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 8, 2019

Gators' valiant volleyball effort falls just short

Xavier Prep’s Lamar-Renee Bryant has played and coached in moments such as this during her athletic career. Sometimes, she said, the ball is just not going to bounce your way no matter what you do.

Her volleyball team stood in the hallway at Gilbert Highland’s gym, only a few steps from where the Gators nearly earned a berth in the 6A Conference semifinals.

Their top player, senior outside hitter Bri McKnight, sat on the bench during the match, wearing a boot on her left foot/ankle and she moved around on crutches after an injury in the first round. She wanted to be out there with her fifth-seeded teammates, but had to settle for watching them battle to the end before they fell 3-2 to the fourth-seeded Hawks in five sets, including a 17-15 nail-biter in the finale.

The scores (Highland listed first): 25-17, 21-25, 25-16, 22-25 and 17-15.

Xavier, which entered the match as the two-time defending state champion, went home with a 30-12 record. Highland, meanwhile, stays alive with a 36-9 record and a trip to the semis against top-seeded Gilbert Perry on Saturday night (Nov. 9).

Perry advanced with a 3-1 win over No. 8 Phoenix Desert Vista. No. 2 Tempe Corona del Sol defeated 10th-seeded Scottsdale Chaparral 3-1 in one of the remaining quarterfinal matches, and No. 3 Chandler Basha survived a five-set challenge from No. 6 Chandler Hamilton for a 3-2 win. Corona del Sol will meet Basha on Saturday night in the other semi.

Tears flowed afterward as the Gators gathered in a circle with Bryant and her assistant coaches, Kristen Jones and Stephanie Preach.

“It stings,’’ Bryant told the players. “My heart hurts for all of you.’’

Xavier had a 15-14 lead in Game 5 before Highland rallied. Xavier had a block but it went out of bounds for a 15-15 score, followed by a Highland kill and a return shot that landed just outside the sideline.

“We were so close, had two (match points at14-12 and 15-14) but we just couldn’t put it away,’’ Bryant said.

 “We had a lot of people step up for us tonight.’’

Knight had 18 kills and senior outside hitter Juli Westfall had 11. Junior defender Kaori Robertson had 20 digs, senior libero Abby Converse had 15 digs and three aces (two in the last game), and sophomore Alexa Shiner had 15 digs, 35 assists and two aces.

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