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, January 30, 2019

Toughest part of soccer season here for Gators

The regular-season soccer finish line is just ahead, and Xavier Prep’s two-time defending state champion Gators are doing their best to put themselves in position for a spot in the 6A Conference state tournament.

A tough late-season schedule is serving as a challenge. The Gators fell to visiting Gilbert Perry, 2-0, on Xavier’s Senior Night on Tuesday (Jan. 29), in a rematch of last year’s title game. Perry is ranked No. 2 in power points by the Arizona Interscholastic Association behind Scottsdale Chaparral and is unbeaten at 18-0-3.

Xavier will finish up its regular season on Friday night (Feb. 1) at No. 5 Chandler Hamilton, another perennially strong program.

As of Wednesday morning (Jan. 30), Xavier (8-5-1) was No. 9 in power points. If the Gators maintain that position, they would have to win a “play-in’’ game on Feb. 7 to be one of the final 16 teams to reach the state tournament.

Play-in games allow teams 9 through 24 in the rankings one last attempt to qualify for state. So if the play-in games would have been held on Wednesday, Xavier would have had a home game against No. 24 Avondale La Joya. Whether that situation becomes a reality will be determined by the outcomes of the remaining games this week.

A win over Hamilton on Friday could move the Gators up a notch to No. 8 and have them avoid the play-in.

The state tournament begins on Saturday, Feb. 9 and if it qualifies, Xavier would have to play on the road.

Xavier coach Barb Chura said it is quite evident why Perry is among the 6A’s elite.

“They’re really good, they have some special players and they play at a high level,’’ she said.

“We had two or three great opportunities (to score), but didn’t quite make it. I would say that we competed really well, but we have to continue to do that. We have improved quite a lot from where we started the season.

“We have to continue to work hard and create more goal-scoring opportunities.’’

Perry scored one goal in each half. The first came with 10:15 left in the first half on a penalty kick. Goal No. 2 came early in the second half, on a deflection at the 37:45 mark.

XCP hoops rolls, at home for final 2 games

Xavier Prep’s basketball team won its sixth straight game on Tuesday night (Jan. 29), coasting past Chandler Basha, 64-29, in the Gators’ final road game of the regular season.

Xavier (22-3) retained atop the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s power-points rankings, with two home games remaining in the regular season.

The Gators will play host to Chandler High on Friday night (Feb. 1) at the Activity Center and Feb. 5 to Chandler Hamilton.

The Hamilton game will have a higher profile due to the fact that the Xavier program has been selected to host the inaugural Phoenix Mercury High School Basketball Tour.

The WNBA team, for which Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom is a former player, is sending its hip hop dancers, its mascot, and its emcee, Weezy, to be part of the pregame and halftime festivities. Both the Xavier and Hamilton teams will be given warm-up shirts. T-shirts will be tossed into the stands at halftime and the hip hop dancers will perform.

Xavier’s freshman team will begin the parade with 4 p.m. games against Chandler and Hamilton, followed by the junior varsity at 5:30 p.m. and the varsity at 7 p.m.

Admission is $5 for adults, Xavier and Brophy Prep students get in free with their student ID and all other students are $3.

The Xavier athletics department encourages everyone to join the fun. Go Gators!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

E's big Effort sparks Gator hoops rally

Let us introduce you to Elysia Fleetwood.

To her Xavier Prep basketball teammates, she simply is known as “E.’’

The junior has continued to Evolve on the floor for the Gators this season.

And on Friday night (Jan. 25), “E’’ meant “Everything.’’

After missing the front end of a one-and-one free-throw attempt with 19 seconds left in the game and Xavier clinging to a one-point lead over visiting Gilbert Perry, she returned to the charity stripe for two more attempts.

She nailed both of them.

It made the Gators breathe a bit easier, but there were three seconds left as Perry inbounded the ball from underneath the Xavier basket following a timeout.

The odds were against the Pumas, but they gave it their best shot. The inbounds pass went toward a Perry player near the sideline, but it was a bit off the mark and it went into the hands of Xavier’s Paris Rasheed-Moore.

At last, this one was finally settled and Xavier earned a 46-43 victory in the 6A Conference Premier Region battle, erasing some of the frustration from a two-point loss at Perry on Jan. 8.

Xavier, ranked No. 1 in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s power-points list, raised its record to 21-3 overall and 4-1 in region play. No. 3 Perry slipped to 16-7 and 4-2.

The Gators have three more games left in the regular season – at Chandler Basha on Tuesday (Jan. 29) and home games against Chandler High on Feb. 1 and Chandler Hamilton on Feb. 5.

