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, June 23, 2016

XCP basketball future filled with promise

An energetic group of future Xavier Gators took the floor this week at the XCP Activity Center for the school’s annual basketball camp.
Approximately 30 girls were on hand and went through a number of shooting drills, ball-handling skills and defensive footwork.
On this particular day (Wednesday), assistant coach Wendy Woudenberg was in charge, assisted by several varsity players who will be on the floor for the Gators in 2016-17. Woudenberg, a freshman assistant coach last season, will be the junior-varsity coach this time around.
“The girls seem to be enjoying it,’’ said Woudenberg, a former top player at Scottsdale Christian in Phoenix and player at Wheaton College in Illinois. “It also helps to have the varsity players here, who are continuing to play and who the kids look to because they are close to them in age.’’
The players were broken down into separate groups of the older athletes and the younger ones. Years ranged from fifth graders to incoming freshmen.
Meanwhile, the varsity was wrapping up its participation in an annual summer league at Phoenix Thunderbird.

AIA honors Xavier softball players

The Arizona Interscholastic Association has announced its annual list of softball honors for 2016.
Leading the way was graduated senior center fielder Megan Donahey, named to the All-Division I first team. Senior pitcher Caitlyn Dickman was a Division I second-team selection.
Donahey, Dickman and senior pitcher Emily Richards were named to the Section III first team. Junior outfielder Annamarie Hartman and senior shortstop Becky Ducar were named to the Section III second team.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Campers watch the birdie . . . and hit it

After a long tenure as the badminton coach at Xavier Prep, Nancy Meyer is moving on to other family and business interests. But she has one last goal – to pass along her expertise to young players just learning a sport at the annual summer camp.
Under the watchful eye of Meyer and assistant Susie Murphy, daily two-hour sessions were held each afternoon in the XCP gym.
The girls are responsible for setting up the nets and close to 20 of them are ready to go. With some rock music from a nearby speaker setting the tone, the players go through a series of conditioning drills – yes, badminton players must be in condition.
Most of the players will be incoming freshmen.
“We are looking for new blood, and there’s a nice group of girls out here,’’ said Meyer, who has coached the Gators to several state championships. “There are some freshmen who appear to have some potential.’’
Most of the girls do not have a lot of experience, but they are making strides. Meyer suggested that after the camp is over, the girls continue to develop their skills at Guy Chadwick’s Arizona Badminton Center in the east Valley. A number of Xavier players have worked at the center, including recently graduated senior Kirielle Singarajah.
“This is a good first step, having them learn the basics of the game,’’ Meyer said.
The camp was to conclude with a mini tournament.
If the players wish to continue and have a chance to make the varsity roster, Meyer urged the girls to be involved with open gym later in the summer, which is followed by a week of tryouts as the season officially gets going in late August.

Girls of summer focus on softball essentials

Girls who love softball have found a summer home at Xavier Prep.
Athletes from fifth through ninth grades have been in a week-long camp that wraps up on Friday (June 17).
Xavier coach Carrie Markham reports that there are about 20 players participating, with a broad spectrum of experience.
“Some come in pretty green, while others have some club and/or rec league experience,’’ Markham said. “All of them ask questions. They are interested in learning. Even by the third day (Wednesday), you could see improvement.
“It is a good group of girls. They are all having fun. They have made some friends. It’s not about being above or below anyone (ability-wise). The older ones help the younger ones.’’
The daily schedule usually begins at 8 a.m. at Petznick Field before it gets too hot. The girls are on the field for approximately 90 minutes before going into the gym to cool off a bit and having more drills for another 60-90 minutes.
Markham is assisted by Joe Bogart and Raul Vega as well as a returning player or two who will be on the varsity next spring.
Among the drills on the field are sliding, diving for the ball, going after fly balls, turning double plays and tags, pitching and catching.
Inside the gym are simulated games, with players taking their swings against Markham.
The coach wants the incoming freshmen to learn what it is like to play for Xavier, “what we do each day, how we do it. It is the same for them in the first year in the program through the fourth year.’’
The final day was to include even more fun, spreading a plastic sheet on the turf at Petznick, hosing it down with water and having the players get a running start and then sliding/splashing.
What a great way to spend part of the summer.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

XCP rider Kenzie Riddell sits tall in the saddle

Kenzie Riddell likely will have to miss the first few days of her freshman year at Xavier Prep later this year as well as the freshman dinner.
But she has a good reason.
From Aug. 24-28, she will be one of 15 national participants and the only one from Arizona to compete in the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Dressage Seat Medal Finals in the Chicago suburb of Wayne, Ill.
For those unfamiliar with dressage, here is the description via Wikipedia: According to the International Equestrian Federation, dressage is "the highest expression of horse training" where "horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements."

Incoming XCP freshman Kenzie Riddell will participate in a national dressage event in late August. (Photo courtesy of Riddell family).

 Riddell has been riding for most of her life and the sport has long been a part of her family on her mother’s side. Her uncle and grandmother have been involved in the business and her mother, Wendy, has been riding for a long time and continues to compete.
Wendy Riddell is a graduate of Xavier and recently was named to the school’s Board of Trustees.
“She has been riding every day, before and after school, and it seems to come natural to her,’’ Wendy Riddell said.
Kenzie has been taking a summer class at XCP in Digital Arts. She is getting to know where things are on campus.
She takes care of horses at the family stable, feeds and grooms them.
She rode a female pony, Angel, for a long time but outgrew that animal and now rides a bigger horse, a male named Fashion.
“I love the relationship you can develop with the animal,’’ Riddell said. “For a long time, Angel seemed happy only when I was around her and it’s sort of the same thing with Fashion.’’
Riddell will not ride her own horse at the Medal Finals, but will show up in Illinois a day or two early to become acquainted with the horse she will ride.
She has competed in Arizona’s Interscholastic Equestrian Association where riders pull a horse’s name out of a hat and compete with that horse. So following a similar format at the Medal Finals should not come as a surprise.
Wendy Riddell has competed in that format, and said, “it is very challenging.’’
Kenzie said riding under the format in such an important national competition “will be a little nerve-wracking, but going early should help. You will be able to sense how the horse feels, know by how they hold their head and what their ears do.’’
“Yes, it’s how they rotate them,’’ she said. “If they’re pinned back, they’re probably angry. If they are forward, they should be more focused. What you want to do as a rider is have one forward so they can focus and the other back a little so they will be able to listen to you.’’
She will be dressed in a formal riding outfit. She enjoys the atmosphere that surrounds the sport.
“It’s really a lot of hard work, but there are a lot of friendly people around to help you,’’ she said.
She knows that it will take a lot of hard work when the stakes are raised and she enters Xavier for the full year.
There is a list of clubs she has looked at and is considering robotics, mock trial or being a student ambassador.
“I am a little nervous about starting, but I will be ready to make up any work that I miss,’’ she said of her absence. “At the same time, I am excited about coming to Xavier and I know it will be a wonderful experience.’’