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

XCP aims for 4th straight tennis title

Xavier’s Gators are gearing up to make a run at a fourth straight Division I tennis championship.
Coach Laurie Martin believes her team has the talent to accomplish that objective and has heard others around the state say the same thing, but maintains caution.
“We don’t want to put the cart before the horse,’’ she said. “You have to be sure to go out there and put the work in. And you never know what is going to happen.’’
Xavier has been so dominant that the team has not had to use its doubles players in the last three state tournaments.
Martin follows a similar approach with the upper-level teams as she does with the freshman teams that play in the fall – no cuts. There are 70 players “trying out’’ this spring and will be placed on one of four teams – varsity, junior varsity, “B,’ and rookie.
The players’ skill levels have a wide range. She wants the players to be active and grow with the sport and play and enjoy it well beyond their high school years.
The varsity will have 24 players with Martin being able to mix and match with who might be available on a particular day. Some players’ academic workloads are greater on certain days and that takes precedence.
Here is Martin’s quick evaluation of the players who are likely to be in the top six . . .
*Madison Clarke. The senior will be going for her third straight singles title. “She is a gift to our program, the best player the school has had in my tenure,’’ Martin said. Clarke will be headed to Santa Clara on a tennis scholarship.
*Scarlet Rush. The senior is a good singles player and maybe even better at doubles. She won the last three state doubles titles with Maggie Cohen, but Cohen has graduated and Rush is looking for a new partner. Who will it be? “It takes a lot of skill to be a good doubles player,’’ Martin said.
*Emily Aiken. The freshman did not play freshman tennis in the fall but worked a great deal on her own. Martin is impressed with the way she can continually control opponents’ shots out of the air. “That’s a difficult thing to do for any player, and you don’t just see that in a player her age,’’ Martin said.
*Ann Marie Collins. The senior has been a constant at the varsity level, “and she gives us that stability,’’ Martin said.
*Jordan Craft. The sophomore is like a human backboard, according to Martin. “She has a steady game, continues to return shots. She prolongs the game and waits for the opponent to make a mistake, get frustrated, and a lot of times, they do.’’
*Caroline James. The junior left-hander “is a spitfire,’’ Martin said. “She is feisty, kind of emotional. She is small, but she plays a lot bigger. She competes well.’’ James also would make a strong doubles player.

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