Xavier Prep basketball fans, your wait is almost over.
A new season is about to begin, and the 2016-17 version of the Gators looks to be very competitive with a group of young players who already have a significant amount of experience.
Xavier tips off the season on Monday (Nov. 21), when next-door neighbor Phoenix Central visits the Activity Center. Tipoff is 7 p.m., and will follow earlier games for the junior varsity and freshmen.
The schedule then shifts to Goodyear, where the Gators will compete in the Scorpion Shootout at Desert Edge. Dates of that event are Nov. 25 and 26.
“I think we are going to have the best team that Xavier has had in many years,’’ said senior guard Brittany Robinson. “This is my fourth year on the varsity, and I can say that this will be the tightest (compatible), most competitive team we have had.’’
The Gators produced an 18-9 record a year ago, falling to Phoenix Horizon in the Division I state tournament. There is a sense that they will be more improved this year and above all, healthier.
The team lost 6-foot-2 senior Vanessa Murphy to graduation – she now is at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. She averaged 14.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.6 blocked shots, but Gators coach Stephen Moss says he has the players who will be able to make up for it.
Those players are two 6-1 juniors, Montana Oltrogge and Katie Hassett. Both have been slowed by knee injuries over their first two seasons, but now are healthy, Moss said.
The nucleus of the team will be 6-foot junior Alana Kelley, 5-6 sophomore Leilani McIntosh and 5-9 sophomore Paris Moore.
Kelley had a strong sophomore season when she averaged 13.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, made 51 percent of her field goals and 72 percent of her free throws. She was invited to national team tryouts in the summer. She will primarily be an inside player for XCP but might be called on to play some guard as she was in club ball, a spot where she might wind up in college.
McIntosh is the Gators’ sports car, zooming up and down the floor and getting involved in virtually every aspect of the game.
She entered her freshman season with a great deal of promise, but had to prove she belonged.
“It took a few games for me to get used to things,’’ she said. “Then I started to feel more comfortable.
“I know I’m supposed to be the playmaker. I need to remind everyone sometimes where they are supposed to be and to make good decisions. I need to step up and be more vocal.’’
She said the Gators have been working hard on defense in the early days of practice.
“If you play good defense, that helps make the transition to offense easier,’’ she said.
McIntosh averaged 10.1 points. 4.9 assists and 4.9 steals.
Moss said that because she does so many things on offense, that her defense often can be overlooked. She already is receiving attention from colleges.
“She is one of the best point guards in the state, if not the best,’’ Moss said.
Moore’s specialty is defense, where she averaged about 4 ½ steals last season. She has long arms that help her harass opponents, but the most important aspect for her, Moss said, is her quick feet.
“She can cut just about anybody off on defense. It’s those quick feet,’’ Moss said.
Robinson should be one of the first players off the bench, with perhaps an occasional start, depending how the Gators match up against their opponent. She knows her primary role is to hit three-pointers whenever possible.
“That’s just about all I practice,’’ she said.
According to Robinson, the team has a strong work ethic.
“We know how to work hard,’’ she said. “We are able to dig down deep. I think it will help us in close games, because we had a lot of close games last year and now we are more experienced.’’
Xavier Prep Gators
2016-17 varsity basketball roster
Head coach – Stephen Moss. Assistant – Jennifer Gillom.
Players – Payton Davis, Jr.; Katie Hassett, Jr.; Alana Kelley, Jr.; Mary Long, Jr.; M.J. Machen, Sr.; Leilani McIntosh, So.; Paris Moore, So.; Montana Oltrogge, Jr.; Addison Putnam, So.; Brittany Robinson, Sr.; Isabel Wirth, Jr.