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 31, 2014

XCP hoops ready to start fresh in 2015

It’s a new year and it’s time for a fresh start for Xavier Prep’s basketball team.
The Gators finished 2014 with a 47-39 loss to Cave Creek Cactus Shadows in the (Mesa) Red Mountain Holiday Classic on Wednesday (Dec. 31).
“This is by no means a reflection of our team and the way we are capable of playing,’’ said Gators coach Michelle Williamson. “We want to end this year (2014) on a positive note. The kids have been working very hard on their discipline the last few weeks, particularly on defense.’’
As with some of their previous recent games in the tournament, the Gators kept it close, trailing by two points at halftime. But they couldn’t come up with the plays they needed to down the stretch.
The Gators were frustrated by a disadvantage in fouls in the second half, which resulted in Cactus Shadows converting 12 of 20 free-throw attempts.  At one point, Xavier had been called for 10 fouls, Cactus Shadows only two. Xavier made 4 of its 8 free-throw attempts in the second half.
Three players combined to score 38 of Xavier’s points – junior Vanessa Murphy (15), freshman Alana Kelley (13) and freshman Katie Hassett (10).
Williamson was pleased with the all-around play of Hassett, who is expected to see more playing time in 2015 with the season-ending knee injury to freshman Montana Oltrogge.
The Gators (5-10) will have at least a few days off before resuming practice. XCP will have two home games next week – on Thursday (Jan. 8) against Mesa Westwood and on Friday (Jan. 9) against Phoenix Desert Vista (Ahwatukee).
“We wanted the kids to play a lot of minutes in the tournament, and they were able to do that,’’ said Williamson.
“Now it is time to go back to work. We will go back to tear down our offense a bit and make some adjustments, and we are going to give the players specific things to work on as individuals. We have confidence in our players.’’

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Early deficit tough for Gators to overcome

It was Day Two on Tuesday (Dec. 30) for Xavier Prep’s basketball team in the (Mesa) Red Mountain Holiday Classic.
The Gators, who split their two games on Monday (Dec. 29), dug themselves an early hole against Anthem Boulder Creek. XCP battled back to within two points at halftime but couldn’t quite make a complete comeback, falling 51-46.
Xavier (5-9) will wrap things up in the tournament on Wednesday (Dec. 31) with a 2 p.m. game against Cave Creek Cactus Shadows. The winner will earn seventh place in the 12-team event.
“We had too many turnovers in the beginning of the game (XCP had a double-digit deficit), and that makes it very difficult to get back in the game,’’ said coach Michelle Williamson. “It is possible – we got close – but the players have to have that fight in them and be aggressive.’’
As the coach said, that didn’t happen on a consistent basis and it cost the Gators.
“We played good defense, but we let them get too many boards,’’ she said.
The goal now is to try to improve the team’s rebounding. How to do it will be a big challenge for Williamson and assistant Stephen Moss-Kelly, because it appears the Gators will be without promising freshman forward Montana Oltrogge for a lengthy stretch of time with a serious knee injury, according to Williamson.
Oltrogge suffered the injury in Monday’s win over Mesa Red Mountain.
Williamson said getting a couple of reinforcements from the junior-varsity squad is a possibility, but she isn’t ready to do that yet.
Boulder Creek, which had defeated Xavier 50-29 at Boulder Creek on Dec. 11, jumped back out to an eight-point advantage about halfway through the 16-minute second half. Xavier closed the gap again to 39-37 with 5:53 left on a 3-pointer by Brittany Robinson, one of two for her on the afternoon.
But time began to run out on the Gators, forcing them to foul and send Boulder Creek to the free-throw line.
Boulder Creek had three players score in double figures. Xavier was led by junior Vanessa Murphy, who scored 18 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.
The Gators did receive a bit of good news on Tuesday. Williamson said senior guard Lexi Carbine, who had missed the first three games of the tournament with back spasms, will suit up on Wednesday. Whether she plays, and how much she plays, will be determined if the back loosens up sufficiently during pre-game warm-ups.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Young Gators continue basketball battle

