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.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Golfers tee off with win; Volleyball has 3-way scrimmage

Gator Golf is alive and well.
The defending Division I champs (31 crowns overall) began the 2014 campaign on solid footing by defeating Scottsdale Chaparral and Phoenix North Canyon on Wednesday (Aug. 27) in a three-way match at Phoenix Country Club.
Xavier shot 143, Chaparral 157, and North Canyon 222.
XCP junior Alisa Snyder took medalist honors with a 34 over nine holes.
Senior Madison Kerley tied for second at 35. Sophomore Emily Mahar was third with a 36, junior Mikayla Fitzpatrick was fifth with a 38 and sophomore Lily Worden tied for sixth with a 41.
The Gators will have another home match on Sept. 3 at Phoenix CC, facing Phoenix Horizon and Anthem Boulder Creek.

Lamar-Renee Bryant, coach of XCP’s defending Division I state champion volleyball team, went on a fact-finding mission on Wednesday when the Gators faced state runner-up Chandler Hamilton, defending Division II champion Phoenix Sunnyslope and Chandler Basha in a set of scrimmages at Hamilton.
The teams played the others in a round-robin format for about 20 minutes each.
“I was looking for a longer laundry list of things we need to work on, and I got exactly what I wanted,’’ Bryant said.
Compared to the other teams, Bryant said the Gators have not been practicing nearly as long leading up to this point.
“So we have about three practices left (before the season opener at home against Peoria Centennial on Sept. 2) and we need to work on a lot of different things that make sense for the long haul,’’ Bryant said.
The Gators had a preseason scrimmage against Hamilton a year ago, “and they cleaned our clocks,’’ Bryant said. “So in that sense, we are better.’’
Still, there is plenty of room for improvement across the board, including the communication aspect.
Bryant was impressed with junior libero Kristen Largay, “who wore that special (libero) shirt well.’’
After the Centennial match, Xavier will have two more matches at home, against rival Phoenix Horizon (Sept. 3) and Mesa Desert Ridge (Sept. 9). The first road encounter will be with Gilbert Highland on Sept. 10.

Varsity, JV badminton open with sweep of Chaparral

XCP’s varsity and junior-varsity badminton teams opened the 2014 season with resounding triumphs over Scottsdale Chaparral on Wednesday (Aug. 27) at Xavier.
The varsity, which captured the Division I state championship in 2013, was a 9-0 winner over the Firebirds, as was the JV.
“Considering it was the first match, we looked pretty good, and the younger girls, particularly on the JV, stepped it up,’’ said varsity and JV head coach Nancy Meyer.
The mid-afternoon match drew a good gathering of spectators.
They watched Xavier’s No. 1 player, Areta Buness, defeat Chaparral’s JoVanna Romeo 11-3, 11-4.
And the Gators’ top doubles team of Mallory Belknap and Teal Weaver posted a 15-5, 15-13 win over Michaela Soden and San Bracken. The second game was touch and go before the Xavier duo managed to get the sweep.

Xavier's No. 1 doubles team of Mallory Belknap, left, and Teal Weaver, center, receive instruction from assistant coach Francis Hartojo in between games.

After playing with other doubles partners last season, this was the first time that Belknap and Weaver played together in an official match.
“We were kind of rusty and we need to figure stuff out, ‘’ Belknap said. “The biggest thing is communication, continuing to let each other know what we are doing. But that shouldn’t take too long for us to improve.’’
Asked about the pair’s strengths, Belknap said, “I am a better “dropper’ and Teal is a better “smasher.’ ’’
Belknap and Weaver wore matching “Angry Birdies’’ T-shirts (after all, this is badminton) from a season or two ago. They had fun but were all business at the same time.

Teal Weaver, left, and Mallory Belknap wore colorful T-shirts while winning their first doubles match of the season against Scottsdale Chaparral.

“It was an exciting first game,’’ Weaver said. “I think we will be more focused as the season goes along.’’
The Gators were scheduled to play again on Friday (Aug. 29) at Desert Vista in Ahwatukee, but that match has been postponed until Oct. 17.
So the team’s next match will be Sept. 9 at Phoenix Sunnyslope with a start time of 3:30 p.m.

