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, February 27, 2015

Chaparral too much for Xavier lacrosse team

Scottsdale Chaparral is one of the early favorites to capture the prep lacrosse state championship this spring, so Xavier’s Gators knew they had a big challenge for their match on Thursday night (Feb. 26) at Chaparral.
Chaparral tallied four goals within the first 10 minutes of the first half, and the deficit proved to be too much for Xavier to overcome, and the Firebirds went on to an 18-9 victory in their season opener.
Xavier, which opened the season last weekend at a tournament in Avondale and had wins over Phoenix Pinnacle and Phoenix Mountain Pointe early in the week, has a 2-2-2 record.
Senior midfielder Kayla Swanson scored five goals for the Gators and senior midfielder Areta Buness added two.
Chaparral had a height and reach advantage against the Gators and passed the ball well, and kept the ball away from Xavier for a large portion of the match.
Logan Hicks scored virtually at will for Chaparral with 12 goals.
Xavier now has a week off before playing its first home match of the season on March 6 against Phoenix Horizon at Petznick Field.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

XCP softball looks strong in season opener

The first game of a new season always seems to bring its share of uncertainty. How will a team fare and how much will the first performance set the tone for the rest of the season?
For Xavier, all systems are go after an 11-0 win over Peoria Centennial on Thursday (Feb. 26) in the first round of the Peoria Unified School District Tournament at Pioneer Park in Peoria.
The Gators were scheduled to play two more games on Friday’s (Feb. 27) second day, at 10 a.m. vs. Peoria Sunrise Mountain and at noon against Yuma Kofa.
Xavier scored four runs against Centennial in the top of the first inning and never looked back.
Gators coach Bobby Pena is very optimistic about the chances for his team to go a long way. The Gators were ranked fourth among Division I teams by in the preseason.
“We’ve had two very good weeks of practice and our practice yesterday (Wednesday) was the best of all. It was phenomenal. We are capable of being that good, and I usually don’t say things like that,’’ said Pena.
He believes the team has a good balance of pitching, hitting and defense.
“When the hitters and the defense support the pitching, you have a good chance,’’ he said.
Juniors Caitlin Dickman and Emily Richards combined to limit Centennial to six hits. And the defense was strong, with senior catcher Emily Jordan throwing out a pair of baserunners.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Zaccagnio, soccer teammates earn sectional honors

Xavier Prep's soccer team took home numerous honors with the recent announcement of the Division I Section III All-Section teams.
Senior forward Tessa Zaccagnio was named the section's Player of the Year.
She also was selected to the first team, along with XCP teammates Katie Moore, Kendall Ward and Kelly Harris.
Second-team selections were Qui Qui Hita, Abby Hubbard, Amanda Lane and Sydnay Tucker.
There were five honorable mentions -- Maddie Amavilah, Olivia Chan, Natalie Duque, Kinsey Ehmann and Sarah Khoilian.
Congratulations to these great Gators !!

Lacrosse back in action; "A great start to the season'

The XCP lacrosse club team was quite competitive in its first round of games over the weekend and on Monday (Feb. 23).
The Gators fared well in the Southwest Roundup tournament in Avondale. The varsity went 1-1-2, and the two junior-varsity teams each won at least one match, according to varsity coach Caitlin Bebout.
“The JV effort was great, considering it was many of the athletes’ first lacrosse game,’’ Bebout said.
On Monday night, the varsity played at Phoenix Pinnacle and the Gators won 18-17 in overtime.
The JV Blue played on Monday and tied 9-9. The JV White played Tuesday (Feb.24) and won 10-7. Both JV games were against Pinnacle.
“It is a great start to the season so far,’’ Bebout said.
The Gators will remain busy this week. They face Phoenix Mountain Pointe at Pecos Park in Ahwatukee on Wednesday (Feb. 25) and travel to face Scottsdale Chaparral on Thursday (Feb. 26). Both games start at 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Skills, focus help XCP's Gross earn target title

