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, February 14, 2019

Sims, distance, relays lead Xavier track

Long-time Xavier Prep track and field coach Dave Van Sickle says that Arizona continues to develop into one of the best states for that sport.

Count Van Sickle’s Gators among those programs raising their level of competitiveness.

Xavier currently involved with its daily preseason workout regimen as it moves toward its first meet of the season, on Feb. 27 against Gilbert Perry at the Brophy Sports Campus.

The Gators finished eighth at last year’s Division I state meet, and Van Sickle figures the team is capable of moving into the top five when the event returns to Mesa Community College in early May.

As usual, one of the team’s strongest areas is its distance runners, who helped the Van Sickle-coached cross-country team win the Division I state title last fall, its first since 2012.

Among the leaders are junior Mia Olsen and sophomore Jamie Stelnik, who finished fifth and seventh, respectively among individual cross-country runners at state.

The Gators also have sophomore Sammy Braun, seniors Karina Hawkins, Helen Innes, Karina Smith and Jose Venezia.

The focus of Xavier’s middle distance likely will be on senior Johnnie Mitchell and junior Sophie Brohard.

Xavier also is bolstered by its relay teams. XCP finished third in the 4x800 and fourth in the 4x400.

Van Sickle would like to see a few of his sprinters make an impact in events that are dominated by perennial contenders Chandler High, Chandler Hamilton and Phoenix Desert Vista. Chandler has won three state titles and seven of the last eight.

As far as top individual athletes are concerned, Van Sickle has the luxury of coaching one of the top all-around girls in the state, senior Jada Sims. The coach says she is capable of winning three or four individual events. She figures to have a chance to win the high jump (second last year) and could challenge in the 100-meter hurdles (eighth) and long jump (17th). Sims also flourished in a couple of heptathlons once the track season was completed last season.

“She is stronger, more mature and has more of a sense of purpose,’’ said Van Sickle of Sims, who will compete collegiately at Vanderbilt.

Xavier has three athletes who have been participating in winter sports, and the coach hopes he will be able to rely on them for assistance. They have a lot of speed, he said.

The javelin is a recent addition to the state meet, and junior Kendall Swanson is a candidate to rise on the final finish list.

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