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.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Late coach wanted swimmers, divers to keep going

“Feel your power.’’

That was one of the trademarks of motivation for Maureen “Mo’’ Rankin as she served as head coach of the Xavier Prep swimming and diving team.

Rankin passed away early Monday (Sept. 25) after battling cancer, but her swimmers could feel her power when they competed in a meet against Phoenix Pinnacle at Brophy on Thursday (Sept. 28), for the first time with her not pacing up and down the edge of the pool.

Rankin’s four senior captains – Katie McCoy, Thea Cartier, Mary Roediger and Kate Hubbard -- have bonded together to an even greater degree and have tried to pass on that strength to the younger girls. One of the freshman swimmers is Rankin’s 14-year-old daughter, Mia.

Assistant coach Jenny James will assume a lot of Rankin’s duties, but James will be helped by Rankin’s husband, Mark, who has coached at various levels, including Masters and younger. The Rankins were swimmers at the University of Arizona, where Mo was a nine-time All-American, and continued to swim at Masters events. Mark was on hand for Thursday’s meet.

Mo was honored with a moment of silence before the races began, as well as a prayer.

Asked how the girls were holding up, James said, “This community at Xavier is like no other. The support we have received from Xavier and Brophy has been very beneficial to our girls.

“It is very tough right now to lose someone like that, a person so incredible, a role model as well as a coach, a wife and a mother. I think the girls feel like she would want them to keep going, to work hard. So we are going to do that and win state for her. It’s about keeping the team together as a family.’’

There was some initial discussion about not swimming against Pinnacle or in the Phoenix Country Day School Invitational, but that talk lasted only a few seconds. The invitational is in the morning on Saturday (8 a.m.) and the girls should have plenty of time to prepare for Rankin’s funeral mass at 3 p.m. at St. Francis Xavier Church on Central Avenue, not far from the Brophy pool.

McCoy said Rankin was her club coach when she was 10 and Roediger swam for her for about five years. They knew her well and were excited when Rankin joined the Gators for her first season in the fall of 2016.

“What happened to her was heartbreaking, but we can’t change that. We just have to swim with it, keep going. I think that’s what she would have wanted,’’ said McCoy, who as a junior was the state champion in 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard backstroke.

“She made everyone want to step up and improve themselves, so it’s important that we come together,’’ said Roediger, who swims the 50-yard freestyle, the 100-yard breaststroke and the anchor leg on a few of the relay teams.

Said Hubbard, who swims in the same events as McCoy, said the swimmers knew Mo was not feeling good, “but she would not allow us to see any weakness.’’

McCoy said when things got so bad, Mo stopped coming to practice “and that’s when we knew it was pretty bad. She didn’t want us to see her that way. She wanted us to remember her like she always was, full of energy.’’

Cartier, whose specialties are the 50- and 100-yard freestyles, said the team “believes we can carry through all the way. She brought a lot of passion to us.’’

That passion was exemplified when Roediger was a club swimmer. Mo had given birth to a son, Luke (now 11), “and she just brought her playpen with her to the pool and put him in there so he could see everything that was going on. She just wanted to be there, teaching her swimmers.’’

All four of the seniors were in agreement when the power of Mo’s voice was mentioned.

“There wasn’t much doubt when you heard that voice during a race,’’ Hubbard said. “Even if there were thousands of people (yelling), you would be able to pick it out.’’

Said McCoy: “Yeah, she could be kind of loud when we were in a room. It was like you wanted to say, “You’re using your outside voice,’ but I don’t think she even had an inside voice.’’

Cartier will always remember the words of encouragement given to her by the coach when she was having shoulder problems at the time of the state meet a year ago.

“She gave me the best pep talk I have ever had,’’ Cartier said. “I made it to the finals (50 free). It was great.

“She was always like a second mother to me.’’

The rest of the Gators probably could say the same thing. Mo Rankin had that kind of impact.

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