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, June 1, 2018

Crew athletes establish role in growth of rowing

Interest in the sport of rowing (crew) has been embedded in the eastern U.S. for quite some time. The West is a different story, with not as many teams/schools involved, due in part to a wider geographical area.

There is growth, however, and the crew club program at Xavier Prep is doing its part to increase exposure to the sport in this region. Xavier is coached by Tonia Sackett and Peter Figgins.

The Gators have won five state championships and excelled in national competition over Memorial Day weekend in the Scholastic Rowing of America (SRAA) National Championship regatta on the Cooper River in Camden, N.J.
Memorial Day weekend was memorable for the Xavier Crew athletes. Above, coaches Tonia Sackett, left, and Peter Figgins, right, join bronze-medal celebration with the JV+4 group. (Photos courtesy of Xavier Crew).

Coach Tonia Sackett, right, goes over strategy with her girls.

Xavier (front boat) was in a fight to the finish.

Varsity and JV rowers were all smiles and ready to head home.

Ten athletes were on the trip. Five competed in the JV+4 and the other five were in the lightweight varsity+4.

The JV+4 is open to everyone who is not a senior. The seniors must row in a varsity category.

Xavier’s JV+4 was made up of Makenzie Ashton-Borrego (sophomore in 2017-18), Rachel Chung (junior), Tayler Killoren (sophomore), Lizzie Paddison (sophomore) and Maddie Wickers (junior).

Xavier earned the bronze medal in that event, finishing third out of 23 teams.

The Xavier boat beat its best time three times out of three races, getting faster with every race. The final two races were on Saturday (May 26).

“That is an incredible accomplishment,’’ Sackett said.

The lightweight varsity+4 reached the semifinals and were among the top 12 out of 21 entries.

That group consisted of Grace Driscoll (sophomore in 2017-18), Gia Magnoni (sophomore), Olivia Petrine (sophomore), Maddy Schwartz (sophomore) and Zoe Wasson (sophomore).

In addition, another rower, Elliana Steely-Judice, competed in singles. Sackett said she will transfer to Xavier for the coming school year and will be a sophomore.

“We are excited to have her joining us on campus and on the water this fall,’’ Sackett said.

Crew is a year-round endeavor for the Xavier girls. Regatta races are held in the fall and in the spring. There usually is at least one race in California each “season’’ and the team’s Tempe Town Lake home also has a race or two.

“It looks very promising for us, having a team so young that has gained valuable experience like this latest event,’’ said Sackett, who rowed collegiately at Duke and is an Oregon native.

Crew is a club sport, where the athletes receive their varsity letter (there also is a novice group). It is considered a non-profit organization and is a separate entity from the other sports at Xavier. The school does not fund the club’s expenses. Neighboring Brophy Prep also has a crew team.

Practices usually run from 4-6:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, also Saturday mornings. The team has conditioning and strength workouts at Xavier. Schedules are adjusted to accommodate final exams and holidays.

“The girls are very motivated, and the last month especially has been a lot of fun,’’ Sackett said. “It’s been great to see them work hard and apply themselves. It is a huge step up.’’


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