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, January 31, 2020

Defense rescues Gators from brink of defeat

When your basketball team is struggling at the offensive end of the floor, what is the biggest thing that can help turn it around?

Defense, defense and more defense.

Xavier Prep’s defense came to the rescue after a sluggish first half against host Mesa Mountain View, holding the Toros to just two points in the third quarter and nine points overall in the second half for a 43-33 win in 6A non-region play on Thursday night (Jan. 30).

Xavier climbed to 16-7 overall, while Mountain View slipped to 9-10. Xavier will have another quick turnaround on Friday night (Jan. 31) when it resumes Premier Region play at Gilbert Perry (14-7). The Gators will be hoping to atone for a loss to the Pumas at Xavier on Jan. 15.

Xavier trailed Mountain View 24-16 at the half. The scenario looked bleak for the Gators as Mountain View was outhustling and outplaying  XCP at just about every turn.

So coach Jennifer Gillom took her team into the locker room and proceeded to give the girls the cold, hard facts.

She asked the players if they were packed up and ready to go home.

“ “You have to come back out and be ready,’’ she said. “Take it as if it is your last game of the season.’ I think they got the message.’’

Xavier’s full-court pressure defense led to three 3-pointers to begin the third quarter, two by junior guard Tori Saucedo and one by senior guard-forward Elysia Fleetwood. Xavier continued to apply the pressure and Mountain View could not handle it.

“We played with a lot of heart. This was a huge win for us in terms of power points, not having us drop,’’ Gillom said.

The backcourt of Saucedo, Fleetwood and freshman Sienna Cherwinski did the majority of the damage. Saucedo had 15 points (including three 3-pointers), Fleetwood had 14 before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter, and Cherwinski had 11, including five free throws.

Xavier Prep 43, Mountain View 33

Xavier scoring – Tori Saucedo 15, Elysia Fleetwood 14, Sienna Cherwinski 11, Mia Davis 2, Channing Kehoe 1.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Converse, Westfall receive volleyball honors

Xavier Prep seniors Abby Converse and Juli Westfall have been selected to the United Dairymen of Arizona’s All-American volleyball team.

Both athletes also excel in the classroom, which contributes to their positive performance.

Congratulations to Abby and Juli !!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Hamilton hoops in control from beginning to end

As if Xavier Prep’s basketball team needed to be reminded about how good Chandler Hamilton is, it all came rushing back in a blur on Friday night (Jan. 24).

Hamilton, which defeated the Gators in last season’s 6A Conference state championship game, scored the first eight points of the game and cruised to a 60-29 victory in a Premier Region contest at the Activity Center.

Simply put, Hamilton did it all – passing, shooting, rebounding and defense – almost before the Gators knew what had hit them.

“Hamilton was unbelievably quick. They are definitely the best team we have met so far,’’ said Xavier Coach Jennifer Gillom.

Xavier had just come off a region loss against another quick team – Chandler High – on Tuesday night (Jan. 21), but Chandler was standing still compared to Hamilton.

Hamilton applied defensive pressure in the backcourt as Xavier was trying to bring the ball up.

“We had worked on it and did pretty well, but once we got the ball across midcourt to our side, we sort of panicked and started turning the ball over,’’ Gillom said.

The primary two players controlling the ball for Hamilton were senior guard Victoria Davis and junior guard Amyah Reaves. Davis scored 15 points and had several steals, and Reaves had 14. Each had a 3-pointer.

Hamilton has only three seniors, but Gillom said the Huskies don’t play that way.

“Their girls, particularly the juniors, have played together a long time so they know what everybody is going to do,’’ Gillom said.

Senior guard-forward Elysia Fleetwood scored 11 to lead Xavier, and freshman point guard Sienna Cherwinski had 10 points, including three 3-pointers.

Xavier (15-7) has five games remaining in the regular season, including a non-region contest on Thursday (Jan. 30) at Mesa Mountain View. Hamilton is 15-5 and will meet the Gators again on Feb. 11 in the regular-season finale at Hamilton.

“We have been coming together in bits and pieces and I’m still waiting for us to put it all together at the same time,’’ Gillom said. “We still have fight left in us.’’

Hamilton 60, Xavier Prep 29

Xavier scoring – Elysia Fleetwood 11, Sienna Cherwinski 10, Tori Saucedo 3, Kailey Appel 3, Mia Davis 2.

