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.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Gators recover, finish 3rd in hoops tourney

An unbeaten season in basketball happens with about the same frequency as an eclipse – not very often.
So when a team loses, it must try to regain its composure the best it can and face the next challenge with a big dose of resolve.
That is what faced Xavier Prep on Saturday (Nov. 29), the second day of competition in the Scorpion Shootout at Goodyear Desert Edge.
After winning their first two games on Friday (Nov. 28), the Gators came out flat in a semifinal game against Prescott on Saturday and dropped a 44-38 decision. Prescott went on to face Maricopa in the championship game.
Xavier then had a three-hour break and met host Desert Edge in the tourney’s third-place game.
The Gators, who looked tired against Prescott after a physical second game against Buckeye Verrado on Friday night, regained their strength and stamina for Desert Edge and outlasted the Scorpions 48-42.
Xavier (3-1) earned a third-place trophy and junior post player Vanessa Murphy was named to the All-Tournament Team. She scored 17 points against Prescott and 15 against Desert Edge. She combined to hit five three-pointers in the two games.
Xavier faced an eerily similar scenario that it did in the same tournament last year, when it lost a few players to injuries and played in the third-place game. This time, the Gators lost freshman Alana Kelley with a high sprain of her left ankle on Friday night. Coach Frank Villa said she likely will be out 1-2 weeks.
“She would have made a difference (against Prescott),’’ Villa said. “When one of the girls goes down, it hurts. But the good teams don’t fall apart. They have someone who steps up and fills the gap. We did it with teamwork.’’
Villa said the second game “was a lot better than when we started (against Prescott). The defensive intensity was better, and when we (coaches) talked, they (players) listened. That didn’t always happen last year.’’
Murphy got help against Desert Edge from another freshman inside player, Montana Oltrogge, who scored 14 points. Point guard Michaela Palladino and “two’’ guard Lexi Carbine each had a three-pointer to help the Gators stay in front.
Villa admitted that coaching a young, relatively inexperienced team can be a challenge, because you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get, particularly in the early season. Some players are good defensively, but when they touch the ball on offense, watch out – the ball could end up in the wrong hands or go out of bounds.
“I think we are doing quite a bit better overall,’’ Villa said. “The younger players have a better idea of what they’re supposed to do. Sometimes they get excited out there and we have to try to get them to control that if we can.’’
Against Desert Edge, Xavier had an 11-point lead with 4:45 to go in the game, but the Scorpions had cut the deficit to three with a little less than three minutes remaining.
Oltrogge scored four points down the stretch, including a pair of pressure free throws with 31 seconds left, and Carbine converted two free throws with 21 seconds left to allow the Gators to catch their breath.
Xavier gets back at it on Tuesday (Dec. 2) with its home opener at the Activity Center against southeast Valley powerhouse Phoenix Mountain Pointe (Ahwatukee). Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

