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, February 26, 2021

XCP basketball team awakens, runs past Basha

 Xavier Prep’s Gators had an early wakeup call for their basketball game against visiting Chandler Basha on Friday night (Feb. 26), going from the normal 7 p.m. start to 5:30.

The thing was, they must have hit the snooze button somewhere along the way.

Xavier, which defeated the Bears by 26 points in the first of their two meetings on Jan. 26, managed just a five-point differential in the first quarter in this Senior Night encounter.

The Gators didn’t necessarily stumble over themselves, but their shots were not really falling and they seemed a step slower than normal as they attempted to apply some backcourt pressure.

That all changed in the second quarter, when XCP went on a 30-6 run and finished it up with a 67-36 victory.

Xavier, which entered the game as the No. 5-ranked team in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s 6A Conference power points list, raised its record to 9-3. Basha, meanwhile, dropped to 4-11.

In Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom’s way of thinking, there was really only one way to awaken her players from their early slumber.

“A lot of them were trying to do it (create a turnaround) by themselves,’’ Gillom said. “But you can’t really do that. This is a team game, so I had to get some of them out, let them get a better feel for the game by watching from the bench.’’

Freshman quard Dominique Nesland scored eight points in the period and sophomore guard Sienna Cherwinski had seven for Xavier, which outscored the visitors 17-0 in the later moments of the quarter going into the halftime break.

“We’ve been getting good play off our bench lately. They also have been playing well in practice. Every day they come in and are relentless.’’

The Gators had three players score in double figures in the contest, in which a running clock was used in the final quarter. They were freshman guard Sarah Miller (16 points), sophomore guard-forward Mia Davis (13) and Nesland (10).

Forward Sophia Alameddin, one of four seniors honored along with forward-center Rachel Orr, guard Tori Saucedo and guard Lauren Etsitty, scored six points off the bench, putting a stamp of approval on a comeback that had her sitting out a few games with an ankle injury.

Sophomore forward Gabby Trbovic also connected for a 3-point shot in the fourth quarter.

Xavier plays its final two regular-season games next week – on Tuesday (March 2) at Chandler High and on Friday (March 5) at home against Gilbert Perry. The Gators defeated Perry 62-52 on its own floor on Feb. 2.

Gator soccer matches Pinnacle stride for stride

 Arizona’s high school girls’ soccer teams are preparing both physically and mentally for the start of the 6A Conference state tournament in less than two weeks.

They need to be playing tough opponents in their last few regular-season matches, ones that will stretch them to the limit as would a tournament foe.

A prime example would be Thursday night’s (Feb. 25) match between Phoenix Pinnacle and Xavier Prep at XCP’s Petznick Field.

Pinnacle had been No. 1 on the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s power points list for most of the season and came in at No. 2 with only one loss in 11 matches. Xavier was 4-2 and came in at No. 8. The Gators' record was a bit deceptive, considering its narrow losses to highly regarded Gilbert Perry and Chandler Hamilton.

Xavier and Pinnacle put on a show in a 1-1 overtime tie, not necessarily due to the scoring output but what the teams’ defenses did to prevent that and the aggressiveness with which they played across the board.

After a scoreless first half, Pinnacle scored first with 28:28 left in regulation.

Awarded a free kick from close to midfield, the Pioneers’ Alaina Kuhn sent a shot toward the Xavier goal. The shot had just enough loft to it where it made it somewhat difficult for the Gator gatekeeper, Jaden Campbell, to judge its descent.

Pinnacle 1, Xavier 0.

Nearly five minutes later, the Gators got the equalizer. Sophomore Eva Allen sent a corner kick from the right side to just in front of the goal. Senior Odelade Adebayo worked her way through the crowd and made contact, but the ball deflected off the Pinnacle goalie and senior Megan McGinty was in position for the putback and made it count.

With 4:30 left in regulation, the Gators thought they scored the go-ahead goal when a shot from sophomore Bella Leonard appeared to rattle around the goalposts and perhaps even the crossbar and go in. The referee ruled it no good and play continued.

The teams traded a few more opportunities to take the lead but could not, sending the contest into overtime. The score remained the same in the two 10-minute extra periods and the teams walked off feeling half empty yet half full.

