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.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Hook, Xavier celebrate another soccer crown

Earning a soccer championship requires a lot of skill, a player’s survival instinct with hand-to-hand combat and, yes, even head-to-head combat.

Xavier Prep’s Nicole Hook can attest to the latter scenario. She was right in the middle of all the action in Saturday’s (Feb. 10) 6A state championship game against Gilbert Perry.

After sitting out for about 17 minutes with what appeared to be a broken nose late in the first half, she returned to the field at Gilbert Campo Verde High. In the second half, she headed a ball into the net off a corner kick from teammate Abby Hubbard with 22:32 left in regulation and it was enough for the Gators to hold on for a 1-0 victory, giving them their second straight title and 10th overall.

Top-seeded Xavier finished 15-3-2 and No. 2 seed Perry finished 22-3. Perry had been the only Arizona team to defeat the Gators, and the other two losses were to California teams in a holiday tournament.

Xavier and Perry traded numerous scoring opportunities through the first half. It appeared that Perry might have received a break when Hook was forced to leave with blood dripping from her nose after she and a Perry player smacked heads. Xavier head athletic trainer Laurie White worked as quickly as she could to get Hook back in the lineup, but that would not come until Hook passed concussion protocol.

Hook said she was a bit worried at first if the bleeding could be stopped and she could return.

Xavier coach Barb Chura also was concerned “about the anchor of our back line who had been playing so dominant.’’

Anchor of the back line and a key element of Xavier’s “set pieces’’ – plays off free kicks, corner kicks or throw-ins.

During the season, Hook had scored on such a play on a few occasions.

Another opportunity came at the 22:32 mark of the second half, when Hubbard’s kick sailed into the air space in front of the goal and Hook used her height to score the most important goal of her career.

“It was a tough game, and it was a perfect (corner) kick by Abby,’’ said Hook, who was bumped again during the game’s final moments.

Of closing out her prep career in such a manner, Hook said, “It was amazing. I couldn’t ask for a better team to do this with.’’

After Hook’s goal, it was up to Xavier senior goalkeeper Kinsey Ehmann and the Gators’ defense to try to hold on.

Perry had several corner kicks and free kicks, but could not get the equalizer.

Xavier tried to get and maintain possession any way it could.

With about 10 minutes left, a Perry shot skittered across the front of the goal but did not go in, instead rolling just out of trouble on the left side.

“It was a little scary, but I have a great defense backing me up,’’ Ehmann said.

The clock indicated 8:27 when junior Kyla Ferry attempted to leap over a hunched-over Perry player and get to the ball in midair. Ferry was bumped during the process and whirled around in the air like a rotor from a helicopter. The crowd oohed and aahed on that one.

Ehmann turned away a free kick and a corner kick with less than a minute left. She got the ball with :10 showing, looked back at the clock and booted the ball high in the air. It was her fourth straight shutout of the playoffs and Chura pumped her fists in the air.

“It was a good feeling,’’ Ehmann said. “I was really happy that we won.’’

Xavier lost seven players to graduation from last year’s title team and had just a few starters back this season and quite a few young players.

“This was amazing, a real testament to all of their hard work,’’ said Chura, who joined assistant coach Rafael Rios for team picture with the trophy afterward. “It is really hard to get here. I don’t think people realize that.’’

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