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.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Title-worthy effort drives Gator volleyball

It was a championship-caliber match between two championship-caliber volleyball teams.
Host Xavier Prep and Chandler Hamilton battled back and forth for most of Tuesday night (Oct. 25). Xavier weathered the storm and finished off the Huskies 3-1. Scores were 25-19, 19-25, 25-18 and 26-24.
Xavier raised its record to 32-6 and Hamilton fell to 33-7.
Hamilton was the top-ranked team in the 6A Conference in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s power points system as well as by Xavier was third in power points and second by
The victory allowed Xavier to split its home-and-home, regular-season series with Hamilton. Xavier also had lost to the Huskies in an abbreviated match in the recent Gilbert Invitational.
The regular season is now complete. The AIA will announce its state tournament brackets on Sunday (Oct. 30), following eight “play-in’’ games on Thursday night (Oct. 27).
Xavier is assured of one of the top eight seeds and will host a first-round game on Nov. 2.
Xavier coach Lamar-Renee Bryant believes Hamilton will continue to hold the top spot going into the tournament, that Xavier and Tempe Corona del Sol would be 2-3 or vice versa, putting them in the bottom half of the bracket. Xavier defeated Corona del Sol in the Gilbert Invitational.
After some tense moments against Hamilton, particularly in the fourth game, Bryant finally was able to offer a relieved smile.
In its earlier match at Hamilton, Xavier won the first game but lost three in a row. On Tuesday night, it appeared a repeat could be in store because Xavier won the first game and lost the second. But the result was different this time.
“I think we were just more determined, more battle-tested (than the previous match),’’ Bryant said.
“Hamilton is a team that takes big swings all the time and we had to make sure we did not let that affect us.’’
In the fourth game, Hamilton had the early edge but Xavier came back to go in front. Xavier appeared to have the game and match sewn up with a 24-22 lead, but Hamilton battled back to tie it at 24 with a big kill and a block.
Xavier had a block to make it 25-24. Hamilton then had a block, but it went out of bounds and it was over.
An unlikely heroine for Xavier was freshman outside hitter Briana McKnight. She came up with kills all night and played strong defense.
A group of Brophy students were part of the boisterous crowd and yelled, “She’s a fresh-man, she’s a fresh-man . . .’’
“She just keeps getting better and better,’’ Bryant said. “She’s not a freshman anymore.’’
The coach also lauded senior middle blocker Makena Patterson for her defensive work at the net, particularly in the third game. Kudos also went to senior setter Cierra Flood, who helped with some noteworthy defense.
“She helped keep a lot of our points alive,’’ Bryant said.
So now the Gators sit and wait to learn where they will be placed in the bracket. It’s a lot easier to wait after they played up to their capabilities against Hamilton.

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