“It was a good result for us, knowing we could have won,’’ said Xavier coach Barb Chura. “It was an incredible effort what we did, coming back after being scored on to scoring ourselves and tying it. That’s what the good teams do.’’

The Gators now move on to next week and their final two regular-season matches, at home against Phoenix Desert Vista on Monday (March 1) and on the road at Phoenix Mountain Pointe on Thursday (March 4).

Then it is the free-for-all that is the state tournament.

“There are a lot of teams capable of winning it. It’s not like there’s any one team,’’ Chura said. “We have played well against teams like Pinnacle, Perry and Hamilton and we know we can compete.’’



Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Gators take care of Mtn. Ridge, now face Pinnacle

 This soccer match was all aboGaut opportunities.

The more chances you have, the likelihood increases that you will score. If you miss, or the ball is stopped or deflected by the goalkeeper, come back for another try, and another . . .

Xavier Prep’s Gators were in that situation against visiting Glendale Mountain Ridge on Tuesday night (Feb. 23).

They certainly had their chances, but had nothing to show for it.

Then, within a 16-second span of the first half, they got not one, but two goals, and went on to put another goal on the board in the second for a 3-0 victory.

Xavier improved its record to 4-2, while Mountain Ridge dipped to 6-5.

Xavier coach Barb Chura called it “a good, quality win.’’

With a home match against highly regarded Phoenix Pinnacle looming on Thursday night (Feb. 25), it was an effort that the Gators needed to maintain their confidence and a bit of momentum.

Xavier was eighth among 6A Conference teams on the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s latest power points list released at midday on Wednesday (Feb. 24). Pinnacle, which has been No. 1 for a large part of the season, is now second after its first and only loss to Gilbert Highland.

Chura was able to get virtually everyone on her roster some key playing time. That added to the coach’s theory that all the players will need to keep fresh legs for the Pinnacle match. Most of the starters played in the first half against Mountain Ridge, while reserves worked the second.

Xavier’s first goal on Tuesday night came with 16:20 left in the first half. It began with a corner kick by sophomore forward Eva Allen and finished with a goal by senior midfielder Bianca Feix. At the 16:04 mark, Allen stepped in front of a Mountain Lion player to take possession and made the score 2-0.

Just like that.

“Eva just carved her way (through the defense) to get that goal,’’ Chura said. “I think it was one of the nicest goals I have seen. That is the type of play that only elite players can make and Eva is an elite player.’’

Sophomore forward Tatum Kramer came through in the second half to get the team’s third goal, with 26:45 left.

Chura said she is pleased with Kramer’s development.

“She is starting to come on,’’ Chura said. “She is playing really, really well.’’

Sophomore midfielder Collins Entz also drew praise. On numerous occasions, she would take the ball away from the opponent with aggressive maneuvers and set up teammates with accurate passes to allow the ball to move farther down the field.

Senior goalkeeper Ella Eberhardt came up with eight saves and delivered the team’s fourth shutout of the season.

After the Pinnacle contest, Xavier will have two more regular-season matches – on Monday (March 1) at home against Phoenix Desert Vista and on March 4 at Phoenix Mountain Pointe.

Archers pull back, take aim with bow, let arrows go

 Xavier Prep continues to build its strong archery program with an excellent showing in the Arete Tournament last weekend in the Valley. The event included the high school target and 3D divisions.

 Seven Gator competitors finished in the top 10 of the high school target division and two more received medals in the 3D division.

Xavier archers take aim at their targets (Photo courtesy of Leslie Kanda).

Senior Alexandra Scott won the high school target division with a score of 279 and 16 bullseyes.

 Following close behind were Gator teammates Adela Campo (freshman), fourth place with a 264, sophomore Kylie Cavanagh, sixth with 259, sophomore Evelynn Papez, seventh with 250, junior Ana Bhatti, 8th with 239, senior Ariana Santana-Garcia, 9th with 236, and sophomore Sophie Pauly,10th with 233.

 In the 3D division, Scott’s total of 279 was the highest score of the tournament, earning her a first-place medal. Freshman Isabella Beninato eared a third-place medal with 256, including 11 bullseyes.

