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.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Gator beach volleyball has plenty of depth

During a recent preseason workout for his Xavier Prep beach volleyball team, Gators coach Tim McHale looked through the fence at Cavanaugh Courts and saw something floating in the Grand Canal.

“Uh, oh, we’ve got a swimmer!’’ McHale said.

It was a volleyball, seemingly trying to make an escape.

McHale, accompanied by his young son, took a long pole similar to the ones used for cleaning pools, slipped through a gate, climbed up the canal bank and attempted to guide the ball back to land.

For the Gators, there’s no escaping the fact that despite falling to Gilbert Perry in the state quarterfinals last year, signaling the first time in seven seasons that they did not win the state title, that they remain a major force on the beach.

Xavier, which opens the season on Friday (Feb. 22) with a home match against Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep, has close to 20 players on its roster. That depth should give McHale some flexibility when some of his players are involved with indoor and beach club tournaments, not unusual. McHale said that unlike some sports, the club and high school teams have a good working relationship.

Among the Gators’ top players are seniors Trinity Cavanaugh and Lydia Rush, junior Abby Converse and sophomore Serena Turner.

And McHale recently received some encouraging news when senior Shannon Shields told him that she would be coming out to play.

McHale said Shields, who as a setter helped Xavier’s indoor team win its second straight 6A Conference state title and was selected the Gatorade Player of the Year for Arizona, originally was not going to return but turned around and changed her mind.

“She said, “Ah, I’m coming out after all,’ ’’ he said. “She said, “I am going to be busy (also with club and preparing to go to the University of Louisville in the fall -- indoor), but I’m going to make it work.’ I guess she just couldn’t resist.’’

Even without Shields, the Gators have a lot of talent coming back.

Not that you want your team to lose a match, particularly in the state tournament, but McHale indicated that it could be a good thing for the Gators and help them in the long run.

“I think it was a valuable learning experience,’’ he said.

“Some of the girls didn’t get to see us not succeed,’’ said McHale, whose team lost just one game in its first six seasons and three last season for a 68-4 overall mark. “It was hard for some of them to play with a sense of urgency. Sometimes you think you are automatically going to win. Now they’re going to have to give everything they have, not have it be just a given.’’

In addition to Shields, Xavier has others ticketed to play in college – Cavanaugh in beach at TCU and Conrad and Turner down the road in beach at Stanford.

“We have a bunch of athletic kids who are hungry,’’ McHale said.

The coach gives a number to certain courts, the top one and so on down, and the players “scrimmage’’ to try to reach the top court. That helps motivate them.

Agility drills also a part of the workouts.

“We like to keep the kids moving,’’ said McHale, who is joined by assistant Kristen Jones.

Xavier Prep 2018-19 beach volleyball roster

Katie Anthony, Fr.; Tori Burton, Jr.; Brianna Butkiewicz, Jr.; Analy Carbine, Jr.; Trinity Cavanaugh, Sr.; Abby Converse, Jr.; Eliza Dominguez, Jr.; AG Gordon, Fr.; Tessa Guthrie, So.; Ania Hiler, So.; Grace Lincoln, Jr.; Zaira Reyes, So.; Lydia Rush, Sr.; Shea Sciarappo, Sr.; Shannon Shields, Sr.; Alexa Shiner, Fr.; Kate Tellez, Jr.; Tiffany Tellez, Fr.; Serena Turner, So.

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