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, October 31, 2014


Xavier’s Gators did it again!!
Sparked by the rallies of Areta Buness and Teal Weaver, Xavier claimed its second straight badminton championship with a 5-0 victory over Gilbert Perry at Vestar Hall on Thursday night (Oct. 30). Xavier was seeded No. 1, Perry No. 15.
The semifinals had been held in the Activity Center, but the finals were moved to Vestar to accommodate an assembly on Friday morning (Oct. 31).
“The players worked together, had the discipline, and they loved the challenge (of trying to repeat),’’ said XCP coach Nancy Meyer.
“It’s an amazing feeling. It’s really rewarding, considering how hard we have worked all year,’’ said Buness, one of five outgoing seniors on the roster.

Xavier's 2014 state badminton champions: From left, head coach Nancy Meyer, assistant Francis Hartojo, Baani Khurana, Areta Buness, Mallory Belknap, Teal Weaver, Laura Pearl, Kirielle Singarajah and assistant Susie Murphy.

Buness, the Gators’ No. 1 singles player, struggled in her opening game against Perry’s No. 1, Jenna Reynolds.
Reynolds took an 11-4 win in the first game of the best-of-three format and led most of the second game before Buness reached back and rallied for an 11-9 win. The momentum carried over to the third game and Buness prevailed 11-2.
“The first game, I was kind of beating myself,’’ Buness said. “I started to concentrate on getting better serves and focusing my shots going over the net and staying inbounds.’’
Said Meyer: “I was never really worried about Areta. She was a fighter. She is so focused.’’
Weaver, the No. 3 singles player, also fell in her first game, 11-4, to Lauren Kater. Weaver came back in a big way, earning an 11-0 shutout in the second game and an 11-8 win in the decisive game.
How did Weaver regain her composure?
“I just knew how really important these games were, to help us not have to play doubles,’’ she said.
“I was really nervous at first. I was not making my shots. But then I brought it back together. It was a lot of fun to win this with all of the girls.’’
No. 2 Kirielle Singarajah was in control most of the way in an 11-5, 11-4 win over Laike Reader. No. 4 Mallory Belknap defeated Adela Martinez, 11-0, 11-6. No. 5 Baani Khurana had a pair of 11-5 wins over Michaela Dye. No. 6 Laura Pearl won her first game 11-9 but the second game was not necessary after Buness outlasted Reynolds.
The Gators swarmed the court amid shouts of joy. They celebrated with the championship trophy and posed for photos taken by family and friends.
The title was the fifth for Xavier since 2004.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

One big match to go for defending champ XCP

It appears that Xavier Prep’s Gators are playing their best badminton at just the right time.
The top-seeded Gators rolled to a 5-1 victory over No. 5 Phoenix Desert Vista on Wednesday night (Oct. 29), in the state team tournament semifinals, giving the team a chance for a second straight title.
The Gators will be facing a surprise No. 15 team, Gilbert Perry, for the championship on Thursday night (Oct. 30) at the XCP Activity Center. Match begins at 6:30. Perry advanced with a 5-3 win over third-seeded Tempe Corona del Sol.
“It’s nice to be on our home court,’’ said Xavier coach Nancy Meyer.
She was extremely pleased with the way her girls came into the semi focused and ready to go.
“The girls played at the top of their game. They really brought it tonight,’’ Meyer said.
Asked if the players could draw on their experience from playing for last year’s title, Meyer said, “Yes, a little. But every year is a new year and anything can happen.’’
Areta Buness, Xavier’s No. 1 singles player, battled Desert Vista No. 1 Karen Guo down to the wire. Buness, who fell to Guo in the state individual semifinals over the weekend, played valiantly. Buness dropped a 13-10 decision in the first game, came back to win the second 11-7, then fell 11-2 in the deciding game.
“I can’t say enough about how well she (Buness) played. I’m proud of her and proud of all the girls,’’ Meyer said.
No.2 singles player Kirielle Singarajah made quick work of Desert Vista No. 2, Juliette Xiong, 11-4, 11-0. XCP No. 3 Teal Weaver defeated Victoria Fagan, 11-3, 11-8. No. 4 Mallory Belknap topped Laura Volant, 11-0, 11-2. No. 5 Baani Khurana stopped Tamara Sleem, 11-1, 11-8. And No. 6 Laura Pearl put the Gators over the top with an 11-5, 11-5 win over Maren Skidmore.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