Although the result isn’t always what Xavier’s Gators want at the end of their basketball games, the young team continues to show improvement.
Xavier battled its way to a 53-48 overtime victory over host Mesa Red Mountain in Monday’s (Dec. 29) opening game of the Red Mountain Holiday Classic, then fell in its second game of the day, 43-33 to Mundelein, Ill.
The Gators (5-8) are in Pool A with Red Mountain and Mundelein, and will return to tournament action on Tuesday (Dec. 30).
After defeating Xavier, Mundelein dropped a 40-38 decision to Red Mountain. That put all three teams at 1-1 for the day, setting up a tiebreaker to determine Tuesday’s schedule. The team among the three to give up the fewest points would be Pool A’s top seed on Tuesday, the second-fewest would be the second seed, and the most points allowed would be the third seed.
So Mundelein got the top seed by giving up just 73 points. XCP and Red Mountain tied by giving up 91 points each, so XCP got the No. 2 nod because it defeated Red Mountain. And Red Mountain will be No. 3.
Red Mountain will face Mesa Skyline at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Xavier will meet Anthem Boulder Creek at 3:30 and Mundelein will take on Mesa Dobson at 6:30. Depending on what Xavier does on Tuesday, it would play on Wednesday (Dec. 31) at either 2 p.m. or 3:30.
Xavier defeated Red Mountain by converting 7 of 10 free throws in the four-minute overtime period. All tournament games are played with two 16-minute halves instead of four eight-minute quarters.
Junior Vanessa Murphy led Xavier with 19 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, and freshman Alana Kelley contributed 11 points.
Xavier faced a challenge just 27 seconds into the overtime period when energetic freshman forward Montana Oltrogge suffered a knee injury and did not return. She also did not play in the second game. It was unknown how severe the injury was and whether she will miss even more time.
Xavier also did not have senior guard Lexi Carbine for either game because she was dealing with back spasms.
In the game against Mundelein, Xavier had a 33-29 lead when Murphy drilled a 3-pointer with 3:45 left in the game.
But Xavier ran out of gas after that and did not score for the remainder of the contest. Mundelein scored 14 points over those last few minutes.
Xavier interim coach Michelle Williamson had expressed concern between the Red Mountain and Mundelein games how much the overtime would affect the Gators in their second game. Mundelein was playing its first game of the day.
“Fatigue was a factor in that second game, but it wasn’t the only reason (for the loss),’’ Williamson said. “We were getting good shots, but we weren’t putting the ball in the basket. We weren’t finishing our shots, and that is a characteristic of a young team, which we are. We also need to worry less about the tempo of the team we are playing and maintain our own tempo.’’
Murphy was the only Gator to score in double figures in the second game with 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.

Make room for another soccer trophy

Earning an athletic trophy never gets old. Xavier has many of them, but the Gators always are willing to add another to their collection.
It happened again on Monday (Dec. 29), when XCP captured ninth place in the 32-team Excalibur Invitational, winning the Guinevere bracket with a 2-1 victory over Mission Viejo, Calif.
“It was awesome,’’ said Gators coach Barb Chura. “We came home with some hardware.’’
“It was a tough, very competitive tournament. Back to front, we played as a team. The quality of the competition definitely will prepare us for the long haul and get us ready for our own state tournament in Arizona.’’
The Gators were supposed to play Scripps Ranch from the San Diego area earlier on Monday, but advanced to the bracket final after Scripps announced that it was going to forfeit.
Xavier opened the tournament on Friday (Dec. 26) with a shootout win over Mater Dei of Los Angeles, then fell to Buchanan of Fresno (Calif.) in a shootout.  The Gators also defeated Westview of California in a shootout on Saturday (Dec. 27), setting up Monday’s games.
Senior Tessa Zaccagnio scored Xavier’s first goal against Mission Viejo.  She scored in all of the Gators’ games in the tournament. Senior Kendall Ward scored the game-winner with about five minutes left in regulation.
Chura called Ward’s effort “one of the best goals I’ve seen.’’
Zaccagnio was named to the All-Tournament Team, quite a prestigious honor, given the quality of players participating. Chura said the only other Xavier player to earn that honor was Samantha Bidwill, a 2010 graduate.
“Tessa earned it. She played fantastic all the way through,’’ Chura said.
Chura added that the Gators “measured up against some of the best teams out there. It gave us a lot of confidence. We learned what our strengths really are and what we need to work on. So we will be able to enjoy this for a little while.’’
Xavier’s next game is Jan. 6 at their Petznick Field home, against Phoenix Camelback. It will be a 6 p.m. start.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Xavier soccer competitive in Calif.

Xavier Prep did a solid job over the weekend in the Excalibur Soccer Classic in Santa Ana, Calif., and will have one or possibly two more matches as the tournament resumes on Monday (Dec. 29).
The Gators reached Monday’s semifinals in their Guinevere bracket with a shootout victory on Saturday afternoon (Dec. 27) over Westview of California, after trailing 2-0 at halftime. Quiqui Hita and Madie Amavila scored goals to get XCP back into the game.
XCP was set to face Scripps Ranch of the San Diego area in a 9 a.m. game (Phoenix time) on Monday. A win by Xavier would earn a spot in the bracket finals at 2:45 p.m. (Phoenix time). The bracket final winner will finish ninth in the 32-team tournament and the loser 10th.
In the tournament opener on Friday (Dec. 26) Xavier outlasted Mater Dei of Los Angeles in a shootout. Tessa Zaccagnio got the XCP goal in regulation play. According to Xavier coach Barb Chura, this win was noteworthy because Mater Dei’s entire back line was at least 6 feet or taller.
Xavier had another shootout match early Saturday before falling to Buchanan High of Fresno, Calif. 2-1. Again, Zaccagnio got the goal for the Gators during regulation.
“It has been a tremendous trip,’’ said Xavier coach Barb Chura. “The soccer level has been very high, extremely competitive, and the team bonding has been noticeable. We are looking forward to Monday and having an opportunity to play in the final of our bracket. Overall, Rafa (Rios, assistant coach) and I are extremely pleased. ‘’