Basha's two first-quarter goals enough vs. Gators

Xavier Prep’s soccer team dropped a 2-0 decision to host Chandler Basha on Friday night (Jan. 24).

Basha scored twice in the first half and Xavier made several attempts to even the score in the second half, but couldn’t quite reach that point.

Xavier (5-6-1) returns to action on Jan. 31 with a home match against Chandler High. Start time is 6 p.m.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Shooting drought leaves Gator hoops stranded

Oh for 18?

Oh no.

It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that missing every one of your 18 3-point shot attempts is going to put you on the wrong end of the score when your basketball game ends.

It happened on Tuesday night (Jan. 21), when Xavier Prep fell to visiting Chandler High, 54-44, in a 6A Conference Premier Region game in the Activity Center.

Xavier still has a decent overall record at 15-6, but is 1-2 in region play. Another big challenge looms on the horizon on Friday night (Jan. 24) when Chandler Hamilton pays a visit. Hamilton defeated the Gators in last season’s state championship game.

Xavier coach Jennifer was bothered by the long-range shooting drought.

”We live by ‘em (3s) and tonight, we died by ‘em,’’ she said, shaking her head. “We relied on the 3s way too much. When you see they aren’t falling, you try something else. I told them to cut back on them, but . . .’’

Another key element was the team’s play during the game’s final minutes.

With just less than 5 minutes to play, the teams were tied at 44. But Chandler went on a 10-0 run, and that was that.

“It always seems to be the last 4 minutes or so,’’ Gillom said.

Despite the difficulties, the coach did notice some improvement.

“There were some good things, but it wasn’t enough,’’ she said.

Chandler (16-5) used quickness to its advantage, most notably senior guards Victoria Mason (18 points) and Mykah Anderson (13).

“Their quickness, for sure, was a factor,’’ Gillom said. “They are one of the quickest teams we are going to face.’’

And 6-foot-4 senior Maya Peat played an important role for the Wolves with nine points and several blocked shots.

Senior guard-forward Elysia Fleetwood led the Gators with 18 points, and junior guard Tori Saucedo scored 11 along with slipping inside for some key rebounds.

Chandler High 54, Xavier Prep 44

Xavier scoring – Elysia Fleetwood 18, Tori Saucedo 11, Mia Davis 6, Toni Garcia 5, Tanya Barakat 2, Sienna Cherwinski 2.

Gator soccer falls just short against Pinnacle

Xavier Prep’s soccer team faced another tough opponent in Phoenix Pinnacle on Tuesday night (Jan. 21), but fell just short in a 2-1 loss on the road.

All goals were scored in the second half.

Xavier slipped to 5-5-1 overall, and will be back on the road again on Friday night (Jan. 24) with a match against Chandler Basha.

As of the latest 6A Conference power points rankings what were released on Wednesday (Jan. 22) by the Arizona Interscholastic Association, Xavier was No. 9. Pinncale was No. 6 and Basha is No. 7.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Soccer builds momentum with impressive win

It is Xavier Prep’s goal to earn an automatic spot in the 6A Conference state soccer tournament by finishing among the top eight teams on the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s power points list.

The Gators will need a strong showing down the stretch as they face off against their fellow four teams in the five-team Premier Region, considered by many as the state’s top region, just as it is in other sports.

The team gained some valuable momentum on Friday night (Jan. 17) with a 2-0 non-region victory over visiting Tempe Corona del Sol at Petznick Field.

Xavier was No. 11 on the most recent power points list, while Corona was No. 5. The XCP win won’t be reflected until Tuesday (Jan. 21), when the new list is released.

The Gators have one non-region contest remaining, on Tuesday at No. 8 Pinnacle. Then Xavier will dive into the region pool, with No. 7 Chandler Basha on Jan. 24 at Basha, No. 13 Chandler High at Xavier on Jan. 31, No. 3 Gilbert Perry on Feb. 4 at Perry and No. 4 Chandler Hamilton on Feb. 7 at Xavier.

After watching her team’s strong effort against Corona del Sol, Xavier coach Barb Chura said, “Against any team higher than us, a win will help us. This win was good. We will take it.’’

Xavier (5-4-1 overall) scored once in each half against the Aztecs (6-3).

The first came 8:02 into the contest on a high-arching shot by freshman Eva Allen with an assist from senior Brynn Lebel. And the Gators got some breathing room with 18:12 left in the second half on a goal by sophomore Ansley Burns, with junior Emmie Paulson providing the assist after she powered her way through the Corona del Sol defense.

