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.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Badminton makes Xavier title town again

Xavier's badminton team enjoys a moment with a group of dads who pained themselves blue in a show of support. (Photos by Sr. Lynn Winsor).
 All the ingredients were there for a festive evening.
Shiny silver bows in the Xavier Prep badminton players’ hair, a large vociferous group of supporters, and the Blue Man Group (or reasonable facsimile) stopped by at Phoenix Sunnyslope for Thursday’s (Oct. 27) Division I state championship match against Gilbert Perry.
Now if the Gators could only hold up their end of the bargain.
For most of the night, fans were on the edge of their seats as the No. 1-seeded Gators and No. 2 Pumas matched each other shot for shot. It appeared that it was going to come down to whoever blinked at the end.
It was not until a doubles victory by Emily Woodrow and Kiana Valentova-Macdonald that everyone could let their emotions fly. Even the group of blue-painted dads could celebrate.
Xavier completed another unbeaten season and claimed its fourth straight title and 10th overall with a 5-3 triumph over Perry.

Doubles teammates Tatum Clarke, left, and Annie Kamps anxiously watch the decisive doubles match with Emily Woodrow and Kiana Valentova-Macdonald.
 First-year Xavier coach Sue Contreras, clutching a large stuffed green alligator and her eyes red from tears of joy, almost couldn’t believe it.
“It means a lot being my first year,’’ she said.
“Mentally, we knew we were going to be playing tough team. We had beaten them twice before (regular season and in the Independence Tournament) and it was going to be hard to beat a team like that three times.
“The girls worked so incredibly hard. We knew we would have to work together and communicate. We thought we might have a chance to be here at the end, but we knew it wouldn’t be given to us. We just focused on each match, not the entire season.’’
And as if the Gators needed to be reminded, someone wrote “First to Five’’ on the white board at school (first to win five sets) before the short trip to Sunnyslope.
Xavier and Perry were at 3-3 after the singles matches. What prevented the Gators from going down the drain were three-set rallies by the top two players, Tatum Clarke and Woodrow, and No. 5 Maddie Reinhart.
That left three doubles matches. Whichever team won two of those three would be crowned the state champ.
Clarke and Annie Kamps, who won the state individual doubles title last weekend, finished off the Pumas’ Tori Allen and Dominique Garcia, 15-3, 15-12.
Woodrow and Valentova-Macdonald and Reinhart and Alexa Wolfson played on courts alongside that of Clarke and Kamps.
Woodrow and Valentova-Macdonald won 15-13 in the first set and went back and forth in the second with Jillian Lagasca and Katie Cross, who were making a bid to send the match to a third set.
Wolfson and Reinhart were in the midst of their third set against Kylie Goldberg and Julia Mumme. They didn’t need to finish after Woodrow and Valentova-Macdonald secured another 15-13 win.

The championship trophy was the object of the players' affection.
 Valentova-Macdonald said her initial reaction was, “We did it!’’
Woodrow said she was proud that “all of our hard work paid off.’’
The two were the top seed in the individual doubles state tournament, fell in the semifinals and then won the consolation championship. Did this win make up for that a bit?
“Yes, but we did our best in that tournament and we played great,’’ Valentova Macdonald said.
“It gave us motivation,’’ Woodrow said.
At first, some thought this might be a transition year for the Gators with Contreras taking over. But it was business as usual, mixed in with some fun.
“She (Contreras) was amazing, awesome, the best,’’ Woodrow said.

Xavier Prep Division I championship results

Xavier 5, Gilbert Perry 3

Madison Clarke, X, def. Jillian Lagasca, P, 11-4, 7-11, 11-9.
Emily Woodrow, X, def. Katie Cross, P, 8-11, 11-7, 11-8.
Tori Albin, P, def. Annie Kamps, X, 3-11, 13-12, 11-3.
Dominique Garcia, P, def. Kiana Valentova-Macdonald, X, 11-1, 11-2.
Maddie Reinhart, X, def. Kylie Goldberg, P, 11-6, 8-11, 11-6.
Julia Mumme, P, def. Misaal Irfan, X, 11-3, 11-8.


Woodrow-Valentova-Macdonald, X, def. Lagasca-Cross, P, 15-13, 15-13.
Clarke-Kamps, X, def. Albin-Garcia, P, 15-3, 15-12.

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