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, November 30, 2018

Leilani Mac is back as Gators roll

Welcome home, Xavier Prep basketball team!

Especially you, Leilani McIntosh!

The Gators rode a big rollercoaster of emotions after McIntosh, the senior point guard, suffered what appeared to be a serious leg injury in the Scorpion Shootout tournament over the weekend in Goodyear.

Her right knee appeared to be the problem, but coach Jennifer Gillom surmised that the injury would not be too serious, instead of having it be something that would idle her for an extended period.

As coaches tend to be most of the time, Gillom was right. McIntosh was given the green light and returned to action on Thursday night (Nov. 29) when the team staged its 2018-19 home opener against Mesa Desert Ridge at the Activity Center.

McIntosh, hovering around the scorer’s table during the JV game before the varsity played, said she felt good and was ready to go.

And she played like it.

She led the Gators to their fifth win of the season without a loss, 64-15, scoring a team-high 18 points and contributing her normal list of other plays on offense and defense.

“I wasn’t too worried and the doctor said she was fine,’’ Gillom said. “Lei was back out there doing all of the things that Lei does. She’s fine. She practiced well.’’

McIntosh had plenty of help. Three other players scored in double figures – senior guards Addie Putnam and Paris Rasheed-Moore with 14 each and junior guard-forward Elysia Fleetwood with 12, including 10 in the first quarter that helped the Gators get away to a fast start.

Gillom was particularly pleased with the play of Rasheed-Moore and Fleetwood.

“Paris stepped up,’’ Gillom said. “She made better decisions and she’s starting to look for her jump shots, which we want her to do.

“ “E’ is coming into her own. She can do a lot of things out there and that only makes us better.’’

The Gators will be back at home on Friday night (Nov. 30) against Tempe Corona del Sol, then return to the road on Tuesday (Dec. 4) at Avondale Westview.

Xavier Prep 64, Mesa Desert Ridge 15

XCP – Leilani McIntosh 18, Addie Putnam 14, Paris Rasheed-Moore 14, Elysia Fleetwood 12, Tanya Barakat 4, Toni Garcia 2.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

XCP soccer routs Tolleson, is a work in progress

After an 11-0 rout of host Tolleson High in its season opener on Tuesday night (Nov. 27), there is reason for optimism regarding Xavier Prep’s soccer team. But the Gators are far from being ready to be fitted for their third straight 6A Conference state championship crown.

It will be difficult for head coach Barb Chura and assistant Rafael Rios to get a good read after this one. Xavier was a bigger, stronger team than Tolleson and the Wolverines seldom got close to a goal opportunity, with sophomores Katie Harris and Jaden Campbell sharing the Xavier goalkeeper duties.

Xavier led 4-0 at halftime and Chura was constructive in her comments without yelling at the players. She told them she wanted them to play faster and pass the ball better by limiting the number of touches of the ball and making the ones they have with better quality.

The team responded with seven goals in the second half. Tolleson looked fatigued by the end.

“From the first to the second half, we improved with some of our decision-making and we made the adjustment by playing quicker,’’ Chura said.

However . . .

“We are a long, long way off from being the final product,’’ she said. “We have a lot to work on.

“Literally, just about every player we have is brand-new. Some are back after sitting out the last two years and we have younger ones. It’s going to take some time for everybody to start playing together, but time is not something we have a lot of since the high school season is so short.’’

As far as goal production was concerned, the Gators spread the wealth around a bit.

Junior Elizabeth Warren had a three-goal hat trick. Senior Caitlin Johnston and freshmen Keila Lopez Enriquez and Olivia Castrichini had two each. And senior Lindsay Hubbard and sophomore Kendall Warner each had one.

Lopez Enriquez, who scored the first goal of the match, looks to have potential with many of her skills. And Castrichini gives the Gators an element of speed to complement that of Johnston.

Xavier will be at Petznick Field for its home opener against Phoenix Desert Vista on Friday (Nov. 30) at 6 p.m. That will be preceded by the junior-varsity match at 4.

Monday, November 26, 2018

All-Region teams loaded with Gators

Winning a state championship often is accompanied by athletes listed on all-region teams, and that certainly was true for Xavier Prep’s Gators this fall.

Xavier’s Division I golf state title team featured the Division I Premier Region Player and Coach of the Year. The school’s cross-country team had the Coach of the Year and several other honorees.

Junior Ashley Menne was named Region Player of the Year after winning the state individual golf title for the third straight year. The Gators’ Tui Selvaratnam was Coach of the Year.

Xavier won the 36th state title in school history and its ninth in a row.

All-Region First Team selections were junior Breyana Matthews, sophomore Lauren Garcia, freshman Ivy Song and sophomore Bailee Tayles. Listed as Honorable Mention were seniors Eve Worden and Emily Cons.

Dave Van Sickle was the Premier’s Coach of the Year after guiding the Gators to their 10th state title.

First Team choices were junior Mia Olsen, sophomore Jamie Stelnik and junior Grace Valandra. On the Second Team were seniors Karina Hawkins, Karina Smith and Helen Innes and sophomore Sammy Braun. Senior Karli Baker was Honorable Mention.

Congratulations to all of these great Gator athletes and coaches. The Xavier community is very proud of your accomplishments!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Injury shrouds Gators' hoops title triumph

It was as if the basketball game were being played in a library instead of a gymnasium.

It was that quiet.

That scenario usually exists when a player appears to be badly injured and the fans are waiting on the edge of their seats to learn the outcome.

For Xavier Prep’s Gators, those moments hit very close to home.

Sprawled on the floor at Goodyear Desert Edge was senior guard Leilani McIntosh, the team’s heart and soul who had begun the season with a full-throttle effort in the Scorpion Shootout.

With 4:37 left in the second quarter of the tourney title game on Saturday night (Nov. 24) against Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor, McIntosh went down after making a steal and providing an assist for teammate Addie Putnam.

Coaches and the Desert Edge team trainer worked on McIntosh’s right knee, got her up and escorted her to the bench as she winced in pain. More work was done with ice and wraps, and she remained with her teammates on the bench and stood for timeouts. She even smiled a few times.

