on Thursday night (Dec. 1).

Xavier's Gators talk soccer strategy (Xavier photos).

Only about 10 minutes had passed in the Gators’ match against visiting Tempe Corona del Sol, when Thomason went from moving freely about refurbished Petznick Field to being on the ground in a heap with pain shooting through her right leg.

She had been inadvertently kicked on the outside of her shin by an opposing player and thought the worst. She was attended to by Xavier’s athletic trainers, Laurie White and Hannah Duszynski, and sat out the remainder of the first half.

When the second half began, Xavier held a 1-0 lead, thanks to a first-half goal by junior midfielder Lourdes Lauterborn. But Corona del Sol tied it with a goal just three minutes into the second half. Thomason wanted badly to go back in, but only if approved by the trainers. About four minutes later, her wish was granted.

At the 27:34 mark, there was a scramble in front of the Xavier goal and Thomason took aim with her opposite foot/leg (left) and sent the ball into the net.

Senior midfielder Holland Carey gave the Gators an extra scoring cushion with 8:24 left and Xavier rode it out the rest of the way for a 3-1 triumph.

Senior midfielder Bella Leonard (left), digs a ball out of the corner while senior forward Eva Allen (17) moves in to provide assistance.

“I guess I must have been in the wrong line of flight for the ball, except the ball wasn’t what hit me,’’ Thomason said. “Pain was radiating through me and I thought I might have broken a small bone or something. But it felt better later on, enough for me to get back in. It will be something I will have to watch.’’

If Thomason was hurting physically, fellow senior midfielder Bella Leonard had to be dealing with a bruised psyche. It seemed no matter what she did or where she shot from, all her kicks were a millimeter or two off or sailed up and over the goal.

She finally was able to salvage some productivity on Carey’s goal. Leonard brought the ball out of the left corner, danced away from a few defenders and took another shot. It didn’t go in, but bounced back off the Corona del Sol goalkeeper where Carey was waiting.

Meet Olivia Yu (16), Xavier's speedy fast-rising freshman forward.

Leonard can take comfort that her day surely will come.

Xavier coach Barb Chura was happy to put this one in the books.

“They (Corona del Sol) are competitive, very aggressive,’’ she said. “We probably could have had a few more goals, but their keeper stood on her head to stop us and kept them in the game.’’

The Gators made a few adjustments in the second half, in terms of finishing their shots (aware of deflections, etc.) and not just shooting them.

The team will attempt to put refinements into play in its next match, at Petznick on Tuesday (Dec. 6) against Phoenix Desert Vista. Start time is 6 p.m.

XCP's inside player combo tough to stop

 It was supposed to be a night of pomp and circumstance for the girls’ basketball team at Goodyear Millennium, but it was Xavier Prep’s visiting Gators who took care of the circumstance part.

Circumstances were in Xavier’s favor in Millennium’s first-ever “official’’ game on Thursday night (Dec. 1) at its new multi-million-dollar arena.

 The Gators went on a 15-5 third-quarter run on the way to a 43-35 victory, bringing their overall record to 5-0 in the young season.

The inside power of 6-foot-6 sophomore CeCe Mlat and 6-4 freshman Noelle Guiamatsia proved to be a tough combination for Millennium to overcome.

Guiamatsia scored 10 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked 3 shots. Mlat had 4 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks.

Junior point guard Jasmine Olivar scored 7 points, including a pair of 3-point baskets. Junior point guard Dom Nesland scored 7 points.

Other scorers for Xavier were junior forward-guard Mo Ulrich (6), sophomore point guard Lucy Sanford (5), and senior shooting guard Sienna Cherwinski (4).

Xavier will return home for its next game, on Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Phoenix Sunnyslope. That game will be preceded by the freshman-sophomore game at 4 p.m. and the junior-varsity game at 5:30.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Basketball team wins Scorpion Shootout title

 If a basketball team wins four games in a tournament by an average margin of 50 ½ points, what do you think the final result would be?

That’s an easy one.

About as easy as Xavier Prep’s trip through the bracket in the annual Scorpion Shootout at Goodyear Desert Edge on Friday (Nov. 25) and Saturday (Nov. 26).

The Gators defeated host Desert Edge (77-15), Peoria High (94-28) and Peoria Centennial (53-5)  in their first three games, then wrapped up the tournament with a 61-35 victory over Yuma Cibola in the championship game.

