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, May 5, 2016

Neither heat nor foe can defeat champion Gators

Mother Nature turned up the heat on Wednesday (May 4), and so did Xavier Prep’s Gators.
On a day when the temperature reached triple digits for the first time this year, Xavier came up with one of its strongest performances of the year and claimed its fifth Division I sand volleyball state championship in as many tries.
The Gators defeated Tucson Salpointe Catholic 5-0 at Gilbert’s Mesquite High. XCP’s 3-4-5 teams had 2-0 sweeps while teams 1 and 2 went to three games before posting victories.
Xavier head coach Tim McHale, assisted by Sue Contreras, was happy for his players, who finished the season with a 12-0 record. He was asked the not-so-surprising question about which of the title teams was the most impressive.
“This team is the most complete, from top to bottom,’’ he said.
“They did an amazing job. They were focused today and did a good job recognizing (Salpointe’s) tendencies. We ran on positive energy. It’s been that way all year. The kids all bought in.’’
The match originally was scheduled to be played on Saturday (April 30), but weather concerns forced a postponement.
Mesquite officials did a good job of watering the sand, but not to the point to where it affected play. Players and fans brought plenty of sunscreen, and umbrellas mushroomed above some of the crowd for the match that started at 6 p.m., with plenty of sun left.
Shortly after the sun mercifully dipped below the horizon, the Gators were shouting with joy and holding up another trophy.
The Gators had defeated Salpointe 4-1 earlier in the season, but McHale said at that time that the score was not indicative of the Lancers’ abilities. Salpointe had upset a very good team from Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor 3-2 in the semifinals.
“Salpointe . . . I can’t say enough about them. They are a good, solid team,’’ McHale said.
Xavier got a gutsy performance from one of its No. 4 players, junior Kristen Klein, who with junior Emma Cisneros-Luebke scored a 2-0 victory. McHale said Klein had been ill with the flu since Saturday, and only returned to school on Wednesday.
“We told her she didn’t have to play if she didn’t feel like it, that we had an alternate in place,’’ McHale said. “But she said, “No, I’m going to go.’ ‘’
No. 2 player Kasie Thompson, one of three seniors on the team (including Ainsley Ramsey and Cecilia Sampaio) joined junior Cierra Flood for a 2-1 victory.
It has been an emotional few weeks for Thompson. Her stepbrother, Tayler Maggi, a student at Phoenix Sunnyslope, was shot April 14 on a north Phoenix street as he and his girlfriend drove home from dinner. A suspect has been arrested in the case.
Maggi was in very critical condition but since has stabilized, Thompson said. She has led fundraising efforts to help with medical costs. Her teammates have been there for her.
 “I have had great support from my team, and I am thankful for that,’’ Thompson said.
Thompson wrapped up her third year with the team and said it “was great to have a bigger team (more players). We got to know each other pretty well and learned what everybody can do.’’
Xavier’s No. 1 team of junior Macy Gordon and sophomore Caroline White also prevailed 2-1. There were some trying moments, but Gordon said she wasn’t too concerned.
“We had each other’s backs and we powered through,’’ Gordon said.
“We had very good team chemistry. I’ll be back next year and so will a lot of the girls. I can’t wait. I am ready to go right now.’’
In the meantime, Gordon will continue to refine her skills over the summer, including about a month’s worth of actual beach time in California.

Xavier Prep 5, Tucson Salpointe Catholic 0
No. 1 – Macy Gordon and Caroline White def. Salpointe 2-1.
No. 2 – Kasie Thompson and Cierra Flood def. Salpointe 2-1.
No. 3 – Taylor Lopez and Kailey Klein def. Salpointe 2-0.
No. 4 – Emma Cisneros-Luebke and Kristen Klein def. Salpointe 2-0.
No. 5 – Ainsley Ramsey and Alyna Draper def. Salpointe 2-0.

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