“A game like this just shows people what kind of character we have,’’ said Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom. “That’s what we need at this time of year.’’

Xavier led at the end of the first quarter, but Perry roared back with an 11-3 run late in the second for a one-point lead at halftime.

Fleetwood scored six in the third quarter as the Gators led by four going into Period #4.

Perry rallied to lead 43-40, after which Xavier called a timeout with 1:21 left.

The Gators then worked the ball around to senior guard Addie Putnam, and she drained a 3-pointer to tie it and the Xavier faithful roared their approval. To say that was a huge shot was an understatement.

After a steal, Rasheed-Moore was fouled and made the first of a one-and-one but missed the second with 26 seconds left. She would lead the Gators with 14 points, with Putnam getting 12.

Fleetwood missed the one-and-one at :19, but was back at the line after she grabbed a rebound and Perry was forced to foul at :03.

The ball settled into the net twice, giving Fleetwood the most important two points of her eight-point night.

Asked what she told Fleetwood during the timeout, Gillom said, “I said, “All you have to do is follow through (releasing the ball).’  She listened, and she knocked ‘em down.’’

And what was Fleetwood’s take on the situation?

“My main focus was this is what my team needs,’’ she said. “I love this team and will do anything for them. I just wanted to take my time.’’

It completed a day of multi-tasking for her. Before the freshman game, she was helping and encouraging the younger players during warm-ups.

Fleetwood said she has thought about coaching some day, and said even though the freshmen have struggled, “Having an older perspective will help. They need to know to stick together, that it might not happen for them now, but it will later.’’

If the freshmen were in the same situation as Fleetwood had been at the end of the game, what would she have told them?

“Just take your time. And your team is still going to love you, miss it or make it,’’ she said.

Chandler High surprises Xavier soccer

Xavier Prep’s soccer team had won two in a row entering Friday night’s game against host Chandler High, and Chandler had lost four straight.

It didn’t matter, as Chandler scored a goal in each half and happily ended its streak with a surprising 2-0 victory.

Xavier dropped to 8-4-1, while Chandler improved to 4-6-3.

The Gators have two regular-season games remaining – at home on Tuesday (Jan. 29) against Gilbert Perry and Feb. 1 on the road against Chandler Hamilton.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Yeung, Yarwood receive volleyball honors

Xavier Prep senior volleyball players Ashley Yeung and Jennelle Yarwood have been chosen All-Americans by the Arizona Volleyball Coaches Association and the Dairy Council of Arizona.

They were honored at a banquet in Queen Creek on Jan. 19.

In addition to their accomplishments on the court, players are selected for maintaining a strong academic standard and community service.

Coaches and athletic directors also are involved in the process with letters of recommendation.

Congratulations to Ashley and Jennelle for this well-deserved honor!!

Time on Gators' side against Mountain View

Thursday’s (Jan. 24) Senior Night proved to be a wide-ranging emotional ride for Xavier Prep’s basketball team.

The Gators were feeling all warm and fuzzy after the pregame ceremonies, but by the time the non-region game against Mesa Mountain View had ended, they walked off the floor stunned as Mountain View rallied from a 23-point deficit in the third quarter and nearly pulled off a big upset with an 11-0 run to finish the game. It seemed like the Toros might have been able to pull it off, but they ran out of time and fell 59-54.

Perhaps the Gators (20-3, 3-1 in 6A Premier Region) were looking a bit ahead to Friday night’s rematch at home against Gilbert Perry (16-6, 4-1). On Jan. 8, Perry rallied to nip XCP at the wire, 60-58.

The Toros (11-10 overall) outhustled the Gators in the fourth quarter, and the Gators seemed somewhat confused at times about what they were supposed to do.

Coach Jennifer Gillom gave junior post player Tanya Barakat the start as Barakat continued to show improvement as she has the last few weeks. Barakat, who played well in a recent key victory at Chandler Hamilton, finished with four points.

And the Gators got a lift from guard Kailey Appel, a sophomore transfer from Mesa Red Mountain who had been sidelined with a wrist/arm injury. Appel showed good court sense and scored her team’s final points with about two minutes left in the game with a basket, her first as a Gator.

Ten players scored for Xavier. Senior guard Addie Putnam put up 18, including a pair of 3-pointers. Senior guards Paris Rasheed-Moore and Leilani McIntosh each scored 10.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Gators send a message, and it's not SOS

While many Xavier Prep students were participating in an annual ski trip to Colorado’s high country on Friday (Jan. 18), the school’s basketball team was back in Arizona, seeking a lift as it attempted to climb Mount Hamilton.

