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.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Player bonding, hard work lift Xavier soccer

Xavier Prep’s soccer team has played just two matches and will participate in the Excalibur Soccer Invitational from Dec. 26-29 in Santa Ana, Calif. Despite its lean early schedule, one can notice some improvements, ones that could lead to a strong showing as the regular season moves on and even into the Division I state tournament.
The Gators (with shutout wins over Mesa Dobson and Tucson Salpointe Catholic) appear to have a workable mix of youth to go with their older, more experienced players, and are united by good communication led by three senior co-captains.
They are midfielder Kelly Harris, defender Kendall Ward and midfielder Amanda Lane. All are four-year players for XCP.
Harris already has scored a couple of goals, Ward has joined her teammates in preventing opponents from getting the ball close to the goalkeepers and Lane has helped move the ball downfield with good passing to set up some higher-percentage shots.
“My years as a freshman and sophomore were more nervous, but I am confident now,’’ Harris said. “All of our girls are getting closer. We are enjoying it more and having fun.’’
Harris is enjoying her role as a leader.
“It wasn’t until this year that I really felt comfortable with it,’’ she said.
The bonding experience has come in many forms – one of the most noteworthy was a retreat at some of the players’ residences. It was supposed to have been out of town, but the seniors had to take some tests. Still, it worked out.
“We played games, made a music video and talked about some of the stories of Xavier teams of the past,’’ she said. “ “Rafa’ (assistant coach Rafael Rios) printed out some stories and (head coach Barb) Chura had a letter for us. She has written a different one for every team each year.’’
As for the seven seniors on the team, Harris said, “We have put in a lot of hard work and have tried to keep the (Xavier) tradition going, show the younger players how to act.’’
Chura said that Harris, Ward and Lane are very close friends and it shows in how they operate on the field.
“A bond like that is very important,’’ Chura said.
“This year’s team has really bonded and become close in such a short time,’’ Ward said. “It’s nice for the seniors to be available to talk to the younger girls.’’
Playing Xavier soccer is an intense three or four months.
“You don’t have much time for anything else, but that is Xavier life,’’ Ward said. “It’s tremendous. You eat, sleep and breathe soccer. It’s not easy, but it is fun and you are with your friends.’’
Lane said all the players know most of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and work hard to help each other.
“I think as freshmen, we just were starting to play on the field (Petznick) for the first time,’’ she recalled. “We were so nervous, but we’re not that way now. We have the confidence that we can play well and win. We are looking forward to the California tournament and the rest of the season.’’
Rios enjoys coaching the Gators, the captains in particular.
“They really give us a lot of strength down the middle of the field,’’ he said. “They have been well-prepared, and they have shown a lot of leadership and dedication. They work hard and they communicate. They know what needs to happen.’’
If changes need to be made from match to match or even in the middle of a match, the players are receptive to what the coaches want to do.
“They are very good about that,’’ Rios said. “We can see improvement from game to game and in practice, with our passing that gives us a good possession. Everybody works well together, shows appreciation for each other and the team.’’
Ward doesn’t want to get ahead of things, but says that winning another state title “would be awesome. We won it as sophomores and it was the best experience ever. To do it again would be a great way for our seniors to finish their time here.’’

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