 Freshman Adela Campbo was at 251 and placed fifth. Sophomore Alexa Ojeda placed seventh and freshman Ellie Halaby was eighth.

 Congrats to Head Coach Leslie Kanda and her XCP archers! You did Xavier proud!

XCP is rock solid in hoops win over Boulder Creek

 Xavier Prep’s basketball team all the way up into the far north Valley on Tuesday night (Feb. 23) for a game against Anthem Boulder Creek.

Boulder Creek had a decent 7-4 record entering the contest, but the Gators took care of business with a 52-31 victory.

Xavier is now 8-3 and will play at home on Friday (Feb. 26) against Chandler Basha. The opening tip will be at 5:30 p.m., with a junior-varsity game scheduled before that at 4 p.m. Xavier triumphed in the first game at Basha, 60-34 on Jan. 26.

The Gators will have their final two regular-season games next week on Tuesday (March 2) at Chandler High and on Friday (March 5) at home against Gilbert Perry.

Sophomore Mia Davis led Xavier against Boulder Creek with 14 points (including two 3-pointers), along with six rebounds and two blocked shots. Freshman Sarah Miller scored 12 points.

Xavier had 20 steals as a team, including six by senior Tori Saucedo and five by sophomore Sienna Cherwinski.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Xavier picks up 3rd soccer shutout of season

 It had been 11 days since Xavier Prep last played a soccer match. So the Gators were more than ready to go when they traveled to face Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor on Friday (Feb. 19).

Xavier unleashed a lot of energy, mixing its offense with a strong defense to pick up a 3-0 victory over the Eagles.

Xavier entered the contest at No. 9 on the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s 6A Conference power points list, while Sandra Day O’Connor was 10th. Xavier is now 3-2 overall and Sandra Day O’Connor is 4-4-1. The next power points rankings will be released on Tuesday (Feb. 23) at noon.

Xavier’s three victories are by shutout and its two losses were by one goal each, including an overtime setback to Chandler Hamilton.

The first goal by the Gators against SDO came in the first half, the other two in the second.

The goals were scored by senior Megan McGinty, sophomore Tessa Montanile and junior Hennessy Perez. Tallying assists were junior Ansley Burns, sophomore Bella Leonard and sophomore Eva Allen.

Senior goalkeeper Jaden Campbell earned the shutout, picking up 11 saves.

The pace will pick up for Xavier in the coming week with two home matches, against Glendale Mountain Ridge on Tuesday night and top-ranked Phoenix Pinnacle on Thursday night (Feb. 25). Pinnacle was 10-0 before it fell to Gilbert Highland on Sept. 18.



Friday, February 19, 2021

Athletes are becoming accustomed to wearing masks

 OK, let’s see . . .

There is The Masked Singer. There is the Masked Dancer.

And among the newest kids on the block are The Masked Gators.

Xavier Prep soccer players Jaden Campbell, left, and Emmie Paulson are all masked up and ready to go (photo by Don Ketchum).

Xavier Prep’s two primary winter sports teams, soccer and basketball, have been wearing masks in actual competition, not just in practices, as part of the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s attempt to resurrect the seasons after first canceling them due to Covid virus concerns.

The wearing of masks by all school teams in games began when the condensed schedule began in January.

By most accounts, the adjustments were a bit difficult at first but now appear to be part of life in masks as we know it.

Everyone is required to wear them. Athletes, coaches, referees, athletic trainers, athletic support staff, parents and yes, even bloggers.

Xavier Prep's Mia Davis (No. 11 in white) battles Valley Vista player for the season-opening tip (basketball photos by Sr. Lynn Winsor).

The XCP Files talked to two players each from soccer and basketball as well as their coaches to get a read on how things have gone.

The soccer players are senior goalkeeper Jaden Campbell and senior defender Emmie Paulson, both captains. The basketball players are sophomore Mia Davis and senior Tori Saucedo.

Both teams will be in action on Tuesday (Feb. 23), soccer at home against Glendale Mountain Ridge and basketball on the road at Anthem Boulder Creek.

Senior guard Tori Saucedo drives toward the basket against Chandler.