Followers hope this may have been an indication of a diminished severity. She will be evaluated over the next several days, and coach Jennifer Gillom and the Gators will see where they go from there.

For now, XCP reigns as the tournament champion after a hard-fought 53-49 victory. The Gators, who had easy wins in their first three games, had to gut this one out.

McIntosh still manged to earn the tournament’s MVP award, and she was joined by Putnam on the All-Tournament Team.

In the Gators’ 72-37 semifinal win over Tucson High earlier in the day, some late-arriving fans squeezed into the packed auxiliary gym and were told, “You missed it. No. 30 (McIntosh) is putting on a show.’’

McIntosh means more to the team than just her ball-handling skills. She can hit the 3-pointer when necessary, drive through traffic and with fellow senior guard Paris Rasheed-Moore steals the ball from opponents with regularity.

After the injury, Rasheed-Moore stepped up. She had been struggling on offense in the earlier games, but came on to score 16 of her 18 points. Putnam led the Gators with 20 points after scoring a team-high 24 against Tucson, letting her trademark treys fly.

Sandra Day O’Connor kept the pressure on over the final three quarters, outscoring Xavier 40-32. The Gators managed to play decent defense at just the right times to maintain their lead.

“That (injury) was a scary moment,’’ said Gillom, breathing (sort of) a fingers-crossed sigh of relief. “That just lets you know what this team is about, that we are able to handle adversity. We did it in the summer league (when McIntosh had an injury) and we did it again here.

“I’m proud of the poise they showed. It definitely was not our best game. There was a lot of miscommunication, which is somewhat expected early in the season. We still have a lot of work to do, but I am happy with where we’re at.’’

The Gators now have a few days to rest a bit and hit the practice floor before playing back-to-back games at home on Thursday (Nov. 29) against Mesa Desert Ridge and Friday (Nov. 30) against Tempe Corona del Sol.

Saturday’s scores

Xavier Prep 53, Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor 49 (championship)

XCP – Addie Putnam 20, Paris Rasheed-Moore 18, Leilani McIntosh 7, Victoria Saucedo 2, Truly Helton 2, Cara Coffman 2, Elysia Fleetwood 1, Mackenzie Coder 1.

Xavier Prep 72, Tucson High 37 (semifinals)

XCP – Putnam 24, McIntosh 17, Fleetwood 8, Rasheed-Moore 8, Coder 8, Helton 5, Bianca Nava 2.

Friday’s scores

Xavier Prep 72, Flagstaff Coconino 29

XCP – McIntosh 20, Putnam 13, Rasheed-Moore 12, Coder 6, Saucedo 6, Helton 4, Fleetwood 4, Sophie Sash 3, Coffman 2, Toni Garcia 2.

Xavier Prep 100, Phoenix Trevor Browne 17

XCP – McIntosh 31, Putnam 25, Fleetwood 9, Sash 7, Rasheed-Moore 6, Coffman 6, Coder 5, Tanya Barakat 4, Saucedo 3, Helton 2, Nava 2.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Hitting century mark launches Gators' season

Xavier Prep’s Gators are off to a very good start in the 2018-19 basketball season.

Playing this weekend in the Scorpion Shootout at Goodyear Desert Edge, XCP reached the century mark in its first Game on Friday (Nov. 23) against Phoenix Trevor Browne, 100-17, and followed that up with a 72-29 win over Flagstaff Coconino in a Friday evening encounter.

That puts the Gators in the 4:30 p.m. semifinals on Saturday (Nov. 24) against Tucson High. A victory there would give Xavier a championship game spot at 7:30.

Facing Tucson should be more of a challenge for XCP. Tucson is 3-0 and has combined for a 100-17 record in its previous four seasons. Tucson reached the 6A quarterfinals before falling to Goodyear Millennium, which in turn fell to Xavier in the semifinals.

Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom was understandably pleased with her team’s effort in the first day.

“Not a bad day . . . not a bad day at all,’’ she said.

The team’s defense was off the charts – 35 steals in the first game, 39 in the second. Senior guard Leilani McIntosh had 12 steals in the first game, and senior guard Paris Rasheed-Moore had 16 in the second game.

Gillom also was encouraged by the Gators’ play off the bench.

“I didn’t think we would be able to go that deep at this point of the season, with that many contributing,’’ she said. “In the past, our score diminished a little when the bench players went in, but now we appear to be maintaining our advantage or even giving ourselves a boost.’’

Xavier had 11 players score in the first game and 10 in the second.

McIntosh was the top scorer in both games – 31 in the opener and 20 in the second game.

Senior guard Addie Putnam also was a prominent scorer – 25 in the opener and 13 in the second game. She combined to hit six 3-pointers in both games.

Senior Cara Coffman started in the post in both games and held her ground. Sophomore point guard MacKenzie Coder combined for 11 points in both games, including three 3-pointers.

Friday’s scores

Xavier Prep 100, Phoenix Trevor Browne 17

XCP – Leilani McIntosh 31, Addie Putnam 25, Elysia Fleetwood 9, Sophie Sash 7, Paris Rasheed-Moore 6, Cara Coffman 6, MacKenzie Coder 5, Tanya Barakat 4, Victoria Saucedo 3, Truly Helton 2, Bianca Nava 2.

Xavier Prep 72, Flagstaff Coconino 29

XCP – McIntosh 20, Putnam 13, Rasheed-Moore 12, Coder 6, Saucedo 6, Helton 4, Fleetwood 4, Sash 3, Coffman 2, Toni Garcia 2.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Senior guards give Gators get up and go

Three senior guards will have their work cut out for them on the basketball floor in their final seasons for Xavier Prep.

But that’s OK. As team captains, they are more than willing to do whatever is needed to get back to the 6A Conference state championship game.

Leilani McIntosh, Paris Rasheed-Moore and Addie Putnam will be counted on again for their point production, but since the team’s two tallest players have graduated, you might see these three crashing the boards more often and maybe slipping inside the paint to help the defense against opponents’ bigger players.

