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.

Monday, February 27, 2017

No ocean, but Gators enjoying life at the beach

The Arizona Interscholastic Association has altered its course slightly by now referring to Sand Volleyball as Beach Volleyball.
What won’t change is the fact that Xavier Prep remains the team to beat in 2017.
And why not? The Gators have won the state championship in each of the five years of the sport’s existence.
One other new wrinkle is the fact that XCP now has a place of its own rather than traveling to Grand Canyon University in west Phoenix for its “home’’ contests.
Xavier followed up on its plan for acquisition of land at the corner of Fourth Street and Meadowbrook Avenue, just to the south of Petznick Field, and the construction of four sand courts.
The Gators were scheduled to host Chandler Hamilton in a scrimmage on Monday (Feb. 27), and the team’s first “official’’ home game on March 6 against Flagstaff High.

Xavier's beach volleyball team warms up for Monday's scrimmage against Chandler Hamilton. (Photos by Sr Lynn Winsor).
The courts have been in the planning stages for a little more than a year with various funding sources, including the generosity of the Cavanaugh Family.
Even Larry the Dog, whose owner lives next door to the courts, has come by to visit the girls.
“It’s a very good facility right now, but when it is finished, it should be the best one in the state behind the University of Arizona,’’ said Xavier coach Tim McHale.
As an elementary school teacher in Peoria, McHale now has a longer drive for practices and games than he did at Grand Canyon, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
“We are so appreciative,’’ said assistant coach Susan Contreras, who also serves as Xavier’s badminton coach.
The courts are surrounded by a temporary chain-link fence which at some point will be replaced by a sturdy wrought-iron version. A few rolls of artificial turf currently in storage will add to the ambiance along the edges of the courts.
As of right now, there are no plans to add lights, McHale said.
“Beach volleyball is made to be played in the daytime,’’ he said.
“The courts are amazing,’’ said senior Kristen Klein. “We are really blessed. It is so convenient for us now. We are lucky to have them.’’
Last season’s state champs only lost three seniors to graduation, and this year’s version appears to have a good blend of experience and youth. There are five seniors and four players each from the other three classes.
The Gators are led this season by three outstanding seniors – Macy Gordon, Klein and Cierra Flood.
Gordon probably is the most athletic player on the team. She isn’t afraid to get her uniform dirty, diving for anything she deems within her reach. She also has good jumping ability and has a powerful swing and follow-through.
Gordon (Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo) and Flood (Arizona State) will play beach volleyball at the next level, but for Klein, this is her last hurrah according to McHale. Klein will concentrate on obtaining her degree in psychology at ASU, but said she might play intramural volleyball. Klein and Flood also played for Xavier’s indoor team.
Beach volleyball continues to grow in popularity among Arizona’s bigger schools. Contreras said the sport is no longer a “pilot’’ program according to the AIA, and it now is “official.’’
“That is exciting,’’ she said. “Beach volleyball is not an expensive sport compared to some. It’s growing more and more. It’s more relaxed out there. And it gives the girls the opportunity to earn (college) scholarship money by doing something they love.’’
Many of the girls have played indoor club volleyball or sand club volleyball during the “offseason,’’ and McHale said it will be interesting to see how they all come together as Xavier’s season moves along.
Gordon has been slowed by an injury, but she said she expects to be back at close to full strength within a week.
“Our girls have a lot of beach knowledge and we are stacked, ability-wise, from bottom to top,’’ Gordon said.
She played most of the summer on the “real’’ beach in California, where the game is played at its top level.
“It raises my game,’’ she said.
Gordon enjoys being a team leader, “but it is very challenging, I’m not going to lie. You have to be able to settle down and tell the younger players where you’re coming from. You can see the world from both views, try to be successful as an athlete and a person.’’
Klein wants to seal her Xavier career with another title.
“Being at Xavier has been super special to me, the whole experience,’’ she said. “It has been amazing. I am taking each moment for all it’s worth. I’m not taking anything for granted. Would I like to win one last time? Of course.’’
She enjoys psychology “because I am interested in how people think, how their brain works.’’
And if we got inside Klein’s brain, what would be learn?
“That I’m always analyzing,’’ she said. “I think about every game, what I need to do and what we need to do as a team.
“There’s a little pressure on us from what we’ve done in the past, but we don’t feel intimidated by that. We’re just working hard, day-in and day-out.’’

Xavier's Cierra Flood returns a shot against Hamilton.
Flood is a solid all-around player. She serves well and sets up teammates with accurate passes.
“It’s really good to have our own courts now,’’ she said. “We need to defend them. That makes the stakes even higher for us.
“Every year, we try to work as hard as the year before, then we push ourselves even harder. I think we are going to be even stronger than last year, because we have a lot of good fundamental players.’’

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