Hamilton’s Huskies were the top-ranked team on the Arizona Interscholastic Associaton’s power points list, and had easily defeated a tough No. 2-ranked Gilbert Perry team on Thursday (Jan. 17). No. 3 Xavier had lost to Perry on Jan. 8, so the odds were stacked against the Gators.

During pre-game warm-ups in the Hamilton gym, Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom could sense something different about her team. The Gators had a good week of practice, and appeared to have their focus.

“I felt it from the beginning,’’ Gillom said.

She was spot-on.

Xavier trailed only twice, with the first basket of the game and the first basket of the second half. But the Gators otherwise handled every challenge thrown at them and with what might be considered their best game of the season, were able to plant the victory flag atop Mount Hamilton, 49-40.

The Gators are 19-3 overall and are in a three-way tie with Hamilton (17-5) and Perry (15-6) for the 6A Conference Premier Region lead at 3-1.

Gillom had more of a bounce in her step as she headed toward the locker room to celebrate afterward.

“I have been waiting so long for that (Xavier) team to show up,’’ she said. “The leadership we got from our seniors, our execution on offense and defense . . . I haven’t seen that happen for a long time.’’

Xavier had led just 20-19 at halftime, but that one-point differential was a BIG point.

“It sent a message that we were able to play with them (Hamilton) and would be able to continue to play with them,’’ Gillom said.

The senior trio of point guard Leilani McIntosh and guards Paris Rasheed-Moore and Addie Putnam were the driving force.

McIntosh scored five points to keep Xavier afloat in the early part of the fourth quarter and finished with 15 points. Rasheed-Moore, who had 12 points, drove to the basket and made a key three-point play with 1:58 left in the game to increase the Gators’ lead to six. And Putnam got 10 points, all in the second half.

Just as important was the effort of junior post player Tanya Barakat in the second quarter.

With junior guard-forward Elysia Fleetwood saddled with three first-quarter fouls, Gillom put the 6-foot Barakat in the game to provide more of a physical presence around the basket.

Barakat responded with back-to-back baskets and came up with a handful of big rebounds.

Gillom had watched Barakat in practice during the week, liked what she saw and decided to give her a chance.

“That (game performance) was huge,’’ Gillom said. “She is really coming along and is starting to believe in herself.’’

It is something all of the Gators need in the coming weeks. To look in the mirror and remember what it took for them to defeat Hamilton.

Xavier will play next on Thursday (Jan. 24) with a non-region home game against Mesa Mountain View, then have a rematch with Perry at home on Friday (Jan. 25).

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

XCP sloshes to 1-0 soccer win over Pinnacle

Senior midfielder Karla Alvarado scored a first-half goal and sophomore goalkeeper Katie Harris got her second straight shutout on Tuesday night (Jan. 15) as Xavier Prep’s soccer team defeated Phoenix Pinnacle 1-0 at a rain-soaked Petznick Field.

Loyal spectators huddled wherever they could to stay as dry as possible.

Xavier (8-3-1) will return to action on Jan. 25 with a contest at Chandler High.

Xavier Prep soccer players try to stay dry underneath a canopy, above. Gators' Ansley Burns (red shoes)  follows through after sending a pass upfield to a teammate, below. (Photos by Sr. Lynn Winsor).

Second-half defense rescues Gator hoops

If one thing doesn’t work, you have to adjust and try something else. If you don’t change, you could be in big trouble.

Xavier Prep basketball coach Jennifer Gillom had to switch strategy after the Gators trailed Chandler High on Tuesday night (Jan. 15).

The deficit was only four points, so it wasn’t insurmountable. But Gillom didn’t want the Wolves to increase their lead.

The full-court pressure that Xavier has used to control many of its opponents wasn’t working all that well against Chandler, which features guards that have quickness and good passing skills.

Gillom switched the Gators’ defense to a zone, which they have used intermittently along the way.

Xavier held Chandler to just four points in the third quarter and only seven in the fourth and went on to secure a 48-38 victory in a 6A Conference Premier Region game at Chandler’s House of Payne.

Xavier is 18-3 overall, 2-1 in region, while Chandler is 11-9 and 1-2.

“I thought our defense turned things around, as well as our willingness to crash the boards,’’ Gillom said. “Getting those rebounds will help get you extra possessions, and we did that. It was a good group effort.’’

Xavier’s second-half defense was successful against Chandler 6-foot-4 junior Maya Peat. She finished the game with 10 points, but only three in the second half.