Chura marveled at the technical nature of the goals and the assists, done just the way you might draw it up and work on executing such maneuvers in practice.

“Those were great goals,’’ Chura said.

Xavier also got a big boost from junior goalkeeper Katie Harris with the shutout.

Chura continues to mix and match with her lineup and said she expects that to continue as she brings on the players who are showing the best productivity at that moment, not necessarily solely with scoring, but with passing, defense and overall awareness.

She hopes that will lead to more victories such as the one against Corona del Sol.

Xavier hoops back in the business of winning

After dropping two games in a row, Xavier Prep’s basketball team returned to the win column on Friday night (Jan. 17) with a 65-41 triumph over host Chandler Basha.

The 6A Conference Premier Region win evened Xavier’s region mark at 1-1 and put the Gators’ overall record at 15-5. Basha slipped below .500 to 9-10.

Xavier has two home region games this coming week, against Chandler High on Tuesday (Jan. 21) and against Chandler Hamilton on Jan. 24. Hamilton defeated Xavier in last season’s state championship game.

Senior guard-forward Elysia Fleetwood had a strong all-around game against Basha, leading the Gators in scoring with 16 points (8 of 12 foul shooting) and contributing 7 steals, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. She was named by Coach Jennifer Gillom as the Player of the Game.

Xavier assumed control early with a 20-6 run in the first quarter and later began the third quarter in similar fashion with a 20-8 advantage.

Xavier Prep 65, Basha 41

Xavier scoring – Elysia Fleetwood 16, Mia Davis 13, Sienna Cherwinski 8, Toni Garcia 6, Kailey Appel 5, Mackenzie Coder 5, Lauren Etsitty 5, Tori Saucedo 3, Hannah Young 2, Channing Kehoe 2.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Gators' Van Sickle earns national coaching honor

That alarm barks at 3:45 a.m., sounding its early arrival. 

But for Dave Van Sickle, it is worth every minute.

Xavier Prep's Dave Van Sickle (Xavier photo).
He knows most of his Xavier Prep cross-country runners are rising from their slumber at the same time to practice before the sun comes up in the summer and early fall.

“It’s a sacrifice, yes, but when the girls know that the coaches are going to be going early too, they are also willing to make that sacrifice,’’ he said.

“It’s about dedication, and it’s part of our (Xavier) culture. It’s what we do. Those times are where you win championships.’’

The approach has worked quite nicely during the 30 years that Van Sickle has been the Gators’ coach (he also is the school’s track and field coach).

During that time, Xavier has won 10 state championships, the most recent in 2018, and has been runner-up on eight other occasions – a great showing, indeed.

For his efforts, Van Sickle has been selected as the Girls’ High School Cross Country Coach of the Year for the 2018-19 school year by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

“I did not expect this, but it’s a good feeling. It is an acknowledgment of all the hard work you put in over the years, and I have received a lot of support,’’ he said.

Van Sickle ran the gauntlet of qualifying criteria to earn state and section honors before being eligible for the national honor. The Arizona Interscholastic Association vouched for his candidacy.

The process involved filling out paperwork – a lot of it.

“I kept writing and writing . . . Sister Lynn (Winsor, Xavier Athletic Director) said, “We need more of it.’ I kept going, and I guess she had a hunch, a good sense about the whole thing,’’ Van Sickle said.

Winsor was understandably pleased to learn the news.

“Dave has done a great job for us over the years, and we are very happy for him,’’ she said.

Struggles continue for Xavier Prep basketball

It appeared that Xavier Prep’s basketball team had erased many of the bad vibes that came from its 16-point loss to Phoenix Pinnacle on Friday (Jan. 10) when the Gators scored the first eight points of its 6A Conference Premier Region opener against visiting Gilbert Perry on Wednesday (Jan. 15).

Xavier connected on five 3-point shots in the first quarter and led 19-13 going into the second.

Then the magic disappeared into thin air.

For the three remaining quarters combined, Xavier scored a combined 18 points – one less than the first quarter by itself – and suffered its second straight double-digit loss in a row as Perry pulled away for a 62-37 victory.

Perry raised its record to 11-5, while Xavier dipped to 14-5. The Gators have another region game on Friday night (Jan. 17) at Chandler Basha (9-9).

A lot has been said about Xavier’s youth, but Perry also is in the same situation – the Pumas have only one senior, with seven juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen.

