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, November 18, 2014

Xavier basketball set to turn things around

Last year is last year. The slate has been wiped clean, and Xavier Prep’s basketball team is good to go for the 2014-15 season.
The Gators have been practicing officially since Nov. 3, and before that were doing individual work on their own, to get ready for the second season under coach Frank Villa.
Xavier struggled a year ago, due in part to injuries and getting acclimated to Villa’s system, finishing 8-21.
That means many opponents on what Villa terms as “one of the toughest schedules in the state’’ could discount the Gators before even stepping on the court.
“Yeah, they might be overlooking us, and in a way, I kind of hope they do because I think we are going to catch some people off-guard,’’ said Villa, who previously coached the girls’ team at Avondale Westview.
“We see nothing but good things ahead of us,’’ said guard Lexi Carbine, who returns for her senior season.
“Everyone wants to play Xavier. They are going to try to beat us. I don’t think they realize how we will be able to turn things around.’’
Villa said the girls have been working hard “and buying into what we (coaches) are trying to teach them. It’s not easy trying to learn a whole new system, but we are getting there.’’
Xavier will have a nucleus of six returnees from last season, four new young players (three freshmen) and a talented transfer, junior Vanessa Murphy. The 6-foot-2 Murphy formerly played at rival Phoenix St. Mary’s and has good bloodlines – she is the sister of former XCP player Samantha “Sam’’ Murphy, who went on to become a star at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.
“We should be able to do everything well,’’ said the 5-8 Carbine, who has been nursing a stretched knee ligament. “We’ve got some good freshmen, Vanessa is here. This year, we have made the adjustment and we are ready to play, ready to take on every school.’’
Villa and his players will get a better idea of what they need to work on after a scrimmage on Thursday (Nov. 20) against visiting Gilbert Highland, one of the annual powers from the southeast Valley and led by one of the state’s top coaches in Miner Webster.
The Gators open the regular season Nov. 28-29 at the Scorpion Shootout tournament hosted by Desert Edge High in Goodyear. First home game at the jazzed-up Activity Center is Dec. 2 against Phoenix Mountain Pointe (Ahwatukee).
Xavier has had good height in the past, but isn’t as fortunate this time around. Murphy and 6-1 freshman Katie Hassett are listed as the only two players at 6 feet or taller.
So Villa is sticking with his plan that is similar to the one he used successfully at Westview – “play a half-court press and continue to work hard,’’ he said. “The girls knew what to expect, so this time they have come in in a lot better shape, which is what you need.’’
XCP also is known for its academic intellect, and Villa is hoping to tap into that.
“Our kids are very smart, so we want them to use their brain on the court, read and react,’’ Villa said.
“Everybody out there will have their individual job, but we also are going to play as a team. We don’t have that one player that does everything, but all of our girls will play well.
“And we are going to give them more freedom to shoot. With some teams, you have to pass the ball at least three times before you are allowed to shoot. But we want them to take a shot if they see something (in the defense) that will allow them to do so.’’

Xavier Gators basketball roster – 2014-15
Head coach – Frank Villa.
Assistant coaches – Michelle Williamson, Stephen Moss.
Players – Cyndeni Carter (5-7 Jr.), Michaela Palladino (5-5 Sr.), Katie Hassett (6-1 Fr.), Marifel Gabriel (5-8 Sr.), Montana Oltrogge (5-11 Fr.), Vanessa Murphy (6-2 Jr.), Tatum Cork (5-10 So.), Brittany Robinson (5-8 So.), Lexi Carbine (5-8 Sr.), Alana Kelley (5-11 Fr.), Sarah Perrin (5-4 Jr.).

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