And on the glass, senior Paris Rasheed-Moore increased her productivity. She had 13 rebounds for the Gators.

“That helped us tremendously,’’ Gillom said.

Xavier had four 3-point baskets, two each from senior Addie Putnam and sophomore Mackenzie Coder. Gillom said Coder’s 3s, one in each half, came at key points and allowed the team to stay close and later to maintain its lead.

Putnam led the Gators with 17 points and senior point guard Leilani McIntosh added 12.

Xavier will return to Chandler on Friday night (Jan. 18) for a game at Hamilton. The Huskies were the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s No. 1 power-points team as of Wednesday morning (Jan. 16).

They have a home game against No. 2 Gilbert Perry on Thursday night (Jan. 17) before hosting Xavier, which is No. 3. Xavier’s region loss was to Perry.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Shannon Shields chosen Gatorade Volleyball POY

Shannon Shields has been a big part of the Xavier Prep volleyball tradition in her four years with the Gators.

Especially as a senior. Her teammates selected her as the player to get their pre-game warm-ups started by taking a pass high above the net and slamming it down on the other side.

That was an impressive display of power, but what was even more noteworthy was her success on the court as one of the top setters in the nation.

She had an uncanny knack of knowing where all of her teammates were and making sure she got them the ball in the right spot, even if they were behind her, to produce a point.

She led the Gators to their second straight 6A Conference state championship.

Shields was just as impressive in the classroom and with community service. She crafted a 3.87 weighted grade point average, was a member of the student council and was involved with the Kitchen on the Street project that feeds the homeless.

With that type of resume, it shouldn’t really be a surprise at the news that Shields is the recipient of the Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year Award, joining former Xavier players Khalia Lanier, Bianca Arellano and Stephanie Preach, who also won the award.
“Shannon was a four-year starter and outstanding on and off the court,’’ said Xavier coach Lamar-Renee Bryant. She was a great leader and her teammates would follow her lead. She liked to have fun playing the game. The award is a great recognition of a very deserving young lady.’’

Shields was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America Second Team. She was the 6A Premier Region Player of the Year and is one of eight finalists for the azcentral Player of the Year Award that will be announced at a ceremony in June.

And she’s not done with volleyball – far from it. She will move on to play and study collegiately at the University of Louisville.

The 5-foot-10 Shields finished her senior season with 974 assists, 401 digs, 143 kills, 49 aces and 39 blocks, and for her career had 3,704 assists, 1,172 digs and 519 kills.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Winning ways return for Gator hoops

After an emotional two-point loss in its 6A Premier Region opener at Gilbert Perry on Tuesday night (Jan. 8), it was imperative that Xavier Prep’s basketball team needed to come back and defeat visiting Chandler Basha on Friday night (Jan. 11). The Gators couldn’t really afford another region setback.

They did what they set out to do with a dominating 65-36 victory at the Activity Center.

After ending its three-game losing streak, Xavier stands at 17-3 overall and 1-1 in region play. Basha fell to 7-12 and 0-2.

Xavier used its trademark pressure defense mixed with a zone to keep Basha from getting close.

Senior guards Leilani McIntosh and Addie Putnam and junior guard-forward Elysia Fleetwood put most of the Xavier points on the board early on. The Gators led 26-6 at the end of the first quarter.

Because of the big lead, Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom had the opportunity to give her reserves some good playing time. Xavier had nine players in the scoring column.

Guards Victoria Saucedo and Bianca Nava looked good, as did post player Tanya Barakat.

Xavier was outscored 11-2 in the fourth quarter, when a running clock was used with a lead of more than 30 points.

Basha got a strong effort from forward Amiyah Josey, who scored 23 points.

Putnam led Xavier with 15 points, followed by Fleetwood with 13 and McIntosh with 12.

Xavier has two region games on the road next week, at Chandler High on Tuesday (Jan. 15) and Chandler Hamilton on Friday (Jan. 18).

Broderick goal, strong defense lift XCP soccer

Senior Allison Broderick scored a first-half goal, and goalkeeper Katie Harris and the Xavier Prep defense made it stand up for a 1-0 soccer victory over host Tempe Corona del Sol on Friday night (Jan. 11).

Xavier (7-3-1) will have a home match against Phoenix Pinnacle on Tuesday night (Jan. 15) at Petznick Field. After that, the Gators would not play again until Jan. 25, when they play at Chandler High.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Chaparral shows Xavier soccer it is the real deal

In a matchup of two state-champion soccer teams, Xavier Prep and Scottsdale Chaparral met on Thursday night (Jan. 10) at Chaparral.

