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.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Volleyball makes big statement by winning tourney

Seventeen hours. Sixteen teams. Four hundred and sixty one points. Seemingly countless bottles of water and sports drinks consumed.

And one trophy.

It belongs to Xavier Prep’s Gators.

They won the two-day volleyball marathon that was the House of Payne Invitational on Friday (Sept. 6) and Saturday (Sept. 7) at Chandler High with performances that evoked the same type of all-around play that led to 6A Conference state championship wins in their previous two seasons.

After defeating Mesa Mountain View in its season opener earlier in the week, Xavier won nine matches in the House of Payne. Due to time constraints, matches were the best two of three instead of the best three of five. Xavier is now 10-0.

The Gators put an exclamation point on the proceedings with a 25-14, 25-16 defeat of Gilbert Highland, which had upset highly regarded state runner-up Tempe Corona del Sol in its semifinal. Xavier defeated Phoenix Horizon in its semi, 25-20 and 25-19.

Xavier defeated Phoenix Greenway, Tucson Salpointe Catholic and Mesa Red Mountain on Friday, and on Saturday defeated Gilbert High, Phoenix Desert Vista, Chandler Basha, Phoenix Sunnyslope, Horizon and Highland.

Xavier coach Lamar-Renee Bryant was understandably pleased with the outcome.

“I was super impressed,’’ she said. “We have seven new players and seven returning players, and for us to get on board with everything this fast, this early is a real accomplishment.’’

You could point in just about any direction and find a Gator who made a contribution.

Start with senior outside hitter Bri McKnight. She had her usual assortment of powerful swings and she looked good defensively, particularly with digs along the back row. For her efforts, tournament officials designated her as the event’s Most Valuable Player while heading the All-Tournament Team.

Fellow senior and middle blocker Jasmine Knight also had a strong impact on both sides of the net. Senior outside hitter Juli Westfall and sophomore middle blocker Bella Sinacori already are supplementing McKnight and Knight with their efforts up front.

Bryant said Westfall “was huge’’ with her hits, particularly in the late stages of the tourney, and Sinacori is rapidly rising after playing on the JV team as a freshman last season.

Sophomore Alexa Shiner continues to refine her setting skills with consistent play. Junior Zaira Reyes also can be effective as a setter/opposite, and gives the Gators a boost with her serves. She had three aces among Xavier’s final five points in the Game 1 win over Horizon.

And let’s not forget senior libero Abby Converse, who has become the team’s emotional, vociferous leader.

It indeed was an encouraging weekend, giving the Gators something they can put in their memory banks to rely on during the rest of the season.

“The girls have worked super hard and are committed to success. They have a lot of pride and pride goes a long way,’’ Bryant said.

Xavier will play twice this coming week, both on the road. On Tuesday (Sept. 10), they will travel to Queen Creek, and on Thursday (Sept. 12), they are at Phoenix Mountain Pointe in Ahwatukee.

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