Friday, November 28, 2014

XCP basketball team wins 1st two games in tourney

After watching Xavier’s first two basketball games of the season on Friday (Nov. 28) in the Scorpion Shootout at Goodyear Desert Edge – the Gators are going to be worth the price of admission.
They are going to bring an exciting style of play with aggressiveness on defense, a productive offense and a tireless work ethic.
They brought that to the table on Friday with their first two wins of the season, 55-18 over Scottsdale Desert Mountain and 63-55 over Buckeye Verrado.
With the win over Verrado, Xavier advanced to a winner’s bracket game on Saturday (Nov. 29) at 1:30 p.m. against either Yuma Gila Ridge or Prescott, which played a late game on Friday night.
Xavier utilized its pressure defense from the start against Desert Mountain, essentially running the Wolves into the ground by forcing 28 turnovers.
The Verrado game had a much different tempo. It was a physical contest in which 50 fouls were called, 29 on the Gators. Xavier would grab a comfortable lead, only to have Verrado come back to within a few points.
Verrado’s only lead was 3-0 on a three-pointer to begin the game, but the smaller Vipers hung tough.
“The girls did a great job adjusting,’’ said Xavier second-year coach Frank Villa. “I told them, “Different teams are going to give you different looks.’ That’s what we got today, a couple of different looks.’’
Junior Vanessa Murphy, a 6-foot-2 junior, clearly is Xavier’s top player.
She can handle the ball when necessary against defensive pressure, she crashes the boards and she plays solid defense.
Murphy scored a team-high 20 points against Verrado after a 9-point effort against Desert Mountain.
Senior point guard Michaela Palladino did a good job running the offense and finding her teammates for higher-percentage shots as she did in critical stages of the game against Verrado.
And the Gators have three promising freshmen – 6-1 Katie Hassett, 5-11 Montana Oltrogge and 5-11 Alana Kelley.
Hassett had 8 points in the first game and 6 in the second. Oltrogge had a team-high 14 in the first game and 10 in the second.
And Kelley had 10 in the first game – including a pair of three-pointers – before going down just 23 seconds into the second game with an injury to her left ankle. Villa said she was expected to get X-rays to determine the severity and it is unknown how long she will be sidelined.
Kelley’s long-range shooting potential can bring defenses out and open up the inside for Murphy and others. Kelley also can drive to the basket and is aggressive on the boards.
Murphy and sophomore guard Brittany Robinson each connected on a key three-pointer in the fourth quarter of the second game for the Gators to minimize the chances that Verrado would be able to come back.
“Our defense is the whole key for us,’’ Villa said. “It allows us to get points off the transition. Last year was tough on the girls in terms of trying to learn what we were teaching them and being in shape, but now they realize what we are trying to do, and the way we played today will help them build some confidence.’’

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Xavier volleyball players honored by media outlet

Another strong finish by Xavier Prep’s volleyball team has resulted in individual honors for five of its players.
Junior outside hitter Khalia Lanier led the way – she was named to the American Family Insurance All-USA All-Arizona team by The Arizona Republic and Lanier was the Big School Player of the Year in 2013 as a sophomore.
The All-Arizona team recognizes players regardless of classification – divisions I through V.
"Khalia is a phenomenal athlete who works hard for everything she receives,'' said XCP Coach Lamar-Renee Bryant. "This year, she fought through adversity and continues to excel on the court and in the classroom. Her smile is infectious to her teammates and she truly loves to compete.''
Xavier, which reached the Division I semifinals before falling in five sets to Chandler Hamilton, also had four honorable mention selections.
They were senior middle blocker Kate Even, junior setter Callie Jones, junior libero Kristen Largay and freshman outside hitter Lanie Wagner.
"Kate Even has an energetic spirit that is contagious to all her teammates,'' Bryant said. "As a 6-foot middle, Kate uses her speed and agility to dominate at the net. Kate always has a smile on her face and is eager to support her teammates. As a senior leader, Kate has shown growth and maturity that proves she is ready for the next level as she pursues here dream of playing at the collegiate level.''
Bryant on Callie Jones: "She developed this year into a true setter. She has the command of the offense, and has learned to isolate her hitters to get the Gators attacking at a high efficiency rating throughout the year.''
Bryant on Kristen Largay: "A fierce competitor who works hard for everything she gets. Largay is a student of the game and leads by example. She takes pride in doing the little things well.''
Bryant on Lanie Wagner: "A freshman standout who can play six rotations. Wagner is a star in the making and we are looking forward to seeing her grow and lead the Gators in the future.''

