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 24, 2018

Volleyball: Is there light at end of the tunnel?

They gathered in a dark corner of the gymnasium, almost cowering from the light instead of embracing it.

After being swept 3-0 by host Chandler Hamilton in the regular-season volleyball finale on Tuesday night (Oct. 23), where do Xavier Prep’s Gators go from here?

The defending 6A champions are 29-9, but are not playing their best volleyball by any stretch of the imagination. The Gators have three losses in their final five matches. There are breakdowns all over the court, but the main concern for coach Lamar Renee-Bryant is the players’ mental approach.

She has seemingly done everything to get them back in their proper lanes. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

“We have too many people who are afraid to be successful,’’ Bryant said. “We have a lot of young players on our team (nine underclassmen, five seniors), and that’s kind of where we are right now.’’

The door was left open for the Gators after Hamilton (31-9) suffered a surprising sweep at the hands of Chandler Basha on Monday night (Oct. 22).

Before playing Xavier, Hamilton had its player recognition night.

Bryant said she knew that Hamilton, which defeated her team 3-2 earlier in the season, would have the motivation and “go all-out for us. We just kind of rolled over.’’

The scores were Hamilton, 25-20, 26-24 and 25-21.

Xavier took two timeouts down the stretch in Game 1, the last with a 22-17 Hamilton lead, but the Gators could not get back into it. Game 2 was more competitive. Xavier had a 23-21 lead, but the Huskies went on a 5-1 run to close it out.

In Game 3, Xavier had a chance to make its move with the score tied at 16. Hamilton went on to score six straight points.

In all, Xavier had only eight blocks in the match.

Senior Jennelle Yarwood led the Gators with 11 kills, junior Jasmine Knight had eight kills and junior Bri McKnight had seven kills to go with her 15 digs.

Senior libero Ashley Yeung had 23 digs, sophomore Kaori Robertson had eight digs and senior setter Shannon Shields had 28 assists.

State tournament

The Arizona Interscholastic Association listed Xavier as one of its eight automatic state qualifiers on Wednesday (Oct. 24). The teams were not seeded, however, and the brackets were not released.

The brackets will be released in an AIA “show’’ on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. on its Web site. There will be eight “play-in’’ games on Thursday night (Oct. 25) and those winners will be seeded accordingly in the final bracket.

The automatic qualifiers are Xavier, Chandler Basha, Tempe Corona del Sol, Chandler Hamilton, Mesa High, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, Gilbert Perry and Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor.

Thursday’s play-in games are . . .

Phoenix North at Queen Creek, Mesa Skyline at Peoria Liberty, Mesa Westwood at Yuma Kofa, Chandler High at Mesa Desert Ridge, Surprise Valley Vista at Scottsdale Chaparral, Surprise Shadow Ridge at Phoenix Desert Vista (Ahwatukee), Glendale Mountain Ridge at Gilbert Highland and Mesa Mountain View at Phoenix Pinnacle.

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