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, June 20, 2019

Valuable experience gained at beach camp

Early on a recent morning, Tim McHale pulled his truck in front of Xavier Prep’s Cavanaugh Courts and checked the temperature.

77 degrees.

Come on, really? Isn’t this supposed to be summer in the desert?

Great weather, but just as important to the nearly three dozen players attending  Xavier’s annual beach volleyball camp is the quality of instruction they receive from McHale, the Gators’ head coach, and Kristen Jones, his assistant.
It's a great day for Xavier beach volleyball camp attendees. (photo by Kristen Jones)
Winning seven state championships in the eight years of the sport’s existence in Arizona also helps.

The four-day camp, which wrapped up on Thursday (June 20), featured 2 ½ hours of instruction each day.

The 6:30 a.m. start was indeed early (to avoid the heat), but the players didn’t mind, not with the weather the way it has been.

“They have all been here on time. They are chipper (energetic) and working hard,’’ McHale said.

When the summer camps started three years ago, McHale said there were 10 girls who showed up. This year, the number was 34. Most of the players were incoming ninth-graders.

Some of the girls have been out each year and some are daughters and sisters of Xavier graduates. Neighboring Brophy Prep also is in the mix, with the daughter of former Broncos and University of Arizona golfer Ted Purdy.

“The level of play is better than where we started. Some play year-round in beach or indoor. Some have played other sports,’’ said McHale, the Beach Volleyball 2019 Coach of the Year by

One of the main elements on the last day was serving, the traditional form along with the “skyball,’’ where the server sends the ball high into the heavens, making opponents wonder if it will ever come down. McHale and Jones were assisted by a handful of players on the Xavier roster who are expected to return next spring.

Emphasis also was placed on the nuances of the game, along with ball control and strategy. Moving all over the court on the uneven sand surface also can be a challenge to the novice.

“There are good athletes out here,’’ McHale said. “We like to put them in situations that will make them successful, not make it so difficult so they become frustrated and find they don’t like this. We want it to be fun.’’

McHale said he gets the most enjoyment out of “just watching the kids play, see how they learn things. That’s what it’s all about.’’

And should some of the girls become Gators and help the school win another championship or two along the way, that’s not a bad thing, either.

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