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, September 26, 2018

Gators grit their teeth, rally past Mesa

Was it because Xavier Prep’s Gators finally woke up, or were they ticked off?

Maybe a little bit of both.

Whatever the reason, a 25-16 loss to visiting Mesa High in the first game of their volleyball match at the Activity Center on Tuesday night (Sept. 25) got their attention.

And they came back like the top-rated Arizona team that they are, taking the match with three straight wins – 25-12, 25-14 and 25-15.

Now comes one of the biggest tests of the season. The Gators (18-4) will play host to second-ranked Gilbert Perry (15-3) on Wednesday night (Sept. 26).

If this match is anything like last season, fans will be on the edge of their seats.

The teams squared off three times last season, twice during the regular season and in the Division I semifinals. All went five sets, with Xavier winning each time. After defeating Perry in the semifinals, the Gators went on to claim the title with a 3-1 win over Tempe Corona del Sol.

In the first game against Mesa on Tuesday night, nothing that the Gators tried to do worked. That, combined with the powerful swing of Jackrabbits outside hitter Annie Hatch, put Xavier in a 1-0 hole.

“A lot of what we did was self-inflicted,’’ said Xavier coach Lamar-Renee Bryant.

She admitted that her team had some fatigue after playing 14 matches over back-to-back weekends in national high-profile tournaments. And there was Perry’s big elephant munching on peanuts while waiting in the lobby for Wednesday night.

Bryant admitted the loss to Mesa irritated her players a bit – she called them “emotional.’’

“We were able to settle down. Our serving was better after that and we played better overall,’’ Bryant said.

In Game 2, Bri McKnight’s return of a kill into the back corner gave the Gators the point and they had a 9-1 lead. Mesa did not get close the rest of the way.

Mesa put up more of a fight in the early stages of Game 3, but Xavier appeared to have its mojo back, rolling all the way through to victory. Jennelle Yarwood’s kill provided the Gators with their final point.

And Xavier did not want to allow Mesa to force a decisive fifth set in Game 4. The Jackrabbits held a 5-2 early lead, but the Gators seven straight points for a lead they would not surrender. Back-to-back service aces by Kate Spellman for the final two points of that run gave XCP the momentum it needed.

After the Perry match, the Gators will play their third match in as many nights, on Thursday (Sept. 27) at Chandler Basha.

Division I power-points rankings

(from the Arizona Interscholastic Association)

1 – Xavier Prep. 2 – Gilbert Perry. 3 – Chandler Hamilton. 4 – Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor. 5 – Tempe Corona del Sol. 6 – Phoenix Mountain Pointe. 7 – Mesa High. 8 – Phoenix Desert Vista. 9 – Chandler Basha. 10 – Phoenix Pinnacle.

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