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, November 9, 2016

Gators fall just short in volleyball semifinals

When a volleyball team loses the first two games of its state semifinal match, it is playing with fire.
Or as Xavier Prep coach Lamar-Renee Bryant said, “It is very dangerous.’’
The second-seeded Gators lost their first two against No. 3 Tempe Corona del Sol on Tuesday (Nov. 8), then doused the fire with two straight wins.
But as with a campfire, if you are not careful and don’t make sure it is out completely, the embers can re-ignite.
Xavier had an 11-9 lead in the decisive fifth game that went to 15 points, but gave up six straight points and Corona del Sol came away with a 15-11 victory, taking the match, 3-2.
Scores were 25-23, 25-18, 15-25, 18-25 and 15-11.
Xavier finished the season at 34-7. Corona del Sol climbed to 38-5 and will meet No. 5 Phoenix Mountain Pointe for the 6A Conference state title on Wednesday night (Nov. 9) at Gilbert Mesquite. Mountain Pointe stunned top-seeded Chandler Hamilton 3-1 in the other semifinal to advance.
“We just didn’t come out ready to play, and we got stuck,’’ Bryant said.
The Gators had a strong run late in the regular season, but also had some lapses where the service and passing were not effective. That trend continued in the semifinal, and was a significant reason that Corona del Sol was able to gain the upper hand early on.
Xavier found a way to get back in the match. The service and passing improved. The girls played with more composure.
“We worked hard for those 50 (winning) points,’’ Bryant said.
In the final game, Xavier turned a 9-8 deficit into an 11-9 lead on two good plays by sophomore Shannon Shields and a wide return by Corona del Sol. That shot by the Aztecs nearly hit Bryant, standing in front of her bench.
Little did she realize that it would be the least of her worries.
The beginning of the end came when one of the Gators stepped over the line while serving and one of the officials called it – point for Corona del Sol.
The Aztecs pulled even at 11 with a nice placement shot. Xavier tried to return a shot on the next point, but couldn’t get control of the ball after it hit the ceiling. Xavier was called for stepping under the net on the next play and Bryant called a timeout, trailing 13-11.
Corona del Sol won it with two straight kills, the last by 6-foot-4 Lauren Forte, who connected for some powerful shots all night.
“We fought for it. We had a great season. We are still really proud of the girls and what they accomplished,’’ Bryant said.
It marked a sad farewell to six talented seniors – Emma Cisneros-Luebke, Kristen Klein, Makena Patterson, Emma Gelinas, Cierra Flood and Grace Morrison.
Bryant will have a strong group of returnees in 2017 who have a large amount of experience. Those players are Ashley Yeung, Jennelle Yarwood, Briana McKnight, Trinity Cavanaugh, Shields, Alyna Draper, Ericka Snopko, Alexis Diaz-Infante and Lanie Wagner.

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