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.

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.

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