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.

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.

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