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.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Solid scrimmage sets up volleyball season opener

 So far, so good.

That’s the sense of optimism that Xavier Prep volleyball coach Lamar-Renee Bryant carried away from Chandler Basha’s gym on Saturday (Sept. 19) after her Gators dueled the host Bears in a 90-minute scrimmage that precedes the “real’’ season opener on Tuesday (Sept. 22) at Basha.

Bryant was like most coaches, wanting to get a sense of her team’s capabilities once it waded into the reality of a competition situation, with the litmus test being even more crucial since Basha comes into the 2020 season as the defending champion in Division I.

Xavier has only a handful of players who have extensive high school experience beyond club ball, so blending in the others who are looking for more playing time was one important goal.

Xavier looked strong in the opening “match,’’ nearly doubling the Basha score (a 25-12 lead would have been a victory under normal circumstances) and winding up with a nine-point cushion.

That is where Bryant got a look at her likely starters, who played very well, notably the middle blockers, 6-foot-2 senior Phoebe Lewis and 6-1 junior Isabella Sinacori.  And 5-8 junior setter Alexa Shiner appears to be on her way to another productive campaign.

The reserves sought to battle for greater playing time during the longer second “match,’’ taking control against the Bears and maintaining a comfortable advantage.

“It was a good start for us,’’ said Bryant, whose team finished 30-12 a year ago but then saw the graduation of middle blocker Jasmine Knight, the Player of the Year, and outside hitter Bri McKnight.

“Everyone got to play, and it was a good test run for all of the (safety) protocols (masking up when not out on the court, etc.). We got to see a lot of different lineups.’’

One key thing she wants her players to do is to take care of the ball after their initial contact.

“We did some of that today, and if we can continue to do that, we can be a pretty good team,’’ she said.

So now it’s on to the opener, and Bryant is well aware that Basha is very capable of turning things around as it did against Premier Region rival Gilbert Perry in the state title match, rallying from an 0-2 deficit to win it all.

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