An indication of things going awry for Xavier came early in the second quarter when Perry was ready to inbound the ball under its basket. Guard Tatyanna Clayburne had her eyes fixed on the target. Except that it wasn’t a teammate. It was the back of a Xavier defender who had looked away for a moment. Clayburne tossed the ball off the Gator’s back, stepped inbounds, picked up the ball and scored.

The rest of the way, Perry displayed a well-rounded offense with solid passing, a pressure defense that had Xavier on its heels and aggressiveness on the boards. Perry has three double-figure scorers and hit seven 3-pointers for the game, just one less than Xavier.

Perry 62, Xavier Prep 37

Xavier scoring – Elysia Fleetwood 11, Mia Davis 9, Sienna Cherwinski 6, Kailey Appel 4, Toni Garcia 3, Tori Saucedo 2, Mackenzie Coder 2.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Two second-half goals lift Highland past Gators

The soccer match was there for either team to take.

Both Xavier Prep and Gilbert Highland had their share of opportunities on Friday night (Jan. 10) at Highland. The Gators could not capitalize but Highland did, scoring twice after a scoreless first half for a 2-0 victory.

Xavier now has a 4-4-1 overall record and Highland is at 6-4-1.

The Gators had hoped to build on a bit of momentum gained from a 1-1 tie against highly regarded Scottsdale Chaparral on Wednesday (Jan. 8) and now will have a chance to regroup before their next match, on Jan. 17 at home against Tempe Corona del Sol.

Highland broke through on the chilly evening with only 4:16 gone in the second half on a goal by Kylee Holstad after a scramble in front of the goal.

Xavier coach Barb Chura said her team had the chance to tie it up on a few occasions shortly thereafter but could not find the back of the net.

“It can change the whole momentum if you tie up the game,’’ she said.

Instead, Highland gained even more momentum, scoring its second goal with 21:37 left in the contest, this one by Kaleigh Backlund.

Xavier still had plenty of time to turn things around but was forced to battle for possession, as it had been doing for most of the previous moments of the second half.

The closest the Gators came to getting on the scoreboard was at 14:13, when a shot by Elizabeth Warren sailed just over the Highland goal.

“We made some mistakes, and it cost us,’’ Chura said.

Hoops goes into reverse after signature win

It is something that is happening with a bit too much regularity to suit Xavier Prep basketball coach Jennifer Gillom.

One step forward, two steps back.

As the Gators have done on previous occasions this season, they came back from a complete-game victory and fell flat, a 67-51 setback to host Phoenix Pinnacle on Friday night (Jan. 10).

Xavier dropped to 14-4, while Pinnacle stepped up to 10-5.

Xavier’s schedule for early this coming week has changed due to lack of availability of game officials for the varsity game on Tuesday (Jan. 14) against Gilbert Perry at Xavier.

The varsity game has been moved back one day, to Wednesday (Jan. 15) at 7 p.m. Meanwhile, the JV-B and JV-A teams will play as scheduled against Perry on Tuesday, at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., respectively.

The varsity also has a game on Friday (Jan. 17) at Chandler Basha.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Moment to remember finally arrives for XCP hoops

Jennifer Gillom had waited for this moment. Because good things are worth waiting for, just so the wait isn’t too long.

Gillom had been preaching to her Xavier Prep basketball players about the benefits – the necessity of -- playing with consistency at both ends of the floor for four full quarters.

The Gators did not do it for four, but for about 3 ½, according to Gillom’s estimation, and that was good enough as Xavier turned back a late rally by visiting Scottsdale Chaparral for a 58-47 victory at the Activity Center.

“That was the best game we’ve had all season,’’ said Gillom, whose team raised its record to 14-3, while Chaparral slipped to 9-8.

“We needed that win, and it was a win that they (players) wanted very badly. We were focused, had sound discipline and were poised.’’

The Gators played defense with an aggressive approach that rarely had surfaced to this point, a bit similar to – dare we say? – Xavier defense in recent past seasons. That is what Gillom wants. We will see if that can be sustained.

Xavier also was more zealous on the boards, and its passing on offense seemed to show an upgrade.

And, there was the 3-point shooting that has become a team trademark.

Xavier hit eight from long range, four by junior guard Tori Saucedo (16 points) and two by freshman point guard Sienna Cherwinski.

The contest also featured a Xavier wardrobe malfunction. Senior guard-forward Elysia Fleetwood had her jersey torn and had to miss the game for a few minutes. When she returned, her normal No. 3 had become No. 30 with a new jersey.