A pair of outstanding XCP juniors, point guard Dominique Nesland and forward-guard Maureen Ulrich, were honored for their efforts in the tournament.

Nesland was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player and Ulrich was selected to the All-Tournament Team.

Xavier post player Cece Mlat (No. 11, middle) holds the Scorpion Shootout title trophy toward the rafters after the Gators went 4-0 (Photo by Don Ketchum).

“We played well both ways (offense and defense),’’ Nesland said. “We stayed within ourselves.’’

The only drawback, she said, came in the second half of the game against Cibola.

Xavier ran up a 28-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, but Cibola came back to outscore the Gators 19-15 in the second. The third and fourth quarters were pretty much even (Xavier 9-8 in both).

“In the second half, we had kind of a mental slide,’’ she said. “We didn’t finish digging the hole that we wanted to.’’

Xavier’s next game will be on Thursday (Dec. 1, 7 p.m. tipoff) at Goodyear Millennium, which will be playing its first “official’’ game in its new multi-million-dollar arena/gymnasium. The site was used for a big tournament over the summer (in which Xavier also played).

“We feel that Millennium will be a good test for us,’’ Nesland said. “And if we keep playing all season like we did here, we are going to be tough to beat.’’

Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom said her team’s defense improved, that the team is “playing together, playing hard and having a lot of fun.’’

From Dec. 19-22, Xavier will play in the annual Nike Tournament of Champions at Bell Bank Park in east Mesa. The event will feature teams from across the country, but mainly from the West.

“That will be at a whole different level,’’ Gillom said. “There will be a lot of good teams there, and hopefully we will have improved even more by that point to have a good showing.’’


*Less than a minute into the title game against Cibola, senior shooting guard Sienna Cherwinski suffered what appeared to be a sprained ankle. She sat on the floor for a few moments while being looked at by the tournament’s athletic trainer before being helped to the bench. Cherwinski did not return and her status for upcoming games is uncertain.

*Cece Mlat, a 6-foot-6 sophomore post player, had an effort against Cibola that Gillom hopes she will see more of, scoring 7 points and getting some key rebounds and a few blocked shots.

*Varsity assistant coach and junior-varsity head coach Myron Crawford celebrated his birthday in the days leading up to the tournament. The players serenaded him with a birthday song and he responded with an impromptu break dance of sorts.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Gators run away from first two basketball foes

 There were a few instances in the 2021-22 girls basketball season when Xavier Prep’s Gators played like a contender for the state championship, but not enough to suit Coach Jennifer Gillom.

She vowed to get her team going from the early season to the end rather than just every so often.

The first test has come in the annual Scorpion Shootout tournament at Goodyear Desert Edge.

During Friday’s (Nov. 25) first day, Xavier showed what Gillom hopes life will be like.

The Gators opened things up at 9 a.m. against host Desert Edge and won by 62 points, 77-15. In their second game of the day, at noon, the points, rebounds, assists and steals were as plentiful as Xavier cruised to a 66-point triumph, 94-28, over Peoria High. Both games were played under a running clock, an indicator that the leader had a 30-point advantage by the end of the third quarter.

Xavier is due to play twice on Saturday. The first game will be at 4:30 p.m. against either Tucson High or Peoria Centennial. Depending on what Xavier does in that first game, the Gators could advance to the tourney championship game at 7:30 or the third-place game at 7:30.

“This is exactly what I expected,’’ Gillom said. “It is what you see in practice in terms of just about everything rolls over into the games. There is never a “lull’’ moment.

“Last year, we didn’t always do that. But this shows that we can.’’

Xavier had four players score in double figures against Peoria and four against Desert Edge.

The four who did it against Peoria were junior point guard Dominique Nesland, freshman power forward Irene Noelle Guiamatsia, junior forward-guard Maureen Ulrich and senior guard Sienna Cherwinski.

Against Desert Edge, the noteworthy efforts were by the same players -- Ulrich, Nesland, Guiamatsia and Cherwinski.

“That shows our consistency,’’ Gillom said.

Throw in the type of quick, pressing defense that the team has played in the past and the Gators can be even more dominant.

The 6-foot-4 Guiamatsia and her aggressive playing style should be popular among fans at Xavier’s Activity Center.

“She already is showing signs of being a force,’’ Gillom said. “With time, she is only going to get better. And she is a type of player who will make those around her better.''