Campbell tugged on her mask and said the adjustment has not been easy. The most difficult thing has been communicating with her teammates who play in front of her.

“At first, spit would be coming out of my mouth (and into the mask),’’ she said. “When I talked to my teammates during the game, my voice would still project, but it also was muffled.’’

She added that at least one Gator teammate uses an asthma inhaler, and Campbell was concerned about the player being able to breathe properly.

Paulson said that getting used to the mask was “part of a learning curve. For her, the biggest adjustment was with her vision because she could not see the ball very well near the lower part of her face as she would approach the ball.

“You really couldn’t see much of anything,’’ she said.

Both players said that some opponents do not wear their masks properly and the enforcement of that isn’t always there.

“Some players don’t have the mask over their nose like they’re supposed to,’’ Campbell said, adding that the masks barely hang near the players’ chins.

From day one of the practices, soccer Coach Barb Chura emphasized wearing the masks and wearing them correctly.

“We always want to do things the right way,’’ she said. “We’ve always made a point of doing that here.’’

Paulson said that even though there was uncertainty regarding the masks at the beginning, “it means that we were going to have and still are having a season. We are happy to wear them.’’

Sophomore Mia Davis moves the ball against Chandler.

In basketball, Davis now is back in action after missing a handful of games with a leg injury. The adjustment to that comeback has been easy compared to wearing the mask at all times. She played club ball during the summer, and said they rarely wore the masks.

While there might be a sentiment of wearing a mask that might be a bit more stylish, Davis is going the practical route – wearing straight blue or black masks that make it easier to breathe.

“We wore them in a basketball class here (in the afternoon). It was tough at first,’’ Davis said. “It seemed like your heart would skip a beat or something. On the court, you do a lot of communicating and you have to make sure your teammates can hear you.’’

She added that she also had to make sure she ate properly since wearing the mask would sometimes put more stress on the body.

“That could make it scary,’’ she said.

Saucedo says that basketball “is a high intensity sport and you have to make sure you’re prepared in all areas. When we started to wear the masks, it was definitely an adjustment.’’

Like Paulson on the soccer field, Saucedo agreed that there have been a few blind spots associated with the masks.

“But Coach (Jennifer) Gillom has studied up on most of it and is good about taking precautions,’’ Saucedo said.

The breathing issue is most noticeable when the Gators apply their stifling defensive pressure.

“When you’re running hard, going back and forth, that can take its toll,’’ said Saucedo, who after graduating from Xavier hopes to go on and play in college, perhaps at a Division III school. “But we go in and play all-out. You can afford to do that when your bench is deep like ours.’’

Gillom said her players have adapted very well.

So the regular season will wind to a close over the next two weeks, and then the state tournaments will begin for both sports.

What will that mean for The Masked Gators?

Well, there has been some talk out there that teams in the tournament might not have to wear masks in the games. An AIA spokesman said the organization is monitoring the situation (if Covid numbers decline) and could decide on possible changes when the Executive Board meets the first week of March.

If winter sports players are given the thumbs-up, spring-sports participants could ride along, perhaps in a package deal.

So stay tuned. There never seems to be a dull moment around here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Coach says Gators "just love playing the game''

 Xavier Prep’s basketball team stepped onto the floor at Scottsdale Chaparral on Tuesday (Feb. 16) and began to do what it needed to do.

The Gators controlled things from the opening tip to the final buzzer, pinning a lop-sided 81-19 defeat on the Firebirds.

Xavier has won 7 of its first 10 games, while Chaparral sits at 2-9.

Asked what, if anything, she could take away from a game like this, Xavier Coach Jennifer Gillom said, “just sit and watch. This team never ceases to amaze me.

“They (players) are jelling more and more now with each game. They just love playing the game.’’

Gillom was particularly pleased by Mia Davis’ return to action. The sophomore guard-forward had been out for a week or more due to a leg injury, and entered the game at the start of the second quarter. She had practiced only once, on Monday (Feb. 15) since the injury.

She went on to lead the team with 19 points, grabbed six rebounds and had four steals. One of her baskets was a 3-pointer, one of 12 for the Gators on the night. Sophomore guard Sienna Cherwinski tossed in four long-range shots and senior guard Tori Saucedo had three.

