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.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Gator volleyball stages epic comeback

There is no other way to say it.

Volleyball fans witnessed one of the most stunning high school sports reversals possible on Wednesday night (Sept. 13).

Down 0-2 in the best-of-five meeting between unbeaten 6A Premier Region rivals, Xavier found new life in Game 3 and beyond to take the match against host Gilbert Perry. Scores were 17-25, 14-25, 25-23, 25-21 and 15-13.

Afterward, it seemed the Gators themselves almost were as stunned as Perry’s Pumas.

Xavier coach Lamar-Renee Bryant walked toward the bench to gather her belongings and her thoughts. She smiled and shook her head.

“That was fun. That was insane,’’ she said.

Bryant said that as the tide began to turn against Perry, she referred to a marathon 32-30 victory over Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor that sealed that match the night before as an example of never giving up.

“They (Perry) were kicking our tails, taking some big swings,’’ Bryant said. “We were too passive and they tore us apart.’’

The size and strength of the Pumas, who were 13-0, including eight in the recent House of Payne Invitational tournament at Chandler High, were taking a toll.

But somehow, some way, Xavier found new life and sits at 6-0 as it travels to Las Vegas for the prestigious Durango Classic on Friday (Sept. 15) and Saturday (Sept. 16). The Gators are expected to play seven games in that event.

Against Perry, the Gators battled back to record a 25-23 victory in the third game, finished off by a kill from senior outside hitter Lanie Wagner.

The fourth game went back and forth, with a 19-19 tie entering the home stretch. Sophomore outside hitter Bri McKnight had a strong effort at the net both offensively and defensively and had a key service ace to make it 23-20 Xavier. Wagner again stepped up for a decisive kill and the momentum had officially shifted.

Xavier led midway through the third game, but Perry rallied for a 12-11 lead (fifth and deciding games only go to 15 points). Wagner again rose to the occasion, getting three kills in the Gators’ final four points.

Asked how Xavier did it, Wagner said, “I don’t know. We obviously didn’t play well those first two games, so we figured we had nothing to lose. We came out and played our best.’’

Before the season began, Wagner talked about improving her game since last season, playing club ball and with the Gators during the preseason. Near the top were her vision and overall court sense.

Some of her kills were along the sideline instead of the middle, and that helped the Gators regroup.

“I tried to see the whole court before I hit,’’ Wagner said. “I saw that the block (blockers) wasn’t close, so I tried to hit it in the best place that I could.’’

The two teams will play a rematch, this time at Xavier, on Oct. 18.

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