Monday, November 21, 2022

Third straight soccer title well within reach of Gators

 Just when you think you’ve seen every way a team can win a soccer match and championship, around the corner come Xavier Prep’s Gators.

They never seem to run out of ways to take ownership of the title trophy, using an emotional approach, yet staying calm at the same time.

Xavier has won 12 state titles (seven under current coach Barb Chura), including two in a row, with four runner-up finishes (one under Chura).

And this year’s group is ready to show everyone that it can do it again. The 2022-23 season begins on Dec. 1 with a match against Tempe Corona del Sol at XCP’s remodeled Petznick Field.

“We look good,’’ Chura said.

The team appears to have a good mix of experience and youth. There are 10 seniors, four juniors, three sophomores and seven freshmen, the most since the record 13 first-year players in 2009.

Xavier is prolific up front, sturdy in the middle and along the back, and has a rising star goalkeeper in junior Kate Willmering.

Chura was uncertain about what to do a year ago at this time, looking for someone, anyone, to take up the keeping duties. It was a tough sell, because star Jaden Campbell had graduated after the Gators won the title the year before.

While it obviously was not the same as having Campbell back there deflecting incoming shots, Chura had the next best thing when Campbell became a volunteer assistant coach, one that she continues this winter as the goalkeeper whisperer.

Campbell worked with Willmering throughout the season, and Willmering blossomed at just the right time – in the state tournament.

In the state final, she turned away shot after shot that led to a 0-0 deadlock and resulting shootout against Gilbert Perry.

“She had the game of her life,’’ Chura said. “A lot of the time, she was flying horizontal.’’

With the score tied at 2 in the second shootout, Xavier went on to win it 3-2 on a goal by senior defender (yes, defender) Jayme Brown.

Brown’s sister, Ally, now a sophomore and listed as a midfielder and defender, returns to see if she has the same familial magic running through her veins.

Senior Bella Leonard (Xavier photo).

Meanwhile, senior forward Larkin Thomason and senior midfielder Bella Leonard will continue their chart-topping offense. Thomason joined the team last year and Leonard is best remembered for her long-range goal that traveled seemingly half the length of the field and landed behind the Perry goalkeeper for a 1-0 win on the final play of regulation in the 2021 semis.

Senior Larkin Thomason.

But don’t think it was just all luck. Leonard perhaps is the team most fundamentally sound player and has led to a recent national letter of intent signing with Notre Dame.

“This is crazy. I’m really excited to be with this team for another season,’’ Leonard said. “After what happened the year before, we were under a lot of pressure last season and we worked very hard and came through.

“I want to leave my mark as a team leader with this team and show the pride that it takes.’’

Said Thomason, “It’s about having the right people in the right places. It’s realistic to put the standard pretty high to win some games and a state title.’’

Like Leonard, Thomason would like to be called upon for leadership.

“When I was a younger player, there were older players who were leaders and I decided I want to be that kind of player,’’ she said.

Fun-tastic field gives soccer extra motivation

 The articifial turf at Xavier Prep’s Petznick Field seems greener than it has been in the past.

That’s because it is.

The artistic Gator logo in the middle of the field seems bigger, full of life.

That’s because it is.

The surface on which athletes run around seems smoother, easier to navigate.

That’s because it is.

Gee, you would think the field has been completely redone.

That’s because it has.

The first occupant of the facility this winter will be XCP’s two-time defending state champion soccer team.

The Gators have been practicing for about two weeks of preseason and some physical education classes are getting some work in.

“It is awesome, beautiful,’’ said soccer coach Barb Chura. “Xavier has some of the best facilities for a high school program, not just for soccer.’’

The original field was in use for nearly 10 years. Every year in the spring, the rising temperatures would make the surface of the field very hot. Water cannons were part of the maintenance, at least when players took breaks from practices and games.

“It doesn’t seem to heat up like the other did,’’ Chura said.

The field will have a lot of occupants other than soccer. In the spring, there will be the school’s two-time defending state champion softball team, lacrosse, and the new flag football team that is expected to begin play.

One thing that fans might not notice but Chura sure has is sideline boundary lines are a different color at the west end of the field. In that area, the surface has a coral/clay tint of the softball infield. In the past, the soccer sidelines there have been red, which kind of blend into the turf.