 “Our six seniors, and these three in particular, want to take this team back to the state finals,’’ said head coach Jennifer Gillom, whose team finished as runner-up to Surprise Valley Vista and had a 27-6 overall record.

“These three girls have good basketball IQs. They are smart and they play with a lot of confidence.’’

The 5-foot-5 McIntosh has been among the state’s top point guards in the last few years. She had some of her best games in the tournament, and recently signed a letter of intent to play collegiately at Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif.

As a junior, she averaged 12.4 points, 4.6 assists, 5.2 steals and shot 45 percent on her field-goal attempts.

“They (Pepperdine) were down for awhile, but they started to turn things around and I want to be a part of that, be a part of history, just like I want to do here,’’ McIntosh said.

McIntosh can be a feisty player and does not shy away from mixing it up inside with the bigger people.

“We lost a lot of height, but in a way, that might be to our advantage because other teams aren’t always going to know what we are going to do,’’ she said.

She is ready to knock the ball away, along with Rasheed-Moore, from opponents and get the fast break moving.

“We definitely should be more run and gun,’’ McIntosh said. “We will have a fast transition, turn defense into offense.’’

Late last season and continuing over the summer through now, Gillom has urged the guards not to hesitate much on their shot selection, including 3-pointers.

“After practice or before, we are shooting, sometimes with a machine,’’ McIntosh said. “A lot of teams play zone against us, but we don’t want to make it easy for them. The better we shoot, the harder it is for them to guard us.’’

As for the 3-pointers, McIntosh said the girls “are shooting NBA 3s in practice. We want to extend our range as much as we can.’’

The 5-9 Rasheed-Moore admits the team “is pretty guard-heavy, but that’s OK. We feel we are pretty versatile, including defense, where people like myself, Addison and “E’’ (junior Elysia Fleetwood) can go down inside and defend the post.’’

The Gators will have quite a few young players, and Rasheed-Moore said they are picking up things fast.

She said the team’s speed and endurance will be better, the latter due to running a mile once a week. Rasheed-Moore has participated in track and field in the past.

She admitted that she might have been a bit bashful with her shooting in the past, but much of that has changed.

“I wasn’t as confident, but I am a lot more now,’’ said Rasheed-Moore, who averaged 7.1 points along with 2.1 assists, 3.6 steals and shot 36 percent from the floor. “I have been in the gym every single day. My alignment and my footwork are better, my 2s are better and my 3s are better.

“We know most of the things each other does well, but we also need to make sure we communicate.’’

Rasheed-Moore has not signed with a college program, but is leaning toward the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.

If she does, she likely will be close to Putnam, who is taking a serious look at Trinity University, also in San Antonio.

Gillom said Putnam appears to be in better shape this time around.

“The others see how hard she has worked, and that can only be a motivation for them,’’ Gillom said.

Putnam said she picked up endurance by playing club ball and with Xavier’s entry in the Thunderbird Summer League.

The ability to run will help the team be faster and pick up the pace, according to Putnam.

She likes to escape her defenders and spread out on the wing for her high-arcing long-range shots. It’s a good thing the gym ceilings are high. The 5-9 Putnam averaged 9.3 points, shot 40 percent from the floor and 35 percent on 3-pointers (65 made).

The Gators’ 2018-19 season begins the day after Thanksgiving, on Friday (Nov. 23) and continues on Saturday (Nov. 24) with the Scorpion Shootout at Goodyear Desert Edge. The team is due to play two games each day.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Getting a three-peat in soccer is no easy task

Winning two state championships in a row made Xavier Prep soccer players feel good. What would make the Gators feel even better would be a third straight crown and 11th overall.

The players have been very busy over the last few weeks trying to impress head coach Barb Chura and assistant Rafael Rios.

Although Xavier is ranked No. 1 in azcentral’s Super 10 teams in the preseason, a three-peat will not be easy. The Gators have 17 new players with little experience, but have a few others returning after missing the last couple of years while playing club ball.

They will be missing senior forward Emily Chiao, who signed this week with Stanford, with a significant knee injury that will keep her out for about four months. That’s basically the whole season. She was expected to be an integral part of the team after sitting out the two previous years.

And senior Kyla Ferry, who was the Gatorade Player of the Year and azcentral’s Player of the Year, will be reduced to a team manager role due to her affiliation with a developmental academy tied to U.S. Soccer.

Arizona Interscholastic Association rules prohibit a player double-dipping with both. A few players (such has Chiao) have had that same issue in the past and some others who were here last year will be out for the season.

Ferry, a forward who has signed with Colorado, will be missed. She had 20 goals and 12 assists a year ago and has 46 goals for her career.

Xavier will have three seniors return to the program after sitting out early in their prep careers.

They are forward Caitlin Johnston, forward Sadie Wintergalen and midfield/forward Lindsay Hubbard, whose older sister, Abby, graduated after proving to be a key contributor. All three girls participated in club ball.

Karla Alvarado, a midfielder who earned state recognition last year, is back. Chura said she is good with ball control, helps keep it away from opponents and disrupts them when they do get the ball.

“She does a lot of the dirty work. She is always grinding. Has a great work ethic,’’ Chura said.

Another key player is defender Katie McGee. She missed most of last season after breaking a leg in the season opener, but returned in time to play in the 1-0 win over Gilbert Perry for the championship.

McGee likely will be in the same middle spot along the back line that was occupied by star defender Nicole Hook, who graduated. And Hook scored the only goal for Xavier in the title match against Perry.

The back line will have to step up on defense, and junior Kaitlyn Lauck and sophomore Rian Mercado are expected to help.

An extremely important piece of the puzzle that can’t be overlooked is what will happen with the goalies. Multi-year star Kinsey Ehmann graduated and now is at Pepperdine. She was a great athlete (also in track and field) who made too many key saves to count.

Due to fires in southern California, Ehmann has been back in the Valley and is helping Chura with the goalies until she returns to Pepperdine. Hopefully she will impart as much advice as she can.

