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, June 11, 2016

Young players learn, have fun at volleyball camps

Xavier Prep has developed a strong volleyball tradition over the years. One of the reasons that the Gators are so competitive can be traced to the players starting to learn the XCP way at an early age.
That includes participation in the annual summer camps. A week’s worth of separate sessions for seventh/eighth graders and incoming freshmen concluded on Friday (June 10) at the Xavier Activity Center on campus. Another camp for fifth and sixth graders will be held June 20-24.
Head coach Lamar-Renee Bryant, her assistant coaches and a group of returning varsity players led the players through conditioning drills, developing their skills and competing on teams in a “tournament’’ setting.
Many of the players, at least the older ones, have been playing club volleyball, so their skills don’t have nearly as many rough edges as someone with less experience.
Bryant was encouraged by what she saw, particularly with the seventh/eighth graders. Players at that level as well as the incoming freshmen numbered about 30.

Seventh and eighth graders, with returning varsity players in front row. (Photos courtesy of Lamar-Renee Bryant).

An athletic group of incoming freshmen should strengthen Xavier's volleyball program.
 “At the beginning of the week, they struggled getting three touches with the ball going over (the net),’’ Bryant said. “Now, they not only are getting those touches, but they are having rallies when they play in a team situation.’’
There are no separate skill instructions for the younger players as opposed to the older ones.
“This also is an opportunity for the girls to develop social skills,’’ Bryant said. “Everybody plays and everybody encourages each other. You feel better about yourself when your teammates are telling you that you’re doing a good job. It is an exciting time for them.’’
Virtually all of the girls entering their freshman year will be attending Xavier.
“This is a talented bunch,’’ Bryant said. “Last year’s freshmen were good, but this year’s might be better.’’
There isn’t as much height as some years, but Bryant said the girls can really jump and make up for it with their athleticism.
All of the players wore pink XCP camp T-shirts, and Bryant said that helps the transition to XCP.
“All of our different classes at school wear different colors,’’ she said. “Freshmen are pink, sophomores yellow, juniors green and seniors red.’’
One of the incoming freshmen is Grace Lincoln, who attended elementary school in Ahwatukee. Her brother, Andrew, was a recent volleyball star at Brophy Prep and now is playing in college.
Grace plays for the Spiral club team in the southeast Valley and says skills she learns in this camp can be used in the club setting, and things she learns with club can help her here.
Lincoln said one of the main things she learned during camp week was that “you need to stay on your feet whenever possible instead of going to the floor. I’ve also learned to swing high and through the contact (with the ball) when you make the return.’’
She is familiar with some of the incoming freshmen from the club ranks, but also has enjoyed “meeting new people who love volleyball as much as I do.’’
An exciting freshman year is nearly here.
“I know that you will always have to work your hardest,’’ Lincoln said. “It will be tough (athletically and academically), but you can do it.
“You need to stay focused on the task at hand. You can’t get distracted.’’
That’s the way it’s done at Xavier.

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