Early in the third quarter, fans got to witness a sweet offensive play by senior inside player Tanya Barakat.

She took a pass near the outer edge of the lane near the free-throw line, turned and gave a quick head fake, giving her enough time to get past the defender and go in for the score.

“I’ve been trying to get her to do that for a couple years now,’’ Gillom said with a laugh.

Xavier had an 18-point lead (53-35) with 2:52 left in the game. Chaparral then went on a 12-3 run to cut its deficit to single digits, but the clock was not the Firebirds’ ally.

After two home games on back-to-back nights, the Gators will head back out on the road on Friday night (Jan. 10) for a contest against Phoenix Pinnacle.

A classy move

At the conclusion of the game, the teams lined up and shook hands. Gillom was near the Xavier bench and she hurried over near the Chaparral bench to greet Chaparral senior guard Anna Ostlie, wish her well and give her a pep talk. Ostlie was on crutches after suffering a serious knee injury in a recent holiday tournament. One of the state’s best players, the 5-foot-8 Ostlie recently signed a letter of intent with Boise State.

Xavier Prep 58, Chaparral 47

Xavier scoring – Sienna Cherwinski 17, Tori Saucedo 16, Elysia Fleetwood 8, Mackenzie Coder 5, Tanya Barakat 4, Mia Davis 4, Kailey Appel 4.

Gator soccer ties powerful Chaparral team

Xavier Prep’s soccer team showed that it can be competitive against the nation’s elite teams on Wednesday (Jan. 8), battling nationally-ranked (No. 2) Scottsdale Chaparral to a 1-1 tie in two overtimes at Petznick Field.

Xavier’s effort put its overall record at 4-3-1, while the tie was Chaparral’s third of the season and put the Firebirds’ record at 10-1-3.

Both teams scored in the first half, and their defenses had their tug of war the rest of the way.

Junior Kendall Warner put the Gators on the board with a goal, and freshman Eva Allen provided the assist.

And junior goalkeeper Jaden Campbell had perhaps her best game of the season, turning away shot after shot after surrendering an early goal to the Firebirds.

Xavier returns to action on Friday (Jan.10) at 6 p.m. with a road match at Gilbert Highland.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Xavier hoops wins, but coach seeks consistency

Xavier Prep’s basketball team ushered in the New Year with a 53-22 victory over visiting Peoria Liberty on Tuesday night (Jan. 7), but Gators coach Jennifer Gillom says her team is a long way from where she needs it to be.

“I’m not content,’’ she said. “We have played well in spurts, but we haven’t had that consistency. We need to play well for four quarters. We are way better than the way we are playing.’’

The Gators, who have a 13-3 overall record, will be tested again right away on Wednesday night (Jan. 8) against visiting Scottsdale Chaparral (9-7) at the Activity Center.

The contest against Liberty (1-10) was played under a running clock in the fourth quarter, signifying a 30-point divide. The teams combined for only three points, and Xavier mostly was using its reserves.

Xavier freshman inside player Mia Davis sat this one out due to a health issue, but Gillom said she expected Davis to be available for the Chaparral contest.

That gave Gillom an opportunity to get a longer look at freshman Hannah Young and senior Tanya Barakat, who responded affirmatively and combined for 11 points.

Senior Elysia Fleetwood played her usual role as a thorn in the side of the opposing offense. She came up with several steals, some of which led to points of her own or for teammates. She led the Gators with 12 points.

Xavier Prep 53, Liberty 22

Xavier scoring – Elysia Fleetwood 12, Tori Saucedo 9, Sienna Cherwinski 7, Mackenzie Coder 7, Hannah Young 6, Kailey Appel 5, Tanya Barakat 5, Lauren Etsitty 2.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Xavier hoops ranked 3rd as New Year begins

As the new decade begins, Xavier Prep finds itself listed among the top basketball teams in the 6A Conference, according to

The Gators are listed at No. 3, behind No. 1 Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor and No. 2 Surprise Valley Vista. Xavier is 12-3, and one of its losses was to O’Connor, along with Phoenix Mountain Pointe and Ganado High. Ganado was 5-0 and Xavier was 4-1 in the recent Lady Titan Winter Hoops Classic at Phoenix Arcadia.

Xavier will begin the 2020 portion of its schedule next week. The Gators will have back-to-back home games against Peoria Liberty and Scottsdale Chaparral on Jan. 7-8 and a road contest against Phoenix Pinnacle on Jan. 10.