But from now on, those lines will be yellow, to allow officials to better see what is happening. It’s good for officials to be able to see, and she should know – she has been a club referee for quite some time.

“Even before they redid it, it was one of the best fields around,’’ said senior soccer midfielder Bella Leonard. “It is another great example of all the things that Xavier does for us (athletes). We just love being on the field.’’

Senior forward Larkin Thomason has studied the way the ball moves and bounces.

“I think it is going to give myself and my teammates more opportunities to score,’’ she said.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Xavier basketball team ready to make its move

 For five of the last six years, Surprise Valley Vista took over the 6A Conference state basketball tournament, winning the championship five times during that time frame.

But now comes a global warming of sorts, and the Monsoon might not be as powerful as they have been.

So that might just open things up for some other team, perhaps Xavier Prep, to swoop in and grab the first title in the school’s history.

The Gators are among the favorites listed by XCP is a legitimate contender.

Xavier, which finished 19-6 last season after falling to Gilbert Perry in the semifinals, opens the new season in the two-day Scorpion Shootout tournament at Goodyear Desert Edge, on the two days following Thanksgiving.

The Gators will face host Desert Edge in the opener on Nov. 25, followed by a second contest shortly thereafter. Two more games will come on Saturday, with opponents being determined by what occurs on the first day.

Xavier will follow that up with another road contest at the large brand-new facility at Goodyear Millennium on Dec. 1. The Gators’ first home game will be Dec. 6 against Phoenix Sunnyslope.

Xavier will start the season behind the eight ball of sorts after having lost star junior swing guard Sarah Miller to a knee ligament tear that was expected to keep her out for this entire season.

But that last part, however, might not be entirely true.

The 5-foot-10  Miller, listed among the state’s top prospects, has been in rehabilitation mode with a feverish pitch behind the scenes recently and there are whispers that she could return to action for the Gators when the calendar flips to 2023.

“If you see some of the workouts she has been doing, you would say, “No way,’ ’’ said Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom. “On one of them, she jumps flat-footed, straight up on a desk, back down and up again a number of times.’’

Miller averaged 20.4 points and 5.1 rebounds last season. If she is slowed for whatever reason, Xavier will have an energetic group of guards to help compensate. They can handle the ball, pass the ball, shoot it and take it away from opponents.

“Our first 10 group is fast and works so well together,’’ Gillom said. “You have the first five and the second five and you can sub in and out and the pace never changes.’’

Junior point guard Dom Nesland will be running the Gators' offensive show (Photos by Don Ketchum).

Junior Dominique Nesland already is being courted by numerous colleges.

Nesland averaged 13.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.2 steals. Those numbers could continue to climb.

She has had some unofficial visits to military schools in the East (Navy and Army), and hopes to have the number of offers down to 20 by April or so.

The high school game itself, she says, “Is really fast, although you might not think so. ‘’

It figures to become much faster with the addition of a new 35-second shot clock.

Nesland said she has improved her shooting since last season through club ball.

”I can look for that 15-footer (jump shot) and be focused on that. Last year, I wasn’t as confident in it as I am now. I can also shoot the 3s (3-pointers) or have a few lay-offs (passes to inside players for higher-percentage shots).’’

The T-shirt worn by senior Sienna Cherwinski features a key element "We defend.''

Another key backcourt player is 5-9 senior shooter-defender Sienna Cherwinski. Some days, it seems as if she has been around the program forever.

Cherwinski is of Latin American descent and earlier this year played in a Basketball Without Borders Americas camp at San Luis, Potosi, Mexico.Top Latina prospects from other countries participated. Cherwinski’s mother, Yenni, is a native of Colombia. Cherwinski also participated in another similar camp in Atlanta.

“There were a lot of good players there and it took a lot out of you physically and mentally,’’ she said. “Hopefully, I can put some of what I learned to use this season.’’

She always has been a good shooter and now believes she is even better. As a senior, she wants to be a better leader.

“You have to work hard and trust your teammates. They need to trust in each other,’’ she said.

Junior point guard Jasmine Olivar, a transfer from Fort Thomas, will provide stability in the backcourt.

Another guard with a dynamic pedigree of her own is 5-7 junior Jasmine Olivar, who is one of the team’s newest players.

She joined the team during summer league play at Thunderbird High in north Phoenix and has continued to build on that.

In the summer league and again for the Gators in preseason workouts, Olivar looks like she fits right in.