At this point, the starting role will be decided after competition between sophomores Jaden Campbell and Katie Harris. Both are decent athletes, but their lack of game experience, particularly in pressure situations, will need to be closely evaluated.

“We hope the process (sharpening skills and improving the mindset) will come together for everyone over time,’’ Chura said. “We need to sell them on what we are trying to do. We are cautiously optimistic.’’

The top teams in 6A this season are expected to include Xavier, Perry, Chandler Hamilton, Gilbert Highland, Phoenix Desert Vista and Scottsdale Chaparral, which moves up to 6A after winning the last two titles in 5A.

Xavier will open the season on Nov. 27 at Tolleson High, and the Gators’ first home match at Petznick Field will be Nov. 30 against Desert Vista.

Xavier 2018-19 soccer roster

Jaden Campbell, So., GK

Katie Harris, So., GK

Ansley Burns, Fr., MF

Lindsay Hubbard, Sr., MF

Kendall Warner, So., F

Rian Mercado, So., D

Brynn Lebel, Jr., MF/F

*Emily Chiao, Sr., MF

Elizabeth Warren, Jr., FB

Tatum Molina, Sr., F

Caitlin Johnston, Sr., F

Megan Zacher, Jr., FB

Katie McGee, Sr., D

Kaitlyn Lauck, Jr., D

Keila Lopez Enriquez, Fr., MF

Sadie Wintergalen, Sr., F

Brooke Bream, So., F

Karla Alvarado, Sr., MF

Kaya Vega, Fr., D

Kelli Rasmussen, Sr., D

Olivia Castrichini, Fr., F

Taylor Garman, Jr., MF

Megan Onofrei, Jr., D

Jayme Brown, Fr., D


Thursday, November 15, 2018

XCP wants to run the floor, prove it belongs

Some followers of girls basketball in Arizona might view Xavier Prep’s trip to last season’s 6A Conference championship game as a one-hit wonder.

The Gators couldn’t get there again, right?

Not so fast, naysayers. The Gators have the confidence that they have the ingredients to make another run for the title trophy.

And that is despite losing its two tallest players, 6-foot-2 Katie Hassett and 6-1 Montana Oltrogge, to graduation.

So look for coach Jennifer Gillom to make a few adjustments for the 2018-19 season that tips off on Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 23-24) in the Scorpion Shootout at Goodyear Desert Edge. The tournament will feature 16 teams and the Gators will play four games, the first on Nov. 23 at 4:30 p.m. against Phoenix Trevor Browne.

When you’re talking adjustments, you mean run, run, and run some more.

Xavier basketball coach Jennifer Gillom (Xavier photo).
“I am pretty pleased with what I see (in preseason practices),’’ said Gillom. “We are ready to start where we left off. We won’t be as big, but we will have the speed to compensate for that. We also will rely again on our defense. We will look small, but we feel we can defend against anyone of any size.’’

Xavier, which finished 27-6 last season and earned state runner-up, the highest finish in school history, is led by its senior tri-captains, point guard Leilani McIntosh, wing and shooter deluxe Addie Putnam and guard Paris Rasheed-Moore, perhaps the team’s top defender.

Also watch for returnee Elysia Fleetwood, a junior guard-forward, sophomore guard Kailey Appel, a transfer from Mesa Red Mountain, and senior guard-forward Truly Helton.

As for the height issue, the Gators have four players who are capable of standing tall – junior center Tanya Barakat (6 feet), sophomore power forward Rachel Orr (6-0) and a pair of freshmen – center Ellie Higgins (6-0) and power forward Toni Garcia (5-10).

Barakat, who has played goalie for XCP’s lacrosse team, showed good aggressiveness during XCP’s title run in the Thunderbird Summer League. Orr was among the important elements in a 13-5 finish for the JV last season.

Higgins is the first cousin of Hassett and already is showing good movement under the basket. Garcia should be able to provide added rebounding strength. All four players are able to run the floor and fit into what Gillom is trying to accomplish.

“We are keeping a lot of the stuff (plays) that we had before, but we’re putting in a lot of new things,’’ Gillom said. “It’s better to have both than to start completely over.

“It’s all a work in progress. We don’t want to show anything too early (in the season). There’s a lot for them to grasp right now. It’s coming, and when they (younger players) do get it, it’s going to be good for us.’’

The coach wants to build a top-notch record, but that will not come by playing a lot of pushovers early on.

“In order to be the best, you have to play the best,’’ she said.

2018-19 Xavier Prep basketball roster

(listed alphabetically)

Kailey Appel, So., 5-8, G.

Tanya Barakat, Jr., 6-0, Sr.

Mackenzie Coder, So., 5-6, PG.

Cara Coffman, Sr., 5-10, PF.

Elysia Fleetwood, Jr., 5-11, G-F.

Toni Garcia, Fr., 5-10, PF.

Truly Helton, Sr., 5-8, G-F.

Ellie Higgins, Fr., 6-0, C.

Leilani McIntosh, Sr., 5-5, PG.

Bianca Nava, Sr., 5-6, PG.

Rachel Orr, So., 6-0, PF.

Addie Putnam, Sr., 5-9, G.

Paris Rasheed-Moore, Sr., 5-9, G.

Sophie Sash, So., 5-5, G.

Victoria Saucedo, So., 5-7, G.

Head coach -- Jennifer Gillom. Assistants -- Patrick Mangosing, Rikki Mulloy.

Athletes sign on dotted line, then celebrate

The latest Xavier athletes to sign national letters of intent are, top row, from left, Lindsay Hubbard, Leilani McIntosh, Emily Cons and Sadie Wintergalen. Bottom row, from left, Kyla Ferry, Jada Sims, Trinity Cavanaugh, Emily Chiao and Shannon Shields (Xavier photo).
NLI (National Letter of Intent) Signing Day has always been a big deal for Xavier Prep’s graduating seniors who are moving on to the next level.

On Wednesday (Nov. 14), the school raised the bar with a big signing ceremony at Founders Hall.

Approximately 200 people were in attendance – including family members, coaches, teammates and other students.

