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, September 16, 2020

Early volleyball challenge awaits Gators

 Just about every team wants to know how good it is capable of becoming when a season begins, and one of the best ways is to face one of the state’s top competitors early.

That is what Xavier Prep’s volleyball squad is facing, not once, but twice, when the Gators travel to face defending Division I state champion Chandler Basha in a scrimmage on Saturday morning (Sept. 19), then turn right around to visit the Bears again three days later (Sept. 22) in the season opener.

Amid the swirl of uncertainty that is the Covid virus, the Gators are trying to make sense of it all.

“It’s definitely been a difficult time, and we are taking it day by day,’’ said XCP Coach Lamar-Renee Bryant. “We want the girls to go out and compete strong and let them be competitive.’’

After two days of recent tryouts, Bryant finally nailed down her 14-player roster. It is made up of three seniors, five juniors, five sophomores and one freshman.

Of the obstacle posed by Basha, Bryant said, “To be the best, you have to play the best. Our region (Premier) is really, really tough. I think it has had the last three or four state champions (including Xavier in 2017 and 2018).’’

All of the teams must deal with what Bryant calls “the new normal.’’ Xavier is not allowing spectators at its home matches (per Diocese of Phoenix mandate), but is expected to have the home matches available via streaming video on its Web site. Xavier’s Spiritline has been given permission by the Diocese and the Arizona Interscholastic Association to perform its routines at the home matches.

And there are the safety and sanitization issues to deal with.

“We want to adhere to all of the safety precautions,’’ Bryant said. “We have been working very hard at it, getting ready.’’

That means having to designate a person or persons to wipe down the volleyballs after each point. After that cleaning, the volleyballs are placed in a wheeled cart and are ready to go. The teams must practice social distancing and Xavier is required to wear masks when the players are not in the game.

At least early in the season, Xavier should be the strongest in its setter (junior Alexa Shiner), libero (senior Kaori Robertson), and with its middle blockers (senior Phoebe Lewis and junior Isabella “Bella’’ Sinacori).

“We will be looking at our outside hitters and see if we can round out that group in front,’’ Bryant said.

In just one full year of varsity play, Shiner developed into one of the state’s top setters. There’s not much mystery in how she did it, just old-fashioned repetition and hard work through practice with both Xavier and her club team.

“It will be strange not having people at our home matches. There won’t be as much energy in the air, so we will have to make sure we keep focused,’’ Shiner said.

“We are very excited to play a match, even the scrimmage, where we can get a feel for the opponent and what they do. It’s always good to play against different people instead of just ourselves.’’

Because of the virus, Shiner’s club season was cut short, so she had to go solo for the most part while lifting weights a couple of times a week and staying in shape.

Shiner will serve as a primary conduit for distributing energy in the matches as well as the assists. Her leadership skills have improved, as she follows in the footsteps of former XCP star setter Shannon Shields, now at Arizona State after beginning her college career at Louisville.

”I am trying my best to be a leader on the court,’’ Shiner said. ”I think the setter is kind of a natural position to be a role model.’’

So the season is just about here. The Gators want to take everyone on an enjoyable journey.

Xavier Prep badminton roster – 2020

Seniors – Kaori Robertson, Phoebe Lewis, Zaira Reyes.

Juniors – Alexa Shiner, Emma Soderstrom, Hannah Ulisch, Isabella Sinacori, Tiffany Tellez.

Sophomores – Emma Caruso, Kate Tax, Lauren Vanderwey, Maddie MacDonald, Mei Tsou.

Freshman – Finley Workman.


(Subject to change)

Sept. 22 -- @ Chandler Basha. Sept. 23 – Scottsdale Chaparral. Sept. 24 – Chandler High. Sept. 29 -- @ Gilbert Perry. Sept. 30 -- @ Mesa Skyline. Oct. 1 – Chandler Hamilton. Oct. 6 – Mesa Mountain View. Oct. 7 -- @ Phoenix Sunnyslope. Oct. 8 -- @ Peoria Liberty. Oct. 13 – Tempe Corona del Sol. Oct. 15 -- @ Chandler High. Oct. 20 – Gilbert Perry. Oct. 21 -- @ Phoenix Desert Vista. Oct. 27 -- @ Chandler Hamilton.

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