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, April 25, 2015

Clarke, James-Rush strong in state tennis

The state championship trophy is almost within reach, and three tennis players from Xavier Prep are doing everything they can to gain possession of that piece of hardware.
Two-time defending singles champ and No. 1 seed Madison Clarke reached the quarterfinals with a methodical 6-0, 6-1 victory over Glendale Mountain Ridge’s Caroline Plecki on Saturday (April 25) at the Scottsdale Ranch Park and Tennis Center.
And the third-seeded doubles team of Caroline James and Scarlet Rush advanced with a 6-1, 6-2 triumph over Phoenix Pinnacle’s Catherine Lantz and Keiley Mallory.
Xavier had a second doubles team in the tournament. Jordan Craft and Anne Marie Collins won their first match on Friday (April 24) but fell in the second round to the top-seeded sister pairing of Anya and Madeline Lamoreaux of Mesa Mountain View.
Clarke will meet No. 8 seed Julia Ortiz of Chandler High on May 1 at the Paseo Racquet Center in Glendale (3:30 p.m. start). James and Rush will meet the sixth-seeded team of Phoenix Horizon’s Kiana Clarke and Meredith Kenny, also at Paseo (3:30).
Breezy conditions affected the players somewhat on Saturday.
Madison Clarke said she tried to play just a fraction slower than normal “and was more patient with what I was doing.’’
The senior has played against many players in this tournament, but had not faced Plecki. Clarke said she did not analyze her opponent too much, “but just wanted to play my own game, work to my strengths.’’
The fact that Clarke has been in this situation before has helped to minimize any nervousness that might occur.
“I remember the feeling (of winning it all) and it gets me motivated,’’ she said.
The path taken by James and Rush to get here has been a short one. Both had played with other doubles partners most of the season until Rush’s partner, Emily Akin, suffered a concussion in a recent match against Mesa Mountain View and has not been cleared to play.
So assistant coach Amanda Martin, daughter of Xavier head coach Laurie Martin, put James and Rush together. They had not played together much before Friday’s first rounds of action. The two had a first-round bye.
Rush, a senior, is a three-time state doubles champion, having played those years with Margaret Cohen, who graduated in 2014.
“The more we play together, the better it will be,’’ Rush said of her pairing with James, a junior.
Amanda Martin, who won the state doubles champion as a freshman at Xavier in 2003, likes what she has seen of Rush-James.
“They’re both good servers and they play well at the net,’’ Martin said.
James is a left-hander and Rush is a righty, “so that allows us to play most of the time on our forehand side,’’ Rush said.
Communication is essential during the match and if some shots get past them, “we are good about knowing how to shake it off and be encouraging to each other,’’ James said.
“It’s been tough having some injuries and moving around, but we’ve been playing the game long enough that we know what we need to do.’’
Xavier will be involved in team competition beginning Wednesday (April 29), and the top-seeded Gators will open defense of their three straight team titles with a home match against Phoenix Trevor Browne.

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