Sophomore Hannah Young had seven rebounds and freshman guard Sarah Miller had six. Cherwinski and freshman guard Dominique Nesland also had four steals. Freshman guard Kalyn Doss received additional playing time and scored six points.

“We are sharing the ball on offense and executing the way we are supposed to, and are playing great defense,’’ Gillom said.

Due to the score differential, the referees mandated that the running clock be used for the entire second half, rather than just for the fourth quarter only.

Xavier has four games remaining in the condensed regular season. They are at Anthem Boulder Creek on Feb. 23, at home against Chandler Basha on Feb. 26, at Chandler High on March 2 and at home against Gilbert Perry on March 5.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Large lead helps Gators withstand comeback attempt

 Xavier Prep’s basketball team built a 22-point halftime lead over visiting Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor on Friday night (Feb. 12), and it proved to be extremely beneficial.

Xavier withstood a big third-quarter rally and went on to defeat the Eagles 55-37.

Deep down, Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom knew that Sandra Day O’Connor was too good of a team to let that deficit slide. She knew that the Eagles, who had lost just once in seven attempts going in, would make an aggressive comeback attempt.

Fast and furious it came in the third quarter, as SDO held the Gators to seven points while nearly doubling their output. The Xavier lead was at 13 entering the fourth and SDO was so excited and its fans (primarily members from the lower-level teams that played earlier) so boisterous that you would have thought it was the Eagles who had the big lead.

Sandra Day O’Connor had used up a lot of energy, however, and Xavier was able to regain its composure in the fourth quarter. The double-digit lead also was a primary factor.

Forwards Hannah Young (sophomore) and Toni Garcia (junior), usually supplanting one another in the lineup but in this one playing in tandem at times in order to compensate for the injury to starter Mia Davis, had key efforts with their rebounding and even provided a lift offensively.

The Gators went 2-1 for the week, rising to 6-3 overall as the No. 9 power points team on the Arizona Interscholastic Association list. Sandra Day O’Connor, at No. 6, fell to 6-2.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect in another big game like this,’’ Gillom said. “We showed a lot of poise and executed on both offense and defense.’’

As for Sandra Day O’Connor’s attempt at a comeback, she said, “Basketball is a game of runs and you have to be ready for it. We were able to stop the bleeding.’’

And of Young and Garcia . . .

“They were huge. This just shows that I need to trust my bench more.’’

Young had nine points and six rebounds and Garcia had four points and four rebounds.

Sophomore guard Sienna Cherwinski also had a big night with 12 points (including three 3-pointers) and seven rebounds. Freshman guard Sarah Miller led the Gators with 14 points.

After a busy week for the Gators, they only play one game this coming week, at Scottsdale Chaparral on Tuesday (Feb. 16). Game time is 5:30 p.m. instead of the usual 7.

Friday, February 12, 2021

True grit carries Gators past Pinnacle in hoops

 The next time Xavier Prep’s Gators stop by their favorite salon, they may discover a bit of grit under their fingernails. They can ask their manicure person to make sure the grit is not removed.

The Gators need grit right now.

It is needed as the condensed basketball regular-season schedule enters its closing phase.

Xavier, playing with courage and resolve in the second of three home games this week, went nose to nose with the Pioneers from Phoenix Pinnacle in a tough, hard-fought contest in which the Gators emerged with a 36-33 victory.

Xavier, ninth in the latest Arizona Interscholastic Association power points rankings, is 5-3, while No. 13 Pinnacle is 5-5. Xavier is back in the Activity Center on Friday night (Feb. 12) with a contest against No. 6 Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor (6-1). Sandra Day O’Connor’s only loss is to Chandler Hamilton, while XCP has dropped two to the Huskies.

Pinnacle held a 23-22 lead at the half, but in the third quarter apparently decided its chances for success would be better served by slowing the pace.

Used to a quicker pace, the Gators managed to adjust and took a 30-26 lead entering the fourth quarter by scoring the last three baskets by freshmen Sarah Miller and Maureen Ulrich and senior Tori Saucedo.

The Xavier defense asserted itself in the third quarter, limiting the Pioneers to a scant three points.