The nine Gator standouts wore sweatshirts of their college as well as big smiles. And school officials unveiled a new backdrop for pictures that signifies the occasion.

It was another great day for Xavier, and we look forward to many more!

Xavier Prep 2018 fall NLI signees

Trinity Cavanaugh, beach volleyball, Texas Christian University, business major.

Emily Chiao, soccer, Stanford University, computer science.

Emily Cons, golf, University of Arizona, criminal justice.

Kyla Ferry, soccer, University of Colorado, business.

Lindsay Hubbard, soccer, Seattle University, business.

Leilani McIntosh, basketball, Pepperdine University, sports medicine.

Shannon Shields, indoor volleyball, University of Louisville, biology.

Jada Sims, track and field, Vanderbilt University, biology, health & society.

Sadie Wintergalen, soccer, Southern Methodist University, biology or psychology.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Rankin, Gators excel in Meet of Champions

Sophomore Mia Rankin had a strong showing and a handful of her Xavier Prep teammates fared well on Nov. 7 in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s inaugural Meet of Champions, which featured the state’s top swimmers and divers, regardless of division.

Rankin, the state runner-up in the 500-yard freestyle to Scottsdale Chaparral’s Ashley Strouse, had another duel with the sophomore in the MOC. Rankin, with nearly a 3-second deficit in the recent Division I state meet, was within .09 of a second this time, and both swimmers earned automatic All-American nods at the Phoenix Country Day School aquatic center.

Rankin also finished third in the 200-yard individual medley and anchored Xavier’s fourth-place finish in the 400-yard freestyle relay.

AIA Meet of Champions

Xavier Prep results

200-yard medley relay – XCP 3rd, 1:47.73 (Fr. Gracie Munk, So. Paola Guerra, Jr. Olivia Paliscak, So. Kelly Scott).

200-yard freestyle – Maddie Wright, Jr., 8th, 1:55.08.

200-yard individual medley – Mia Rankin, So., 3rd, 2:04.52.

100-yard butterfly – Munk, 10th, 57.87.

500-yard freestyle – Rankin, 2nd, 4:50.62 (automatic All-American); Wright, 7th, 5:04.30.

200-yard freestyle relay – XCP 3rd, 1:38.76 (Paliscak, Scott, Jr. Vica Dow, Wright).

100-yard backstroke – Munk, 7th, 58.56.

100-yard breaststroke – Guerra, 9th, 1:07.16.

400-yard freestyle relay – XCP 4th, 3:38.43 (Munk, Wright, Dow, Rankin).

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Xavier finds best way to win -- right here, right now

Right here, right now.

That was the motivational slogan on the back of the green T-shirts worn by members of Xavier Prep’s cross-country team at the Division I state championship meet on Saturday (Nov. 10) at the Cave Creek Golf Course in north Phoenix.

The Gators took care of business by placing five of its runners in the top 22 finishers and unseated defending champion Chandler High to win XCP’s 10th title in the sport and first since 2012.

Xavier scored 71 points, with Chandler getting 93 points for the runner-up spot and Gilbert Highland taking third at 105.

Junior Mia Olsen and sophomore Jamie Stelnik led the way, finishing fifth and seventh, respectively, among 145 runners over the 5K course on the warm and breezy day.

The other three point-scorers for Xavier were junior Grace Valandra at No. 18, senior Karina Hawkins at No. 19 and senior Karina Smith at No. 22. Sophomore Sammy Braun and senior Helen Innes were 23rd and 36th, respectively.

Xavier's 2018 cross-country champions, with coach Dave Van Sickle, top left, and Athletic Director Sr. Lynn Winsor, center, in blue vest. (Photo by Don Ketchum).
“We figured that Chandler would be the team to beat, but we were focused,’’ said long-time Xavier coach Dave Van Sickle.

Asked about the team’s mindset entering the event after winning the D-I, Section I meet about a week before, Van Sickle said, “We were just in the right place. We were not too nervious and we were not too confident. We were in a good spot. We were definitely motivated.’’

The Gators’ order of finish was a bit of a surprise. In his head, he had some runners finishing higher and some lower.

“But it all worked out. It’s great,’’ he said.

Olsen and Stelnik did what they have been doing all year, running in close tandem.

“They ran the full distance every week. They run as hard as they can,’’ Van Sickle said.

Olsen said she had been working toward this moment since she was a freshman.

“It’s an amazing feeling,’’ she said. “Going into the meet, we talked about how much into it we were going to need to be mentally, and we did that.’’

Said Stelnik: “Last year, we might have been a little too confident, but we weren’t this year. We still had confidence. We knew we could do it. For me, I just wanted to stay calm and tried not to let anybody pass me.’’

The runners enjoyed the trophy presentation, and medals went to the top 21 individuals. One fan (probably a parent) passed out flowers to the girls, and the team posed for more pictures afterward, including some with Xavier Athletic Director Sr. Lynn Winsor.

It’s always good to get another title. Xavier made another strong finish for the fall sports. Golf and volleyball also won championships and swimming/diving was state runner-up.

“Let me tell you that winning does not get old,’’ Van Sickle said.

Division I championship team scores

Xavier Prep 71, Chandler High 93, Gilbert Highland 105, Phoenix Desert Vista 120, Mesa Red Mountain 156, Scottsdale Chaparral 181, Mesa Skyline 188, Glendale Mountain Ridge 199, Gilbert Perry 205, Mesa Mountain View 310, Phoenix Maryvale 329, Anthem Boulder Creek 341, Chandler Hamilton 346, Mesa Desert Ridge 358, Yuma Cibola 370, Tempe Corona del Sol 409, Phoenix Mountain Pointe 467, Queen Creek 507, Surprise Shadow Ridge 511, Chandler Basha 535.

Xavier Prep results

Mia Olsen, Jr., fifth, 19:09.15; Jamie Stelnik, So., seventh, 19:17.06; Grace Valandra, Jr., 18th, 20:00.45; Karina Hawkins, Sr., 19th, 20:12.96; Karina Smith, Sr., 22nd, 22:20.18; Sammy Braun, So., 23rd, 20:23.76; Helen Innes, Sr., 36th, 20:48.87.