Results vs. Chaparral

Varsity singles

No. 1 Areta Buness, XCP, def. JoVanna Romeo, C, 11-3, 11-4.
No. 2 Kirielle Singarajah, XCP, def. Michaela Soden 11-2, 11-3.
No. 3 Teal Weaver, XCP, def. Aily Bracken 11-1, 11-9.
No. 4 Mallory Belknap, XCP, def. San Bracken 11-5, 11-0.
No. 5 Maisie Porter, XCP, def. Jenkah Davis 11-2, 11-2.
No. 6 Laura Pearl, XCP, def. Mooria Walker 11-1, 11-0.

Varsity doubles

No. 1 Teal Weaver-Mallory Belknap, XCP, def. Michaela Soden-San Bracken, C, 15-5, 15-13.
No. 2 Kirielle Singarajah-Maisie Porter, XCP, def. JoVanna Romeo-Aily Bracken 15-5, 13-15, 15-4.
No. 3 Areta Buness-Laura Pearl, XCP, def. Jenkah Davis-Mooria Walker 15-1, 15-0.

JV singles

No. 1 Katie Russell, XCP, def. Lauren Prince, C, 11-0, 11-0.
No. 2 Sydney LaPierre, XCP, def. Chrissy Pear, 11-1, 11-1.
No. 3 Kioena McDonald, XCP, def. Allin Pear, 11-0, 11-2.
No. 4 Tatum Clark, XCP, def. Linda Puccini, 11-1, 11-0.
No. 5 Katie Harris, XCP, def. Tpaisna Patel, 11-1, 11-0.
No. 6 Adanna Padda, XCP, def. Brinna McCool, 11-0, 11-0.

JV doubles

No. 1 Katie Russell-Sydney LaPierre, XCP, def. Lauren Prince-Missy Pear, C, 15-1, 15-1.
No. 2 Kioena McDonald-Tatum Clark, XCP, def. Allin Pear-Linda Puccini, 15-0, 15-5.
No. 3 Katie Harris-Adanna Padda, XVP, def. Tpaisna Patel-Brinna McCool, 15-5, 15-0.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fall sports ready to go

Xavier College Prep’s 2014 fall sports season is almost here.
The Gators have been busy having tryouts and practices for golf, volleyball, badminton, swimming and diving, cross country and freshman tennis.
Here is a quick look at how the girls are progressing . . .
The Xavier crew shoots for 32 – 32 state championships since 1979, and fourth in a row.
Coached by athletic director Sr. Lynn Winsor and Tui Selvaratnam, the Gators have plenty of talent returning in 2014, led by 2013 second-place finisher Madison Kerley, Alisa Snyder and Rebecca Redhorse. All are seniors.
Selvaratnam said the team had 11 players come out. The goal is to have everybody play in at least seven of the 11 matches (there also are invitationals). The team had 12-14 players last year.
Kerley spent most of her summer playing in area and national tournaments and attempting to qualify for other national events. She plays a lot at Forest Highlands, near her family’s summer home in Flagstaff.
“We’re looking forward to another good year,’’ Kerley said.
Snyder has been working on her short game (chipping, etc.).
“That’s the most important part for me,’’ she said.
Kerley has committed to ASU and Snyder still is waiting to decide.
Redhorse, who is looking at Dartmouth and Southern Illinois, constantly aims for consistency.
Because the girls are so busy with golf and school activities, she and Sr. Lynn emphasize the maintenance of good health and nutrition, and expect the girls to do well academically.
The Gators play their home matches at Phoenix Country Club or Camelback Golf Club. First match is Aug. 27 against Scottsdale Chaparral and Phoenix North Canyon at PCC.
Lamar-Renee Bryant, in her second season as the Gators’ varsity coach, hopes to lead her team to a second straight Division I championship. The Gators won it all in 2013 by defeating Chandler Hamilton in the finals and highly regarded rival Phoenix Horizon in the semifinals.
The Gators lost six key seniors, but appear to have enough talent to make another run.
At the top of the list is junior outside hitter Khalia Lanier, who was The Arizona Republic’s Big Schools Player of the Year. She already has made a college commitment to USC. The 6-foot-3 has pure power, and is learning to add finesse to her repertoire.
Bryant had about 50 girls try out for the freshman team. Some were asked to work out with the varsity, and most everyone will be divided among the varsity, junior-varsity and freshman teams.
The freshmen played in Vestar Hall and the varsity in the upgraded gymnasium. It received a new coat of paint, the floor was improved, and there is a new, modernized version of the “Ali’’ Gator mascot overlooking the courts.
Bryant is asking her players to be flexible and versatile.
“We’re looking for the attitude, the willingness to do anything,’’ she said. “Most of them have played club ball, so they’re already familiar with such things as what setters and outside hitters do.’’
Lanier is tall and the Gators have decent height but are not super tall as was Horizon in recent seasons, with six or seven players at 6 feet or taller. But as the Gators proved last season, you don’t have to be the tallest team to win a championship.
When the varsity began practice, the girls gathered in a big circle for a team prayer. Then they had conditioning drills, running across the gym floor in one direction, then skipping back.
The Gators (all three levels) open the season Sept. 2 at home against Peoria Centennial. The freshmen play at 4 p.m., the JV at 5 and varsity at 6.
Trying to sort out the best among 57 players trying out was quite a challenge for coach Nancy Meyer, who led Xavier to the state title last season.