Congratulations to these players for these honors and to the team for a great season !!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Soccer team offers "good mix' of age and talent

Optimism covers the Xavier soccer program like a blanket.
Coach Barb Chura and her players will begin their journey on Dec. 4 against Tempe Corona del Sol at the Tempe Sports Complex in south Tempe (next to the Cardinals’ training facility).
Chura is looking forward to that test, and says, “It will be a good group but, we have a lot of training to do. I like the team. We have a good mix of levels (ages) and talent.’’
The Gators had a recent three-way scrimmage with Scottsdale Chaparral and Gilbert Highland, and they did a solid job. They appeared to move the ball around well and had good anticipation in terms of where their teammates would be on the field.
XCP will have seven seniors, four juniors, six sophomores and six freshmen on the varsity roster. Chura said there are quite a few more freshmen who are expected to bolster the junior-varsity and freshman levels.
“The tryouts were fast and furious,’’ Chura said. “Trying to assess all that talent isn’t always easy. But it is encouraging to have a lot of new, talented players.’’
Xavier finished 14-6-2 last season and reached the Division I semifinals, where it fell to eventual champion Phoenix Pinnacle. Star Kellie Peay, now at Santa Clara, will be difficult to replace, but the Gators will do their best in terms of leadership and production on the field.
Senior defender Kendall Ward, who played outside backer as a junior alongside Peay in the middle much of last season, is moving over to take Peay’s spot.
Middle backer is not strange to Ward – she played the position for the Blackhawks club team in north Scottsdale. But she said she watched Peay closely last season and learned what to do on the field as well as playing a leadership role.
“She (Peay) played her best all the time and that’s what I’m going to try to do,’’ Ward said. “She was a strong player. I like it that I can help the team out by seeing just about everyone on the team and try to direct them where they need to be.’’
Senior midfielder Amanda Lane also should play an important role this season.
“We have a lot of hard workers on this team and some of the younger ones have already shown that they can handle what they need to do pretty well,’’ Lane said. “We think we have a good chance to bounce back, go to the (state) tournament and get pretty far.
“It’s important that the seniors set an example, let the younger ones know what to expect, to keep up the tradition and remind them of some of the little things like tucking in their shirts, and we want to show them about everything.’’
Ward added that the seniors were due to host some of the younger players for activities over the weekend to help with bonding.
Asked what kind of team she will have this season, Chura said, “We don’t know yet. It is way too early. We need some back-to-back training days.
“We’ve always been the type of team that is possession-oriented. We build momentum from the back (defenders) to the midfielders to the forwards, keeping the ball wide at times, utilizing the whole width of the field. So far, I think the girls have been grasping what we are trying to do.’’
Chura will rely on six or seven primary starters and rotate others in, but said, “That could change, depending on who we play and if there are any injuries.’’
She was pleased with the girls’ effort in the scrimmage.
“There were a lot of nerves, which can be expected, but they eventually settled in,’’ she said. “We still have a lot to do, a lot to figure out.’’
Ward also thought the scrimmage went well.
“We have a lot of potential and I think the team is going to grow,’’ she said. “I think we do a little bit of everything well. We have a lot of good players and our goalies (senior Sydnay Tucker and freshman Kinsey Ehmann) who are going to help us.’’
Asked about the main thing the Gators learned from last season’s state tournament, Ward said, “We thought we were going to be in the finals, but we weren’t. We learned not to take anything for granted. We have to continue to work as hard as we can.’’

Xavier Prep varsity soccer roster – 2014-15
Head coach – Barb Chura.
Assistant coach – Rafael Rios.
Trainer – Laurie White.
Managers – Sally Shipley, Kate Davey, Anna Rankine.
Players – Kinsey Ehmann (Fr. GK), Sydnay Tucker (Sr. GK), Nika Gorski (Fr. D), Abby Hubbard (Fr. F), Hannah Krumholz (Jr. F), Aida Zerabruk (Sr. F), Madie Amavilah (Soph. MF/D), Kaity Ward (Fr. D), Natalie Duque (Soph. MF), Tessa Zaccagnio (Sr. F), Maddie Khoilian (Sr. MF), Madeline Warren (Fr. D), Kelly Harris (Sr. MF), McKenna Soha (Jr. D), Amanda Koepke (Jr. D), Elena Zurek (Soph. D), Kendall Ward (Sr. D), Sarah Khoilian (Jr. MF), Quiqui Hita (Soph. F), Rebecca Ryan (Fr. MF/F), Katie Moore (Soph. D), Amanda Lane (Sr. MF), Olivia Chan (Soph. D).