Thursday, November 8, 2018


Xavier's 2018 volleyball state champions (Photos by Don Ketchum).
It didn’t take too long for Tempe Corona del Sol’s Aztecs to figure out what was happening.

They could feel it in the air and in the vibration beneath their feet. It was something they would not be able to stop.

The Blue and White Wave.

Xavier Prep’s Gators won their second straight 6A Conference volleyball championship at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday night (Nov. 7), scoring their second straight 3-0 sweep after defeating Chandler Hamilton in the semifinals.

Junior Bri McKnight unloaded a shot deep into Corona del Sol territory and it bounced off an Aztec’s hands and over the back line for the final point, putting the stamp on the victory – 25-21, 25-20 and 25-18.

Xavier finished with a 33-9 record, Corona del Sol 29-14. The Gators also had swept the Aztecs 3-0 in a match earlier in the year at Corona.

When McKnight saw what she and her teammates had done, she cupped her hands over her face as if she couldn’t believe it. Tears began to flow and not long after, the Blue and White Wave of boisterous Xavier faithful spilled onto the floor.

McKnight, an outside hitter, saved her best match of the season for last. She had 20 kills and 13 digs. Senior setter Shannon Shields had the perfect touch on most of her passes with 40 assists, as well as 12 digs. Senior libero Ashley Yeung was key on the back row with 17 digs and sprawling on the floor to reach the ball on several occasions. Junior middle blocker Jasmine Knight had 12 kills.

McKnight and Knight are expected to return as seniors next year, and sophomore outside hitter Serena Turner will be back. The Gators got a bonus from Turner in the title match – she had been out of action for several weeks with an ankle sprain, but worked feverishly to get back in time for the playoffs and contributed a pair of kills along with one dig.

Gators raise another title trophy.
Asked about her reaction to the win, McKnight said, “I realized that we just did it. I kind of dropped to the floor. I am beyond happy.’’

She was ecstatic that she could help send Shields and Yeung, two of her best friends on the team, out with a flourish.

Shields exuded the confidence that carried her for most of her four years on the varsity. She never seemed to get too high or too low, but all the while had fun. She said she and the Gators were well aware that Corona was capable of coming back from an 0-2 deficit as it did in a five-set semifinal shocker over top-seeded Gilbert Perry.

“We said, “We are not going to be Perry,’ ‘’ she said. “We did not want to let up.

“When we beat (Phoenix) Pinnacle (in the quarterfinals), we knew we would make it to the finals.’’

As McKnight was happy for her, Shields was happy for McKnight.

“The way she played was crucial for us,’’ Shields said.

During timeouts and in between games, the Gators raised what looked like a shoebox over their heads and touched it. Coach Lamar-Renee Bryant would not divulge its contents, only to say it carried a number of things “special to us. It’s a tradition.’’

After Xavier closed out the first game with a 3-1 run in the final moments, Corona was in control for much of Game 2. But Xavier hung tough, getting a kill from senior Jennelle Yarwood to the back corner and a kill from McKnight from the middle of the back row to win it.

In Game 3, it was as if the big win over Perry and the 0-2 deficit had taken its toll on the Aztecs, energy-wise. The closest they got was within 14-13 and the Gators marched toward victory.

During timeouts, Bryant said she would tell her players to play in five-point increments, “and that made the game more manageable for us.’’

It was a satisfying conclusion for Bryant and her players.

Playing in a couple of high-profile mid-season tournaments (Durango in Las Vegas and the Nike in the Phoenix area) took a lot of energy out of the Gators, and she said it “took about a month’’ for them to return to normal.

Late in the season, the team encountered “a few bumps,’’ according to Shields, namely losses (two each) to Perry and Hamilton.

Bryant admitted that her team had been struggling.

“Except for the last two (Hamilton and Corona del Sol),’’ she said, smiling.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

XCP swimmers in new Meet of Champions

The swimming season isn’t over yet for Xavier Prep’s Gators.

As part of a new idea, the Division I state runner-up will have several athletes compete in the Meet of Champions on Wednesday (Nov. 7) at Phoenix Country Day School. Action begins at 5:30 p.m.

The event is similar to those held after track and field seasons have been completed, where the best performers from every classification compete against each other.

Xavier is expected to feature all three of its relay teams, including the state-champion 200-yard medley.

The school also will be represented in six individual categories.

The swimmers are Maddie Wright (200- and 500-yard freestyles), Mia Rankin (200-yard individual medley and 500 free), Gracie Munk (100-yard butterfly and 100-yard backstroke), and Paola Guerra (100-yard breaststroke).

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Gators, Corona in volleyball title rematch

Every night, when the lights are shut off at Xavier Prep and darkness starts to creep in, the 2017 6A Conference volleyball championship trophy sits in its rightful place of honor and begins to weep. It is lonely, and yearns for companionship.

It needs a new sibling.

The 2018 volleyball team is going to do its best to make that happen.

The second-seeded Gators (32-9) are set to meet No. 4 Tempe Corona del Sol (29-13) in a rematch of last year’s title match on Wednesday (Nov. 7) at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena. Firsts serve is 8 p.m. The contest will be preceded by the 5A championship match.

Both teams reached this point in surprising fashion in Monday’s (Nov. 5) semifinals.

Xavier had lost to No. 3 Chandler Hamilton three times, once in an invitational and twice during the regular season, including a shutout in the last one on Oct. 23. But the Gators, with one of their best all-around efforts of the season, controlled the semi pretty much throughout and recorded a 3-0 sweep, 25-21, 26-24 and 25-16.

Corona del Sol staged a big-time rally to stun top-seeded Gilbert Perry. The Aztecs dropped the first two games, 25-18 and 25-15 before roaring back for a 25-21, 25-21, 15-7 victory.

How did Xavier do it against Hamilton?

Senior setter and Under Armour All-American Shannon Shields described the Gators’ mindset.