The team usually carries about a dozen players, perhaps as many as 18.

The Gators worked strictly on singles, not doubles. Doubles is something to which the players must become accustomed during the season when their strengths are better known.
“You have to build the right chemistry,’’ Meyer said.

She will need some depth because one of her top seniors, Baani Khurana, is out for about six weeks with an injury.
Meyer is looking for good athletes. Don’t laugh -- you have to be a good athlete to succeed in this sport.

“We look for agility, quickness, good hands, good footwork and a good flow to their game,’’ Meyer said.
Xavier opens its season Aug. 27 against Chaparral at home.

Swimming and diving
Kelley Conrad, a coach at the Scottsdale Aquatic Club, has taken over the program and is optimistic that the Gators can challenge for the Division I crown. Xavier finished second to Phoenix Desert Vista in 2013.

The Gators have been practicing at the beautiful new pool at next-door Phoenix Brophy College Preparatory. The two teams use adjacent pools and will have their home meets there.
“Things have been going really well,’’ Conrad said. “I have enjoyed myself. We have great expectations. The girls have responded really well and have been respectful.’’

There are about 35 swimmers and a handful of divers taking to the water.
“We’ve asked them to work hard, and they’re doing that,’’ Conrad said.

The team appears to be somewhat balanced in terms of class standing.

It’s a bit early to tell whether the Gators will be stronger in the longer events or in the sprints.
“That’s to be determined,’’ Conrad said.

The Gators have always relied on balance. That is why they have won 27 titles, the most recent in 2012.
The first meet of the season will be Sept. 4 at Brophy against Phoenix Mountain Pointe.

Cross country

Can you imagine going out for a long run at 5 a.m.? For the Xavier Gators, it is commonplace in the preseason and early in the season.
The Gators are led by Dave Van Sickle, in his 25th year as coach. They were Division runner-up to Phoenix Desert Vista last season.

“You’ve got to try to beat the heat,’’ said Van Sickle, who also coaches the XCP track and field team.
The girls run two miles as a warm-up, come back to the track on the Brophy Sports Campus, go five miles on the track, followed by a “cool down’’ of two more miles.

Proper hydration is extremely important.
“We tell them about it until we are blue in the face,’’ Van Sickle said.

The coach added that his team has some very good leaders this season in seniors Lauren Kinzle, Sierra Brown and Shannon Molvin, and a few promising freshmen.
The old dual meets are now a thing of the past, and most teams compete in “invitationals.’’

This season, the Gators will run in the Peaks Invitational in Flagstaff (Sept. 6), the Woodbridge Classic in Irvine, Calif. (Sept. 20), the Doug Conley at Rollins Hills Golf Course in Tempe (Sept. 27), the Desert Twilight at Grande Sports World in Casa Grande (Oct. 3), and the Rattler Invitational in Marana (Oct. 18).
Freshman tennis

You have to start somewhere, and coach Laurie Martin welcomed about 70 players to this year’s first workout on Aug. 18.

Martin, who also coaches the varsity team in the spring, said most girls who come out have not played before. That’s OK.
It is a no-cut program.