V-ball finishes regular season, awaits state bracket

The XCP volleyball team wrapped up its regular season this week with 3-0 road sweeps of Mesa Skyline on Monday (Oct. 27) and Mesa Westwood on Tuesday (Oct. 28).
Skyline scores: 25-11, 25-11, 25-10. Westwood scores: 25-8, 25-11, 25-14.
The defending Division I state champion Gators now have a 34-3 record.
Makena Patterson led the way with nine kills. Callie Jones had 23 assists, Kristen Largay had 15 digs and Lanie Wagner had 10 digs.
Wagner had eight kills against Westwood while Patterson and Hope Helser had seven apiece. Largay had 17 digs and Cierra Flood had 13 assists.
As of Wednesday morning (Oct. 29), the Gators were ranked third by the Arizona Interscholastic Association. The state-tournament brackets will be announced on Friday (Oct. 31).
Xavier is expected to host a first-round match on Nov. 4 and perhaps a quarterfinal match on Nov. 6. Semifinals are Nov. 8 at Gilbert Mesquite and the finals are Nov. 12 at Mesquite.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Gators reach badminton semifinals

Xavier Prep’s top-seeded, defending state champion badminton  team survived its first-round and quarterfinal matches in the 2014 state tournament and will move on to play Phoenix Desert Vista (Ahwatukee) in one semifinal match on Wednesday (Oct. 29) at XCP. The match begins at 6:30 p.m.
The Gators defeated Goodyear Millennium in the first round on Monday night (Oct. 28) and Glendale Mountain Ridge in the quarterfinals, both by 5-0 scores.
Fifth-seeded Desert Vista, which fell to Xavier 5-4 during the regular season, defeated Prescott 5-1 and Mesa Red Mountain 5-2.
No. 3 seed Tempe Corona del Sol and No. 15 seed Gilbert Perry will meet in the other semifinal.
Corona del Sol advanced with 5-1 wins over Gilbert Mesquite and Mesa Skyline. Perry, the tournament’s surprise, eliminated No. 2 seed Glendale Ironwood 5-3 in the opening round. No. 7 seed Phoenix Horizon was next up, and Perry again emerged on top 5-3.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Badminton players shift focus to another team title

Fresh off a strong showing by some of its players in the Division I state individual tournament over the weekend, the XCP badminton team now turns its sights to an attempt to claim a second straight team title.
Xavier is the top seed in the 16-team state event. The Gators will host first-round and quarterfinal matches on Monday (Oct. 27). Xavier also will host the semifinals on Wednesday (Oct. 29) and finals on Thursday (Oct. 30).  First-round games begin at 5 p.m., all other matches at 6:30 p.m.
“It is very exciting. I think this is the first time we have had it,’’ Xavier coach Nancy Meyer said of the team event, held in the remodeled Activity Center.
Is there a bit more pressure on Meyer’s players, given the fact they are the host team and the defending champion?
“Yes, there probably is,’’ Meyer said. “I just try to emphasize that they should play these games like they played during the season and in practice – just work hard and have fun.’’
Xavier will play 16th-seeded Goodyear Millennium in one first-round match at XCP, and No. 8 Phoenix Sunnyslope will face No. 9 Glendale Mountain Ridge in the other match.
The 16 teams in the tournament are Xavier, No. 2 Glendale Ironwood, No. 3 Tempe Corona del Sol, No. 4 Mesa Red Mountain, No. 5 Phoenix Desert Vista (Ahwatukee), No. 6 Mesa Skyline, No. 7 Phoenix Horizon, Sunnyslope, Mountain Ridge, No. 10 Phoenix Mountain Pointe (Ahwatukee), No. 11 Glendale Cactus, No. 12 Prescott, No. 13 Chandler Hamilton, No. 14 Gilbert Mesquite, No. 15 Gilbert Perry and Millennium.
Leading the charge for XCP will be top singles player Areta Buness. The senior was seeded fourth in the individual competition and finished as consolation champion. She defeated Red Mountain’s Samantha Berg 11-7, 7-11, 11-2. Buness dropped an 11-5, 11-1 decision to Desert Vista’s Karen Guo in the semifinals before Guo went on to win the individual title.
Junior Kirielle Singarajah was the No. 10 individual seed. She reached the quarterfinals, where she fell 11-4, 7-11, 11-5 to Hamilton’s Drishti Panse, the eventual runner-up.
In doubles action, XCP’s eighth-seeded Teal Weaver and Mallory Belknap reached the quarterfinal and unseeded Baani Khurana and Laura Pearl were tripped up in an earlier round.
Weaver and Belknap were defeated by No. 1 seed Elle Millon and Ashley Huynh of Hamilton 15-9, 15-11. Millon and Huynh went on to win the consolation title.
Khurana and Pearl were defeated 15-8 and 15-4 by Mountain Ridge’s Katha Patel and Valerie Rozon.
Meyer said Khurana and Pearl “were kind of a wild-card team for us. You never know what is going to happen, and I thought those girls did well.’’
The others in the tourney “were outstanding,’’ Meyer said “I think it was a great experience for all of them.’’
Perhaps an even greater experience awaits, if the Gators can win another team crown.