She hails from the central Arizona Native American community of Fort Thomas, where she led the Apaches to the 1A Conference state title as a freshman two years ago and was the conference’s Player of the Year. Last season, she led Fort Thomas to a state runner-up finish against Rock Point and was the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.

She said she wanted to enhance her academics and had heard about Xavier, so she applied for a scholarship and was approved toward the end of the last school year.

“The time since I started here has been really exciting,’’ she said. “The summer was a transition and I have learned there is higher competition on the court and in academics. It has allowed me to challenge myself.

“When I have been on the court, I have always looked for an open shot if it is there, or for the open pass, which I am still doing. There is still a lot to learn, and I think I am doing well and am having fun. My teammates have been great to work with and have been helpful.’’

Three more key players for the Gators will be 5-10 junior guard-forward Maureen Ulrich, 6-6 junior post player CeCe Mlat and 6-4 freshman forward Irene Noelle Guiamatsia.

Mlat could be considered at the top of the list of improved players. In past games, she was uncertain about grabbing the ball on rebounds or giving the ball to teammates at the right time, and unsure about moving on the floor in general.

Now she is running the floor much better, getting into the flow, looking for shots near the basket and shooting with confidence, and playing more aggressively on defense.



Head coach – Jennifer Gillom. Assistant coaches – Patrick Mangosing, Bethany Roessler. Assistant – Angie Vecchiarelli. Athletic trainers – Laurie White, Hannah Duszynski.

(Numbers subject to change)

1, Lucy Sanford, 5-4, So., PG

2, Isabella Cerniglia, 5-8, So., G

3, Jasmine Olivar,5-7, Jr., G

5, Sienna Cherwinski, 5-9, Sr., G

10, Maureen Ulrich, 5-10, Jr. G

11, Athiel Mlat, 6-6, Jr., C

12, Ava Portilla, 5-4, Fr., G

13, Gabriela Trbovic, 6-2, Sr., F

14, Emily Manuelito, 5-7, Sr., G

15, Gosi Alilonu, 5-10, Jr., F

21, Annie Kopp, 6-0, Sr., C

22, Dominique Nesland, 5-9, Jr. PG

24, Sarah Miller, 5-10, Jr., G

52, Irene Noelle Guiamatsia, 6-4, Fr., F


(Game times subject to change)

Fri., Nov. 25 – 2 games, Scorpion Shooutout @ Goodyear Desert Edge. Game #1, vs. Goodyear Desert Edge, 9 a.m. (main); Game #2, winner or loser’s bracket, noon, (main or auxiliary).

Sat., Nov. 26 – 2 games, Scorpion Shootout @ Goodyear Desert Edge, Times TBA.

Thurs., Dec. 1 -- @ Goodyear Millennium, 7 p.m.

Tues., Dec. 6 – Phoenix Sunnyslope, 7 p.m.

Sat., Dec. 10 -- @ Sierra Vista Buena, 3 p.m.

Mon., Dec. 19 – Nike Tournament of Champions @ Bell Bank Park, Mesa, Times TBA

Tues., Dec. 20 – Nike Tournament of Champions @ Bell Bank Park, Mesa, Times TBA

Wed., Dec. 21 – Nike Tournament of Champions @ Bell Bank Park, Mesa, Times TBA

Thurs., Dec. 22 – Nike Tournament of Champions @ Bell Bank Park, Mesa, Times TBA

Wed., Jan. 4 – Chandler High, 7 p.m.

Thurs. Jan. 5 -- @ Anthem Boulder Creek, 7 p.m.

Tues., Jan. 10 – Gilbert High, 7 p.m.

Thurs., Jan. 12 – Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor, 7 p.m.

Fri., Jan. 13 -- @ Chandler Basha, 7 p.m.

Mon., Jan. 16 – MLK Day Game vs. Phoenix Desert Vista @ Tempe Marcos de Niza, 11:45 a.m.

Wed., Jan. 18 -- @ Chandler Hamilton, 7 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 21 – Gilbert Perry @ Brophy Prep, 5:30 p.m.

Thurs., Jan. 26 – Chandler Hamilton, 7 p.m.

Fri., Jan. 27 – Chandler Basha, 7 p.m.

Tues., Jan. 31 -- @ Chandler High, 7 p.m.

Thurs,, Feb. 2 – Gilbert Perry, 7 p.m.