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.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Gators create a mystery with plenty of depth

Xavier Prep’s basketball team lost three key seniors to graduation, so that will create a bit of mystery when the Gators take the floor for the 2019-20 season.

“We are going to be a surprise some nights,’’ said coach Jennifer Gillom. “So who is going to be that player who will step up and help us the most? We are going to have a lot of balance and depth, so that means it could be anyone. We (coaches) aren’t always going to be able to figure that out. So if we aren’t able to, the opponents won’t be able to, either. They’re not going to be sure who to focus on.’’

The Gators are wrapping up their second week of pre-season practice in preparation for their season opener at home against Phoenix Mountain Pointe on Tuesday (Nov. 26). They will follow that up with the two-day Scorpion Shootout on Nov. 29-30 at Goodyear Desert Edge.

Xavier, which has finished as state runner-up the last two seasons (28-5 last season, 27-6 in 2017-18), is the sixth-ranked team in the 6A Conference entering the season, according to

Gillom isn’t really sure where her team should line up, “but I don’t think it should be lower than that (sixth),’’ she said. “Being at the top at this point isn’t really accurate, either. This way, it will give our players something to shoot for.’’

The top returnees include seniors Elysia “E’’ Fleetwood, Tanya Barakat, junior Mackenzie Coder and junior Kailey Appel.

Fleetwood is perhaps the team’s most versatile player, fitting in where she’s needed at virtually any spot. Barakat will have to work hard under the basket to produce rebounds and play strong defense at the post. Coder is in her third season on the varsity and will be counted on to sink some long-range shots in the role previously occupied by the graduated Addie Putnam. And Appel brings an aggressive style of play to the backcourt and frontcourt.

Junior Victoria Saucedo also is a quick, long-range shooter. And the Gators will have three freshmen to add to the mix – point guard Sienna Cherwinski, forward-post Mia Davis and forward Hannah Young.

The added depth allows Gillom to have more varied lineups and rest players when needed, which she was not able to do as often in the past.

Gillom will look to the 5-foot-11 Fleetwood for defense, scoring and rebounding. And for leadership.

“I want to be a more positive influence,’’ Fleetwood said. “Lei (Leilani McIntosh) and Montana (Montana Oltrogge, former team leaders) helped shape me, and I feel it is my duty to do the same for the younger players. I know I will be counted on to show up every game – there will be no days off for me.’’

Barakat, who has played goalie for Xavier’s club lacrosse team, also is 5-11 but “plays taller.’’

“As team captains, Elysia and I are looked up to by the players, so we want to prove we can do it,’’ she said. “Each year always is a bit new as far as people getting to know each other, but we are getting there quickly.’’

She admits that she hasn’t always been the most aggressive player, but knows “I will have to be more aggressive and be a player that my teammates can rely on.’’

In her third season on the varsity, the 5-7 Coder said she and the Gators “are excited. We have looked pretty good so far and have some good freshmen, but we still have work to do.’’

Coder’s work in games includes hitting the three-point shots and driving to the basket, where she will have the option of shooting or dishing the ball off.

As far as shooting the threes, she said, “I love it. I started doing more of it last year and it just clicked. I also like to play good defense. I think I am quicker on my feet. It’s fun to be a part of this team. We have a lot of energy and there is a lot of sharing the ball. Everyone has a voice, and we help each other.’’

The 5-6 Cherwinski will follow McIntosh in the role of the point guard.

“I enjoy helping to control the tempo of the game,’’ she said. “Even though I’m a freshman, I am trying not to play scared. That includes offense. I am not going to back off on my shot. I will do it if I am open. And on defense, I am learning what the opponent is trying to do. I have to be quick.’’

Davis is the team’s tallest player at 6-1. She can shoot well from the outside and is quick and strong inside.


2019-20 Basketball Roster

(Listed alphabetically)

Sophia Alameddin, Jr.; Kailey Appel, Jr.; Tanya Barakat, Sr.; Ireland Blim, Jr.; Sienna Cherwinski, Fr.; Mackenzie Coder, Jr.; Mia Davis, Fr.; Lauren Etsitty, Jr.; Elysia Fleetwood, Sr.; Toni Garcia, So.; Channing Kehoe, Jr.; Rachel Orr, Jr.; Sophia Sash, Jr.; Victoria Saucedo, Jr.; Hannah Young, Fr.

Head coach – Jennifer Gillom.

Assistant coaches – Patrick Mangosing, Rikki Mulloy.

Regular-season schedule


Nov. 26 – Phoenix Mountain Pointe. Nov. 29-30 – Scorpion Shootout @ Goodyear Desert Edge.


Dec. 5 -- @ Mesa Desert Ridge. Dec. 6 -- @ Tempe Corona del Sol. Dec. 10 – Avondale Westview. Dec. 13 – Phoenix Desert Vista. Dec. 16 -- @ Phoenix North. Dec. 26-28 – Lady Titan Winter Hoops Classic @ Phoenix Arcadia.


Jan. 7 – Peoria Liberty. Jan. 8 – Scottsdale Chaparral. Jan 10-- @ Phoenix Pinnacle.  Jan. 14 – Gilbert Perry. Jan. 17 -- @ Chandler Basha. Jan. 21 – Chandler High. Jan. 24 – Chandler Hamilton. Jan. 30 -- @ Mesa Mountain View. Jan. 31 -- @ Gilbert Perry.


Feb. 4 – Chandler Basha. Feb. 7 -- @ Chandler High. Feb. 11 -- @ Chandler Hamilton

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