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, October 31, 2015

Pearl heeds advice, badminton wins 3rd straight title

“I heard voices.’’
Kind of creepy, considering it was the night before Halloween.
But, no, Laura Pearl wasn’t losing her mind.
Those words were a reflection of the Xavier Prep senior’s resolve when playing her No. 5 singles match against Mesa Red Mountain’s Abby Mann on Friday night (Oct. 30) in the badminton team title match at Gilbert Perry.
Pearl won her first game in the best-of-three showdown quite handily 11-3, but Mann rallied to win the second game 11-6.
The momentum continued for Mann as she took a 10-5 lead in the third and decisive game. Pearl stopped to gather herself, and that’s when the voices showed up.
“They told me to just take one point at a time,’’ she said.
And so she began the task of trying to salvage the game and a get the Gators back into it. One misstep and Red Mountain, which fell to Xavier 6-3 on Oct. 7, would put itself in a position to unseat the Gators, who had won two previous titles and three of the last four.
The point-at-a-time advice worked for Pearl, as she stormed from behind for a 13-10 win. She was mobbed by teammates as she approached the Xavier bench.
Xavier went on to capture another title, 5-3, as the doubles team of Kirielle Singarajah and Katie Russell put the Gators over the top with a 15-1, 15-6 win over Kylee Gillespie and Melissa Schraidt. Xavier finished the season 18-0.

Xavier's Gators celebrate winning their third straight state title with coach Nancy Meyer (blue shirt).
Of all the Xavier titles, this one might mean the most. The team lost four key players from last season to graduation, and needed returning players such as Pearl, Singarajah and Russell to step up.
“This team was the closest of all of them,’’ said Xavier coach Nancy Meyer. “They are all good friends with no drama. They became a true badminton family.’’
Said Pearl: “It wasn’t easy replacing those girls (from 2014). We decided that we were going to come back and do it again. It was a lot different for me, being a leader. But being here right now with these girls in this situation is really amazing.’’
So Pearl now can move on to college (UCLA, she hopes) with a sense of contentment.
Singles winners for Xavier were Singarajah, Russell, Pearl and Emily Woodrow. Woodrow’s match also had some anxious moments, before the junior prevailed in three games. She had lost the first game, then rallied to win two over Jaime Rostron.
The latest Xavier victory was cause for celebration, and many of the girls gathered at Olive Garden afterward.
One player’s mother passed out roses, and another’s father had Xavier blue paint covering his face and head, looking like one of the members of the Las Vegas Blue Man Group.
The Gators will lose four more to graduation – Pearl, Russell, Singarajah and Sydney LaPierre. But don’t be surprised if the team finds a way to earn another trophy in 2016.

State championship match
Xavier Prep 5, Mesa Red Mountain 3
Singles – Kirielle Singarajah, XCP, def. Sam Berg, RM, 11-8, 11-4. Nicole LoDestro, RM, def. Tatum Clarke, XCP, 11-9, 11-9. Melissa Schraidt, RM, def. Sydney LaPierre, XCP, 11-8, 11-7. Katie Russell, XCP, def. Kylee Gillespie, RM, 11-0, 13-10. Laura Pearl, XCP, def. Abby Mann, RM, 11-3, 6-11, 13-10. Emily Woodrow, XCP, def. Jaime Rostron, RM, 5-11, 11-3, 11-4.
Doubles – Berg-LoDestro, RM, def. Clarke-Pearl, XCP. Singarajah-Russell def. Gillespie-Schraidt, RM, 15-1, 15-6.

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