“We are passionate about the girls at this grass-roots level and we want them to be passionate about the sport,’’ Martin said. “We want them to think about playing this sport (most of them recreationally) for the rest of their lives. We want them to see progress and feel good about themselves.’’
Martin said she does want her players to be in decent condition.

Teams are divided into 10 “color groups’’ with six or seven players on each team. Teams will play two or three times per week, and the season does not last long, until the middle of October.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sports Illustrated "Faces in the Crowd"

Fans who read Sports Illustrated most certainly had to do a double-take while perusing the popular “Faces in the Crowd’’ feature in the Aug. 4 issue.

That’s because two athletes from the same school – your very own Xavier College Preparatory – shared the spotlight.

It’s rare enough when one school or individual is chosen from hundreds (maybe thousands?) across the country, but having two athletes from the same school in the same issue rarely happens.
Khalia Lanier and Madison Clarke, take a bow!

Lanier, starting her junior year, is widely considered to be the top volleyball player in Arizona and one of the best in the nation. The outside hitter helped Xavier win the Division I state championship in 2013.

The 5-foot-2 Clarke is more than a foot shorter than the 6-3 Lanier, but what she has done on the tennis court is no less impressive. Clarke, now a senior, has won the last two individual Arizona state tennis championships and is aiming for a third in the spring of 2015. As a team, Xavier has won three in a row.

Lanier and Clarke do not really know each other, but they are impressed and prideful of the other’s accomplishments.

“It’s pretty cool to have both of us in there at the same time,’’ Lanier said.

Said Clarke: “Somebody said that I might be in Sports Illustrated. I’m like, “What?’ I also didn’t know she (Lanier) would be in there. I was looking down the list and saw “Xavier,’’ and realized that we both were in. It’s still kind of hard to believe. A lot of my friends have said, “I saw you.’ ’’
Lanier helped lead the Arizona Storm to a second straight gold-medal performance at the junior nationals in Minneapolis.

Clarke recently won the first New Balance high school nationals in Cambridge, Mass., rallying to defeat a California player in two straight sets after dropping the first.

Lanier began to gain notoriety as a freshman at Xavier and was The Arizona Republic’s Big Schools Player of the Year as a sophomore last season. Everything seemingly has happened so fast.

“Sometimes I sit back and think, “How did I even get here?’ It has all been amazing. I am so fortunate,’’ Lanier said.

Lanier’s parents, including father Bob, a former long-time star in the NBA, have counseled her on remaining humble.

“I am reminded of it many times by many people,’’ she said. “In a way, it’s easier for me because I am hard on myself and I realize that at any given moment, it could all be taken away for whatever reason.

“It’s great to get all the support I have received. I love Xavier, the whole school. I love wearing the team’s uniform, love being with my teammates.’’

One of her teammates, Hope Helser, has relatives who operate an orphanage in South Africa, so both girls went there during the summer and helped with the kids.

“It was a great experience,’’ Lanier said.

She recently made her college commitment to USC (pre-med is a possibility) and this fall will attempt to fit more into a leadership role with Xavier after the graduation of six key Gators from last season.

“You have to remember that she still is only 15 years old,’’ said Xavier varsity coach Lamar-Renee Bryant. “Her volleyball IQ continues to grow. She wants to add the leadership tool to her toolbox. And I think the fact that she made her commitment will allow her to play free (of recruiting worries).’’

Clarke was introduced to tennis at an early age and followed in the footsteps of her paternal grandfather and her father, both decent players in their own right.
“I just love playing,’’ she said.

Due in part to her height, she likes to be mentally stronger than her opponents. She prefers to be aggressive from the first serve of the match instead of waiting around too long to see what the other person is going to do.

“I try not to think too much, just react,’’ she said. Clarke hopes to continue to play in college – perhaps in California, where she could study marine biology. She likes dolphins, and has even gone swimming with them in Mexico. Helping them eat – primarily fish and squid -- (eeeyeeew!) – is another story altogether.

So until the varsity tennis season begins in the spring – she will continue to work on her game several times a week with a coach.

“I believe in myself – I know I can win,’’ she said.

Clarke and Lanier know that their recent national recognition doesn’t come without hard work. That’s a way of life at Xavier.

Khalia Lanier
Madison Clarke