Xavier, two-time defending 6A Conference champ, had its hands full with Chaparral, moving up to 6A this season after winning it all in 5A a year ago.

Despite missing a couple of key players who were nursing injuries, the Gators gave it all they had but came up short, 2-0.

Xavier slipped to 6-3-1 while Chaparral is 10-2-2.

“Chaparral is a really good team,’’ said Xavier coach Barb Chura. “They are stronger and faster, but I thought we competed really well. They play with physicality. In the rest of our games, we are probably going to face that. So we have to find a way to deal with it. We’re going to have to be as good (physical) as they (opponents) are.’’

The coach added that her team needs to pass better and be quicker about it.

Chaparral appeared to have quicker reaction time on defense. Whenever the Gators would make a pass, at least two or three of the Firebirds would be there to surround the recipient.

It appeared as if the contest would be scoreless at halftime, allowing the Gators to regroup.

But the Firebirds scored their first goal at the 1:45 mark by Lauren Carlson. The shot had just enough height to get over the fingertips of Xavier keeper Katie Harris as she reached up to try to stop it.

Carlson also would score the second goal with 5:32 left in the game off a deflection.

Xavier had been looking to tie it up before that score, but a couple of different opportunities were unsuccessful.

One came in a scramble on a free kick by the Gators, and the other came when a power shot by Lindsay Hubbard was stopped by the Chaparral keeper.

Xavier has a quick turnaround, with another road match on Friday night (Jan. 11) against Tempe Corona del Sol (3-2-3).The Gators will return home on Tuesday (Jan. 15) against Phoenix Pinnacle.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Basketball victory eludes Gators' grasp

The region season has begun for most of Arizona’s 6A Conference girls basketball teams.

With that comes increased pressure, on everyone. Each play is magnified, each shot, each rebound, each steal, is more significant. Referees watch more closely and the sound of their whistles becomes more frequent, even when there is no reason to hear them.

Xavier Prep’s Gators encountered all of the above in their 6A Premier Region opener at Gilbert Perry on Tuesday night (Jan. 8), a game that Perry rallied to win 60-58 in the closing seconds.

Xavier held a 10-point lead in the third quarter but Perry pulled closer (six points) going into the fourth. In the final 3 ½ minutes of the third, Xavier was whistled for four fouls that resulted in free throws, resulting in six points, while Perry had a meaningless foul just before the buzzer.

Early in the fourth, Xavier had an 11-point lead (50-39) but Perry used more free throws (six) to get back into it and fuel the win. The most painful of all was a reaching call against the Gators following a missed shot at their end that put Perry’s Tatyanna Clayburne at the line with 2.7 seconds left in a one-and-one situation and she drained both shots.

Perry, which starts four sophomores and a senior, is now 12-5, 1-0 in region. Xavier, meanwhile, lost its third straight, moving to 16-3 and 0-1.

An animated Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom loudly voiced her displeasure with the last call.

It dampened a strong comeback by senior point guard Leilani McIntosh, after she missed the two previous games, and a breakout effort by junior guard-forward Elysia Fleetwood. Both scored 22 points, combining for nine of Xavier’s 11 3-point baskets.

Maybe the Gators will find their Activity Center home more to their liking.  They play their first game of the New Year there on Friday night (Jan. 11) against Chandler Basha. Xavier has played 10 of its 11 previous games (including a holiday tournament at Phoenix Arcadia) on the road.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Basketball, soccer return to action for XCP

Xavier Prep’s basketball and soccer teams will get back to business this week with their first few games of 2019.

The basketball team will be looking to rebound from two tough losses to Phoenix Shadow Mountain and Phoenix Horizon in the Lady Titan Winter Hoops Classic just before the calendar flipped forward.

The Gators (16-2) will be playing their first 6A Premier Region game of the season when they travel to face Gilbert Perry (11-5) on Tuesday night (Jan. 8).

Xavier also will have a home game on Friday night (Jan. 11) against Chandler Basha.

Xavier is led by its three senior guards – Addie Putnam (18.3 points per game), Leilani McIntosh (16.7) and Paris Rasheed-Moore (10.8).

In soccer, what would happen if the 6A Conference champion were to meet the 5A winner?

We will get a good idea on Thursday night (Jan. 10) when two-time defending 6A champ Xavier plays a road match against Scottsdale Chaparral, which won the 5A crown before jumping to 6A.

Xavier is 6-2-1 after a 2-1 finish in the Excalibur Tournament of Champions in southern California, and Chaparral is 8-2-2.

The Gators will have another road match on Friday night at Tempe Corona del Sol.