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, August 17, 2018

Another volleyball title would be unforgettable

What’s it like to win a state volleyball championship?

Let Xavier Prep libero Ashley Yeung answer that.

“It was the best time of my life,’’ she said while recalling the title-match triumph over Tempe Corona del Sol.

Now one of five seniors on the Gators’ roster, Yeung would like to have the same feeling if the team can make it two in a row in the 2018-19 season.

Xavier was one of the top teams in the nation at the completion of last season and is the top-ranked Arizona team this time around by The trick is not allowing success to get to the players’ heads.

“It’s important to stay grounded,’’ Yeung said. “We know we will have a target on our backs.’’

So it will be up to Yeung and fellow seniors Jenelle Yarwood, Shannon Shields, Hayley Nash and Kate Spellman to provide stability and leadership.

Xavier coach Lamar-Renee Bryant said things have fit together nicely in the first week or so of workouts.

“Collectively, as a whole, it has been awesome,’’ Bryant said. “All of them played off-season club and they are getting ready. For the seniors, there is an expectation. This is the last time around for them, and they need to play with a sense of urgency.’’

The first step comes on Wednesday (Aug. 22) when the Gators participate in an annual four-way scrimmage with Chandler Basha, Phoenix Sunnyslope and host Chandler Hamilton. The event begins at 5 p.m.

Xavier’s first three regular-season matches are at home, against Mesa Mountain View (Aug. 28), Queen Creek (Sept. 4) and Phoenix Mountain Pointe (Sept. 6).  The Gators also will play in three tournaments – the prestigious Durango Invitational in Las Vegas (Sept. 14-15), the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix (Sept. 21-22) and the Gilbert High Invitational at Gilbert High (Oct. 5-6).

The team has a good mix of veteran players and youth. Bryant will not have any freshmen this year as she did ago, but is eager to see four players up from the junior varsity.

The 5-foot-4 Yeung was more of a defensive specialist last season, but this year, the lion’s share of her time will be as a libero.

Yeung, who is taking five AP classes, says she is better at managing her time. On the court, she said she is playing with more confidence and has a better idea of what to do when the ball heads in her direction. She also is ready to be a leader.

“I try to lead by example. Even when I’m having an off day,’’ she said.

The 5-10 Shields has been a starting setter for most of her four years and has developed into one of the state’s best at that spot. The Louisville-bound athlete wants to be known as a complete player, and has been working toward that goal. The left-hander has a great serve, can follow through with some powerful swings and has improved on the block.

“I think I am a little more mature all the way around,’’ she said. “I know the younger ones look up to me. I want to be a leader and have a connection with each of them.

“This season will be amazing. Everyone is playing better than last year and we all are blending in well. We are more focused. We will have to be.’’

One of the recipients of Shields’ passes will be 6-foot sophomore Serena Turner. She quickly developed into a factor as a freshman last season and refined her skills on the sand as a member of Xavier’s beach volleyball team.

According to Bryant, Turner has “committed to the process’’ of playing beach at Stanford, quite an achievement for a player so young.

Another Gator who is glad to have Shields back for another year is 5-10 junior outside hitter Bri McKnight. She will provide a lot of the Gators’ power.

“She (Shields) puts the ball right where I need it to be. She is the best,’’ McKnight said.

“It will be more of a challenge for us this year, definitely, but we are a really deep team and we play well together.’’

McKnight said she has a better sense of where opponents are or anticipates where they will be when angling for a shot.

As her sophomore season neared its end in March, McKnight made a commitment to play for and study at UC Santa Barbara. She wants to major in film and the seaside campus provides a perfect setting.

The new script will come this year as she helps her teammates create the other bookend of back-to-back titles.

Xavier Prep 2018-19 varsity volleyball roster

Victoria Burton, Jr.; Abby Converse, Jr.; Jasmine Knight, Jr.; Bri McKnight, Jr.; Hayley Nash, Sr.; Zaira Reyes, So.; Kaori Robertson, So.; Shannon Shields, Sr.; Kate Spellman, Sr.; Serena Turner, So.; Quinn Voorhees, Jr.; Juli Westfall, Jr.; Jenelle Yarwood, Sr.; Ashley Yeung, Sr.

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