Another star in the sky -- golfer Mikayla Fitzpatrick

Is there enough room in the night sky for another Xavier star student-athlete?
Of course there is – the brighter the better !!
Junior Mikayla Fitzpatrick had added her name to that crowded galaxy with a strong showing for the Gators in the Division I state tournament and, most recently, as the recipient of the Junior Golf Association of Arizona Girls Championship Player of the Year Award.
The award was presented on Sunday (Nov. 16) by PGA golfer Brandel Chamblee at a banquet at Moon Valley Country Club in Phoenix.
Fitzpatrick also received a golf bag with her name on it.
She earned the award by accumulating more points in her category (for scoring average) than any other golfer. She played in 17 JGAA events, mostly over the summer, of which 15 were used for the points rating.
“We played all over Phoenix and some across the state,’’ Fitzpatrick said, listing the Encanto, Wigwam, Dobson Ranch and Phoenix Country Club courses as some of the more notable sites.
The awards ceremony, she said, “was really fun. It was nice to be recognized by a well-known pro golfer.’’

Junior Mikayla Fitzpatrick is all smiles after winning the Junior Golf Association of Arizona Player of the Year award as well as helping Xavier win the 2014 state championship in Division I, the school's 32nd.
 During the last year and into the Xavier season this fall, Fitzpatrick put an emphasis on course management, the best way to play certain holes, as well as getting stronger with her swing. She got a list of exercises to strengthen her core and worked mainly on her own in that aspect.
“It allowed me to do better, to be more consistent,’’ she said.
Fitzpatrick seldom has been slowed by injuries, but received a scare at this year’s state tournament, held at the Aguila Golf Course in Laveen.
She shot a 77 in the opening round, due in part to a stiff and sore back that appeared out of nowhere. It affected her swing – “It was like a knot,’’ Fitzpatrick said -- but she toughed it out and finished. Xavier golf coach and athletic director Sr. Lynn Winsor said Fitzpatrick went directly from the course to a chiropractor after the first round.
Fitzpatrick came back the following day for a final-round 67, the lowest round of her career. It allowed her to finish in a tie for fourth place with teammate Emily Mahar and helping the Gators win the 32nd title in the history of the school while setting a team record for fewest strokes overall.
“There was no pain the second day,’’ Fitzpatrick said, still sounding relieved at the thought.
Said Winsor: “She came back and played some great golf. It was nice to see. I was proud of her, because something like that is a tough thing to do.’’
Fitzpatrick has taken a couple of weeks off after the tournament and soon will begin working out and then getting back on the course to make sure she doesn’t lose anything off her game.
There is another year to go before Fitzpatrick has to officially decide on a college, but she isn’t all that worried at the moment. She continues to concentrate on her academics (straight A’s).
She has talked to a few college coaches and has had informal visits at a couple of campuses.
“I want to leave my options open, do what’s best for me,’’ she said. “I originally had a goal of committing to a school by the end of my junior year, but I’m not going to do it just to do it. I don’t want to force myself.’’
Fitzpatrick started taking group golf lessons at age 8 and started playing in tournaments at around 12.
“I always wanted to come to Xavier and play for their team because of their great tradition,’’ she said.
She is nearing the middle of her junior year, and is looking forward to seeing what the second half brings, as well as her senior year.
“Going here and playing golf here has been great,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “The team is competitive, and getting into the top five (individuals) is a difficult thing to do. So you have to work hard. The girls (teammates and others) have accepted me and we’re good friends.’’
Fitzpatrick admits she does not have a lot of spare time. At Xavier, she also participates in diversity events such as retreats. She said at one event, at Chauncey Ranch in Mayer, she served as a counselor with 60-70 girls in attendance. She also is involved in dance – all types.
She displays all the attributes of a star student-athlete. Look up into the night sky and you just might see her.