From the time she was in about third grade, Jennifer Gross tagged along with her family when they went on hunting trips. She soon developed a love for shooting, and eventually took some hunting safety courses.
She also became involved in target shooting, and continues to excel as a member of the Xavier Hotshots club team that according to her has about 20 members.
On the weekend of Feb. 14-15, the XCP junior showed everyone just how accurate she can be by earning the girls’ high school championship in the Association of College Unions International Western Regional Collegiate Clay Target Championship at the Ben Avery Shooting Range in north Phoenix. The association also has high school divisions.
Gross captured gold medals in two of the categories (skeet and sporting clays) and a silver in the third (trap). Combined scores in the events added up to the overall winner.
On the Wikipedia Web site, the divisions are described thusly:
*Trap -- The targets are launched from a single "house" or machine, generally away from the shooter.
*Skeet-- Targets are launched from two "houses" in somewhat "sideways" paths that intersect in front of the shooter.
*Sporting clays -- Includes a more complex course, with many launch points.
“In trap, you have to have the discipline to shoot at target after target,’’ Gross said.
“With skeet, you have to be ready for those downward and ascending angles.’’
“The clays to me are the most fun. They never seem to get boring.’’
Gross tried her hand at softball as a freshman, but it took time away from her shooting, so she made her choice.
She is doing well academically at XCP. Her favorite subject is AP English and she enjoys the reading aspect. She expects to do a lot more reading as she aims for possible placement in medical school some day.
And her other favorite thing is to be involved with technical theater, serving as an assistant stage manager for plays.
Next on the competitive shooting agenda is the State Commissioner’s Cup in late March/early April.
XCP junior Jennifer Gross and her awards.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lacrosse offers exciting brand of competition

Strong, graceful and fast.
That is how sixth-year XCP lacrosse coach Caitlin Bebout describes her sport.
Bebout will lead the Gators once again in 2015 after a 9-6 finish last season.
“It’s the fastest sport on two feet,’’ she said.
There are 50 players involved with the club program this spring and will be divided into three teams – varsity and two junior-varsity teams.
Xavier will play approximately 18 games, and starts the season on Saturday (Feb. 21) with a tournament in Avondale. The Gators also will play on Monday (Feb. 23) at Phoenix Pinnacle, a state title contender in the Arizona Girls Lacrosse Association.
“Women’s lacrosse is more graceful. We wear some pads but not nearly like the men,’’ Bebout said. “The men can hit each other. We don’t really do that, although it can get physical at times. The women play with more finesse.’’
Lacrosse is similar to soccer in some respects, played on a full field, but scoring is much more plentiful, between 10 and 20 goals or so per game.
Bebout attended Phoenix Horizon High and played lacrosse at Arizona State.
Players have their sticks with them at all times during practice, even conditioning drills.
“It has to be that way because the stick is the extension of the arm,’’ Bebout said.
Most of the players have three or four years of experience, and the advanced players five or six.
Bebout said the Gators will be “a fast-paced team with a strong midfield and strong attack, with a younger defense that is energetic.’’
Xavier’s top player is senior midfielder Areta Buness, who will play in college at Stanford. Bebout said that Buness is the first NCAA Division I player from XCP. Buness scores a lot of goals and is quick off the draw.
Junior Katie Russell continues to develop into a productive midfielder.
Russell started out as a defender and moved toward midfield where she says she gets the best of both worlds, offense and defense.
When she joined the XCP program, she had played some lacrosse when she was younger, “but I was still nervous my first few times out. I gradually became more comfortable and now I’m really having fun.’’
The games are comprised of two 25-minute halves, and the games have a different feel to them than does practice.
“The game is faster and you have to come out stronger,’’ she said.
She knew many of her teammates from playing at the club level and has enjoyed getting to know more about them each year.
“We get together to eat sometimes, go hiking at Piestewa Peak and have done some community service, like at food banks,’’ Russell said.
It is the job of senior Michelle Valenzuela to keep opponents from scoring as the primary goalie.
She played on the JV for part of her junior year and then was brought up to varsity, where she displayed good skills in a relatively short time.
“I guess I had a knack for stopping things, stopping the ball,’’ Valenzuela said.
The ball comes at the goalie at a much faster pace than with soccer, and the goal is not nearly as big. Valenzuela did not wear many pads at first – “my shins were purple’’ – but now is equipped to go the distance.
“My coaches have shown me about working hard, and it is paying off,’’ Valenzuela said.
Her first varsity game last year against Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep “was terrifying, but it seemed to get better after that.’’
She quickly learned that communicating with her defensive teammates is essential, just like in soccer, letting them know where the opponents are, etc.
“Sometimes I talk so much that by the end of the game, I don’t have a voice left,’’ Valenzuela said. “I keep some of those honey mints with me.’’
Valenzuela says her parents come to watch the Gators play and get excited.
“If other people come out, I think they would feel the same way,’’ she said.