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, October 25, 2017

Gators sweep Hamilton, have chance to be top seed

After an impressive three-game sweep of host Chandler Hamilton on Tuesday night (Oct. 24), Xavier Prep’s volleyball team brought home the 6A Conference Premier Region championship, accompanied by an excellent chance to be the No. 1 overall seed in the state tournament that begins on Oct. 31.

Scores were 25-19, 25-21 and 25-13.

“That was our goal tonight, to finish as the unbeaten region (Premier) champ and to be ranked No. 1. In that sense, this match was crucial,’’ said XCP coach Lamar-Renee Bryant, whose team finished the regular season at 35-3 overall and 8-0 in region play.

Xavier was one of eight teams listed by the Arizona Interscholastic Association on Wednesday (Oct. 25) to be an automatic qualifier. There will be eight “play-in’’ games for teams ranked 9 through 24 on Thursday (Oct. 26), and the final brackets will be announced on Saturday (Oct. 28) at 4 p.m.

Xavier would host a first-round match on Oct. 31 and likely a quarterfinal on Nov. 2. Semifinals are Nov. 7 and finals Nov. 9, both at Gilbert Mesquite.

The Gators had the early advantage in the first game, but Hamilton did not fold. The Huskies held a 17-16 lead, but it was short-lived. Xavier earned the final four points of the game, the last coming when Hamilton returned a shot too far beyond the end line.

Hamilton stayed close in the second game. The Gators scored the final two points when the Huskies blocked a shot by Bri McKnight out of bounds and Shannon Shields came up with a block.

The third game was all Xavier. Senior outside hitter Lanie Wagner led the way with some powerful swings. The final point came when Alexis Diaz-Infante placed a return shot far into the back corner where the Huskies could not reach it.

Wagner posted 24 kills and 15 digs. McKnight, a sophomore outside hitter, had 14 kills and 12 digs. Shields, a junior setter, had 17 digs, 31 assists, 2 blocks and 3 kills. And senior libero Alyna Draper had one of her best matches of the season, particularly with her serving. She had a pair of aces, 18 digs and 9 assists.

Now the Gators will have a week to analyze their approach and make any necessary adjustments. Bryant said they also will take a close look at video of possible opponents.

“This (state tournament) is a tough environment so you have to have mental preparation,’’ she said. “We need to be mentally strong and be able to stay healthy.’’

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