“We were all talking about this the other day, and there was just a good feeling,’’ said Shields, who had 28 assists and provided several key serves. “We wanted to play this with a lot of energy and teamwork, and as seniors, we wanted to help push the team through. Basically, we had lost to Hamilton too many times and we went “all in’ to stop that.’’

Said coach Lamar-Renee Bryant: “We managed ourselves better. We talked about how golf (champion) and swimming (runner-up) had been competitive and we wanted to do that, too. This is the time where we feel we can start to shine.

“All of the girls contributed, and it sure makes the coaches smile.’’

In the first game, Xavier had a five-point run to overcome an early Hamilton lead, but the Huskies came back. They held an 18-14 lead when Bryant called timeout after a long Xavier serve. The Gators went on to lead briefly before Hamilton pulled even. It was 21-all when Xavier took over. Hamilton blocked a Xavier shot out of bounds, Gator senior Jennelle Yarwood had a service ace, junior Juli Westfall had a kill and junior Bri McKnight had the finishing kill.

A long serve by Xavier enabled Hamilton to pull even at 23 in Game 2. McKnight had another kill and Hamilton returned a shot out of bounds go give Xavier the win.

In Game 3, Hamilton had three service aces in a row for an early lead, and it looked as if the Huskies were on the way to forcing a Game 4. Xavier came back to tie it at 9, and an ace by Shields put the Gators ahead for good. They pulled away and never were seriously challenged after that.

Xavier was strong defensively all night. Bryant called the blocking effort one of the team’s best of the season. Senior Hayley Nash led the way with four. Senior libero Ashley Yeung had 12 digs and three aces. Junior Jasmine Knight led the team with 13 kills, Westfall had nine and McKnight seven.

Now Xavier must find a way to hold off Corona del Sol. Xavier swept the Aztecs at Corona, 3-0, on Sept. 11, but the Aztecs have four transfers, senior Mary Shroll from Tempe Prep (former 2A Player of the Year), setter Ashley Hayden and middle blocker Jenna Bolena from Phoenix Desert Vista, and setter McKenna Olsen from Gilbert Mesquite.


It would be a good idea for fans planning to attend the final match to visit the Arizona Interscholastic Association Web site,, for parking information (including fees), as well as entry and bag policies.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Gators swim well, but Chaparral much better

Xavier Prep swimming coach Mark Rankin cringed when he saw that 2017 Division II state champion Scottsdale Chaparral would be moving up to Division I in 2018.

Chaparral is considered by many to be among the top teams in the nation, and Rankin, whose Gators won the Division I title a year ago, knew that his team would have a big challenge.

It came to pass on Saturday (Nov. 3), when Chaparral left Xavier and everybody else in its wake to stake its claim as the new D-I champ at the Skyline Aquatic Center in east Mesa.

On an afternoon of spectacular weather, Chaparral defeated second-place Xavier by a whopping 176 ½ points (477 ½-301). To get an idea of the Firebirds’ dominance, Xavier’s point total was just 20 off of what it scored last year on the way to its title.

“I was very pleased with the way we swam,’’ said Rankin, who led the team with Jenny James. “We had some great swimming and there was great swimming all the way around.’’

Xavier won the first event of the day, the 200-yard medley relay, and had a number of other top-level finishers.

It started with sophomore Mia Rankin, who was third in the 200-yard individual medley and second in the 500-yard freestyle. She became an automatic All-American with her effort in the 500 free and is under consideration for All-American status in the 200 IM.

In the 500, she got a measure of revenge against Chandler High’s Destiny Kling, who won last year’s race by touching the wall only .18 of a second ahead of Rankin. This time, Rankin was second with a healthy six-second advantage over third-place Kling.

Xavier, always strong in the relays, finished third in the 200-yard freestyle relay and second in the 400-yard freestyle relay.

Freshman Gracie Munk finished second in the 100-yard backstroke. She and Rankin also contributed to some of the relay events.

And Xavier’s divers also looked good in the 1-meter competition on Saturday at Phoenix Country Day School. Senior Alyssa Largay and junior Maddie Sewell switched spots from their back-to-back finishes in 2017. Largay went from 11th to 10th and Sewell from 10th to 11th.

Freshman diver Samantha Klein gave the Gators a big boost with a No. 14 finish. Diving coach Frank Pipitone said Klein had been working on a few dives with greater difficulty with hopes that she would score more points, and she did just that.

“That was probably our highlight,’’ said Pipitone, who also coaches the divers at Brophy Prep. They helped the Broncos win the boys’ D-I title.

“It was a tough meet, but I am very proud of our girls,’’ Pipitone added.

Coach Rankin can take comfort in the fact that most of his swimmers are underclassmen and will return next season. Unfortunately, so will Chaparral’s.

“We will stay as close to them as we can. You never know what might happen,’’ he said.


A meet official did a classy thing afterward as the champion and runner-up trophies were about to be presented.

He led the Gator girls in a cheer, “Mo! Mo! Mo!’’ in honor of Rankin’s late wife and Mia's mother, Maureen “Mo’’ Rankin, well known in Valley and state swimming circles. She was the Gators’ coach last year before cancer she had eradicated earlier returned and took her life in late September after a courageous battle with the disease. Mark Rankin joined James and the two led XCP to an emotional title triumph.

Girls’ Division I team scores

Scottsdale Chaparral 477 ½, Xavier Prep 301, Mesa Mountain View 268, Mesa Red Mountain 170, Gilbert Highland 138 ½, Chandler High 117, Mesa Desert Ridge 110, Chandler Hamilton 99 ½, Tucson High 96 ½, Phoenix Desert Vista 91, Phoenix Pinnacle 69, Gilbert Perry 65, Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor 46, Peoria Liberty 44, Mesa Westwood 35, Mesa Skyline 35, Tempe Corona del Sol 30, Queen Creek 26, Chandler Basha 16, Anthem Boulder Creek 16, Surprise Valley Vista 14, Mesa High 11, Yuma Cibola 1.

