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, November 6, 2019

Gator volleyball digs deep, advances to quarters

Xavier Prep’s volleyball team could have folded after watching senior star outside hitter Bri McKnight slowly limp off the floor with an injured ankle in the opening game of its 6A Conference state tournament match on Tuesday night (Nov. 5) against visiting Peoria Liberty.

But the Gators didn’t fold.

The fifth-seeded Gators also didn’t fold in the third game when No. 12 Liberty, its back to the wall, provided a spirited challenge before Xavier held on for a 32-30 triumph to clinch the match, 3-0.

Now it’s on to bigger and hopefully better things as Xavier travels to face No. 4 Gilbert Highland on Thursday night (Nov. 7) in a quarterfinal match at 6:30 p.m. The winner of this one likely will have to play at top-seeded Gilbert Perry in a semifinal match on Saturday night (Nov. 9).

Xavier (30-11) can take some solace in its situation. It knows that Highland (35-9) can be beaten as it was by Xavier in the championship match of the House of Payne tournament at Chandler High in early September, but that seems like an eternity ago.

Xavier coach Lamar-Renee Bryant was pleased that her two-time defending state champions reached the final eight.

“We did not waver (after McKnight’s injury),’’ Bryant said. “We really didn’t have time to mourn or anything like that. We wanted to make it to Thursday, which is part of our long-time goal. Hopefully we’ll be able to figure out what to do (if McKnight can’t go).’’

Bryant got some outstanding play from senior outside hitters Juli Westfall and Katelen Tellez and senior middle blocker Jasmine Knight, who was a factor at just the right time most of the night.

“They did what seniors are supposed to do – they stepped up,’’ Bryant said.

The coach also was encouraged by the play of sophomore defensive specialist/libero Hannah Ulisch, who played most of the season on the junior varsity before recently getting the call-up.

Senior libero Abby Converse and junior defender Kaori Robertson also were keys for the Gators’ defense, digging the ball out of danger along the back line.

Xavier jumped to a 5-0 lead early in Game 1, but Liberty (21-15) rallied to pull within 8-6. That is when McKnight went down. The Gators regained their composure for the 25-19 win.

Liberty led for most of the first half of Game 2. Xavier pulled ahead 13-12 and did not trail again after that, securing a 25-17 victory.

There were big plays on both sides of the net in Game 3. Xavier trailed 30-29 but battled back to win it 32-30 on a long serve by Liberty, a kill by Knight and a block.

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