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 2, 2018

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.

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