Xavier Prep results

200-yard medley relay – Championship race: First, 1:46.18 (Gracie Munk, Paola Guerra, Olivia Paliscak, Kelly Scott).

200-yard freestyle – Championship race: Maddie Wright, fourth, 1:51.79. Consolation race: Vica Dow, First, 1:54.65.

200-yard individual medley – Championship race: Mia Rankin, third, 2:03.57 (All-American consideration). Consolation race: Sydney Millane, fifth, 2:13.44.

50-yard freestyle – Consolation race: Olivia Paliscak, second, 24.80; Kelly Scott, sixth, 25.12.

1-meter diving – Alyssa Largay, 10th, 375.60 points; Maddie Sewell, 11th, 373.20; Samantha Klein, 14th, 353.25.

100-yard butterfly – Championship race: Gracie Munk, fifth, 57.24; Jordan Herrera, eighth, 58.33. Consolation race: Olivia Paliscak, second, 57.92; Haley Hubbard, sixth, 59.42.

100-yard freestyle – Championship race: Vica Dow, eighth, 53.92. Consolation race: Kelly Scott, seventh, 54.57.

500-yard freestyle – Championship race: Mia Rankin, second, 4:51.59 (Automatic All-American); Maddie Wright, sixth, 5:05.49. Consolation race: Carlie Herrmann, sixth, 5:17.65.

200-yard freestyle relay – Championship race: Third, 1:38.07 (Kelly Scott, Olivia Paliscak, Vica Dow, Maddie Wright).

100-yard backstroke – Championship race: Gracie Munk second, 56.81. Consolation race: Sydney Millane, seventh, 1:01.36.

100-yard breaststroke – Championship race: Paola Guerra, fifth, 1:06.84.

400-yard freestyle relay – Championship race: Second, 3:31.65 (Gracie Munk, Maddie Wright, Vica Dow, Mia Rankin).

Mountain bike riders finish fourth overall

The five-race Arizona Interscholastic Cycling League season came to a conclusion on Sunday (Nov. 4), and the combined club team from Xavier Prep and Brophy Prep finished fourth overall after a fifth-place finish in the final race at the White Tank Mountain Regional Park in Waddell.

In the three-mile JV-1 girls race, XCP junior Heather Kwapiszeski finished seventh on Sunday and eighth overall.  Junior Erin Hill finished 11th and was 12th overall.

In the three-mile JV-2 girls race, junior Camdyn Rael was 31st and 26th overall. Junior Catherine Wandachowitz was 33rd and 31st overall.

Hailey Schwartz had a good season in the Freshman category with a seventh-place finish and seventh overall finish.

And in the 1-lap, 5-mile category for seventh graders, Mary Hill was second in the race and was the overall points leader.

Congratulations to all of the riders, and to coach Rich Perrott and his staff for helping XCP show great improvement.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Sr. Lynn gets the Hall and the wall

A surprise tribute to Sr. Lynn Winsor was unveiled in the Activity Center (photo by Ronna Layne).

Xavier Prep's one and only . . .
Sr. Lynn Winsor, the Xavier athletic director, golf co-head coach and vice principal for activities, got some bonus recognition on Thursday (Nov. 1). It was in addition to being one of the newest inductees into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame later that evening in Scottsdale.

After the Thursday morning’s Mass at school, she was led to the Activity Center, where a large permanent sign had been painted on the east wall.

It read, Sister Lynn Winsor, BVM, XCP Class of 1961, Arizona Sports Hall of Fame, November 2018.

A well-deserved tribute, indeed. All of this only two days after leading Xavier’s golf team to its 36th state championship and eighth in a row.

Winsor was inducted into the Hall with late former Arizona Cardinal and Arizona State player Pat Tillman, former Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Grace, former Olympic swimming medalist Gary Hall Jr., University of Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea, and former Scottsdale Chaparral softball coach Jeff Oscarson.

Gators look fresh and strong in quarterfinals

Who was that team wearing blue and white, moving back and forth and around on the Xavier Prep’s volleyball court on Thursday night (Nov. 1)?

Xavier’s Gators!!

The team had been a bit inconsistent down the stretch of the regular season, but still managed to earn the No. 2 seed in the 6A Conference state tournament.

In the quarterfinals against No. 10 seed Phoenix Pinnacle, the Gators played like the team with which their fans had become familiar for most of the season, winning 3-1. They looked fresh, with a renewed energy.

Or, as coach Lamar-Renee Bryant put it, “Xavier 2.0.’’

Are we now seeing a team that can challenge for a second straight state title?

The answer will come soon, on Monday night (Nov. 5) when Xavier faces No. 3 seed Chandler Hamilton in a semifinal match at Gilbert Highland.  Hamilton (33-9) has defeated Xavier (31-9) three times this season, including once in the Gilbert Invitational and twice as the Premier Region rival, the most recent on Oct. 23.

The Xavier-Hamilton match begins at 5:45 p.m. and will be followed by the other semi between top-seeded Gilbert Perry (32-3) and No. 4 Tempe Corona del Sol (28-13). Semifinal winners will play for all the marbles on Wednesday night (Nov. 7) at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena.

The scores in the win over Pinnacle were 25-18, 20-25, 25-21 and a dominant 25-9.

“We played with more confidence,’’ Bryant said. “Our seniors knew it was going to be “go time.’ They knew it would be their last time on this court.

“If we are to beat teams like Hamilton and Perry (another Premier rival), we are going to need to play more like this. We know what we have to do.’’

Xavier got some big games from some of its seniors. Setter Kate Spellman had a fine all-around effort with three service aces, 19 assists and 10 digs. Setter Shannon Shields had 27 assists, libero Ashley Yeung had 22 digs and outside hitter Hayley Nash had three service aces.

In addition, junior middle blocker Jasmine Knight had 12 kills and five blocks, and junior outside hitter Juli Westfall continued her late-season rise with 14 kills.

Shields honored

Shields, who will play at Louisville starting next year, had been named to the Under Armour Volleyball All-American Second Team, in connection with the American Volleyball Coaches Association.