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.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mixing, matching works for sand volleyball

As much as they would like their teams to breeze through every match, coaches know that isn’t a realistic approach. They know that somewhere along the way, the team will face obstacles.
Xavier sand volleyball coach Tim McHale encountered that on Wednesday (March 25) when the Gators faced Gilbert Highland at Gene Autry Park in east Mesa.
He had a handful of players out with injuries/illness, so he had to mix and match with some of his combinations for the two-player teams.
Xavier took a 3-2 victory in perhaps its toughest match of the season, and remained unbeaten at 6-0.
“I’m proud of the way our girls were able to hang in there,’’ McHale said.
The three-time state champion Gators still appear to be on track to make a strong run at another crown, but McHale said, “Beach volleyball here (in Arizona) is headed in a good direction. We understand teams are getting better and there are other strong teams out there lurking.’’
Perhaps the best match of the day was between the schools’ No. 1 duos. The momentum continued to swing back and forth as the players hit the sand on several occasions and even dodged a few bees from the surrounding orange groves that showed up to watch. Highland emerged with the win.
“That (overall match) was one that could have gone either way,’’ McHale said. “Even in the matches we lost, we were right there – we had our opportunities but things just didn’t go our way. We know that it will be our turn soon.’’
One of the bright spots for the Gators was sophomore Francesca Caruso.
She is listed as the team manager, but has the skills necessary to compete as a member of the team if called upon. That happened Wednesday, when she stepped in to play for the No. 5 XCP duo.
Xavier’s next match is Monday (March 30) against Chandler Prep at McQueen Park in Gilbert. Starting time is 4 p.m.

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