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.

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.

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