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, December 5, 2018

Soccer coach encouraged by team's effort

Tuesday night’s (Dec. 4) soccer match proved to be a sign of encouragement for coach Barb Chura and her Xavier Prep Gators.

Xavier broke away from visiting Chandler Basha with a pair of second-half goals for a 3-1 victory.

“I am really encouraged,’’ Chura said. “Basha is a good team and this could have gone in either direction. In our first three games, we’ve won two, lost none and tied one.’’

Xavier looks a lot different than a year ago, when the Gators won their second straight 6A Conference state championship.

There have been numerous adjustments. Some players returned from club or a developmental academy and others departed for the same reasons. And most of the players are young – with little or no experience. Chura has five freshmen, four of them starters.

So the good start is welcomed by Chura, who has a reputation of molding teams such as this into contenders.

It can be frustrating and rewarding at the same time.

“Sometimes I almost like the practices more than the games, watching these players learn and get better,’’ Chura said. “And we have a lot of practice time coming up, so I am looking forward to that.’’

Xavier will have three more matches before breaking for the holidays and its annual participation in the Excalibur Tournament in southern California.

Before practice gets into full swing, the Gators have a quick turnaround with a match at Phoenix Maryvale on Wednesday (Dec. 5), followed by a home match against Yuma Kofa on Friday (Dec. 7) and another home match against Gilbert Highland on Dec. 11. Start times are 6 p.m.

The Gators appear to be passing the ball better, moving better and utilizing their speed. There also is the issue of verbal communication, particularly when an opponent is moving the ball closer to scoring a goal.

Chura attributed Basha’s goal, which came with 4:40 left in the first half and tied the match at 1, as partly miscommunication on her players’ part and partly a good play by Basha.

“When you make the call that you have it (control of the ball), you have to make sure you really have it. That didn’t happen on that play. That’s one of the things we need to work on.’’

Senior forward Caitlin Johnston put Xavier on the board first with a goal that deflected off the Basha goalkeeper’s hand and into the net with 33:42 left in the first half.

Basha’s late first-half goal gave it some momentum going into the intermission.

The teams battled back and forth until Xavier freshman Ansley Burns scored off a deflection following a corner kick with 15:56 left. Her shot was nicely placed -- she booted the ball with her left foot high and deep into the back corner of the net where the keeper could not reach it. Burns also had an earlier assist.

And the decisive stamp was affixed to the match when senior forward Sadie Wintergalen set up senior Lindsay Hubbard with a sharp pass and Hubbard scored with 6:28 left.

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