Pinnacle only scored seven points in the fourth, but actually held a lead early in the quarter on a three-pointer by freshman Mia Singstock and a two-pointer by Singstock.

A steal by Saucedo led to a bucket by Ulrich that allowed Xavier to take a 34-33 lead. With the clock winding down, Pinnacle felt it necessary to foul in an attempt to get the ball.

Nesland went to the line on two separate occasions. She made the first but missed the second on both, but Ulrich grabbed the rebound on the one miss and junior Toni Garcia got the ball on the second.

The Gators had survived.

Coach Jennifer Gillom had to take stock in what had just happened.

“I’ve got a headache,’’ she said, wiping her brow.

“It was a good win. I saw poise on offense, even though we didn’t knock down some of the shots we needed. Our team defense was good and we got some crucial rebounds.’’

Garcia and sophomore Hannah Young and Ulrich were pivotal in the latter category. With sophomore forward-guard Mia Davis sidelined at least temporarily along with senior forward Sophia Alameddin and senior guard Lauren Etsitty, Xavier is going to need more people to crash the boards. It worked pretty well on this occasion.

Nesland led the Gators with 15 points and Ulrich had 10.

Gillom was quite pleased that Ulrich stood out in several areas, giving the coach more flexibility with her lineup.

“She helped us, particularly on defense,’’ Gillom said. “She is starting to turn into a very good player for us. Her work ethic is impeccable.’’

XCP's Donahey among top national softball players

 Bridget Donahey has some unfinished business for the Xavier Prep softball team.

Last season, she was hit with a double whammy with an arm injury in an early season tournament. Shortly thereafter, the Covid-19 virus hit and that KO’d the Gators’ season.

She and her teammates hope 2021 will be much better.

The people at MaxPreps seem to think so.

They have listed Donahey, a junior, as the No. 17 national prospect out of the Top 25 players from the Class of 2022.

Donahey, who has committed to Northwestern, is capable of making an impact at any position, except for maybe pitcher.

Xavier Coach Brad Downes likely will have her plugged in at shortstop, with time in the outfield and behind the plate also possibilities.

As a freshman in 2019, Donahey hit 13 home runs and 13 doubles with a .581 batting average.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Gators warm up after injury, then deep freeze hits

 An injury to a key player can rally the troops on the basketball court or have the opposite effect and freeze them.

Or both.

That is what happened to Xavier Prep’s Gators on Tuesday night (Feb. 9) against visiting Chandler Hamilton at the Activity Center.

Promising sophomore Mia Davis went down with a leg injury not even three minutes in the game and returned to the bench on crutches for the second half.

In the meantime, her Gator teammates gave a gallant effort, rallying from an early five-point deficit for a two-point lead at the half.

The second half was much different.

Hamilton (7-1), the defending 6A Conference state runner-up, froze the Gators (4-3) in their tracks.

The Huskies outplayed and outscored XCP in the second half 38-17 to win going away 66-47. The final deficit was similar to the one on Jan. 22, when Hamilton took a 57-37 win at home over the Gators.

Coach Jennifer Gillom and her assistants likely will be burning the midnight oil trying to figure out how to compensate for the loss of Davis, who can play virtually anywhere on the floor. It is uncertain if she will be sidelined, and if so, for how long.

The process will be expedited because Xavier has two more home games this week – on Thursday (Feb. 11) against Phoenix Pinnacle and on Friday (Feb. 12) against Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor.

“I thought we played hard in the first half,’’ Gillom said. “In the second half, they (Hamilton) came out determined. They worked hard under the basket, got a lot of 50-50 balls and scored a lot off of box-outs.’’

The Huskies were dominant with possession of the ball, and that meant more scoring opportunities.

Senior guards Graciela Roybal and Amyah Reaves were the primary recipients. Roybal scored 20 of her 22 points in the second half, including five three-pointers and three more points from the free-throw line when fouled on another long-range attempt.

Reaves scored 19 points, many on drives to the basket.

Senior Tori Saucedo and freshman Dominique Nesland led the Gators with 11 points apiece, and sophomore guard Sienna Cherwinski connected on a pair of three-pointers.



Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Hamilton's second-half rally stuns Gator soccer

 Championship-caliber teams usually find a way to survive, even though they might face a deficit in the early stages of a contest.

It happened on Monday night (Feb. 8), when defending 6A Conference state soccer runner-up Chandler Hamilton strolled into Xavier Prep’s Petznick Field, with the hometown Gators carrying some title hopes of their own.

Xavier began the match by doing just about everything right. The Gators led 2-0 at halftime after goals by sophomore Eva Allen and freshman Talia Coury. At virtually every instance at every spot on the field, Xavier was the aggressor, beating the Huskies to the ball. The Gators were acting like they wanted to win and were playing like it.

At the mid-game break, something happened. Whatever words were imparted by the Hamilton coaches touched a nerve, got the Huskies’ attention.

They came out like a completely different team and simply put, took control of the game. They were as aggressive as Xavier had been in the first half, maybe even more so.

The Huskies tied it at 2-2 with goals only 1:29 apart and actually took a 3-2 lead about three minutes later, but it was waved off due to an offsides call by the officials.

Xavier strung it out to overtime (two 10-minute periods). Hamilton took the lead on a goal by Savannah Nelson with 5:19 left in the first OT period and rode it to a 3-2 victory.

Hamilton remained unbeaten at 4-0, while Xavier, its Premier Region rival, slipped to 2-2.

Allen and Coury led the way for Xavier. Allen also had an assist on Coury’s goal and senior Megan McGinty had an assist on Allen’s goal.  Senior Ololade Adebayo did a solid job trying to take the ball away from her opponents most of the way.

The Gators will have plenty of time to regroup for their next match, on Feb. 19 at Sandra Day O’Connor in north Phoenix.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Blue and white improving at both ends of court

 Xavier Prep’s young Gators continued to show improvement on Friday night (Feb. 5) with their fourth straight victory, 77-26 over visiting Tucson High.

But they will need to continue to move in that direction, especially with a very busy week coming up, when the team (4-2) will play three home games.

Xavier was able to work on some aspects of its approach within a game framework rather than a regular practice session, where the intensity isn’t as strong and you are playing against yourself.

Xavier built a 27-7 lead at the end of the first quarter against Tucson (2-1), but Gators coach Jennifer Gillom wanted to see more of a team concept.

“It is hard to complain about anything when you see those kinds of numbers, but we need to continue to work on things,’’ Gillom said. “We bounced back after that first period. We played team ball, executed both offensively and defensively.’’

The offensive part involved swinging the ball around the perimeter with passes that were crisp and had better touch.

“We were very patient and poised,’’ Gillom said.

“We need to get back to learning, and I’m seeing more and more improvement in a lot of our players at both ends of the court.’’

The Gators had nine players put points on the board, and tossed in eight three-pointers. The game was well in hand by the start of the fourth quarter. Xavier had a 51-point lead at that point, setting up the use of a running clock in the fourth.

Four players scored in double figures – freshman Dominique Nesland (20 points), sophomore Mia Davis and freshman Sarah Miller (12 each), and sophomore Sienna Cherwinski (11). Senior Tori Saucedo came up with 11 rebounds, including seven on offense.

Xavier will open the week on Tuesday (Feb. 9) with its second attempt at defeating Chandler Hamilton. In the first contest on Jan. 22, Hamilton had a 57-37 triumph at Hamilton.

Phoenix Pinnacle would be next on the ledger with a game on Thursday night (Feb. 11), with Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor completing the week on Friday night (Feb. 12).

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Gators get big victory, hope more are ahead

 Xavier Prep’s 62-52 basketball road victory over Gilbert Perry on Tuesday night (Feb. 2) was big, to be sure. What Gators coach Jennifer Gillom wants to make certain is that it doesn’t get to the point of being too big, that her players need to keep things in perspective because their work is far from done.

“This entire season is a learning process,’’ Gillom said. “The games are so close together that you have to make sure you are ready for the next game.’’

For the Gators (3-2), that next game comes on Friday at 5:30 p.m., when they play host to Tucson High (2-0). Tucson only is bringing its varsity up Interstate 10, meaning Xavier’s frosh-sophomore and junior varsity teams will not play.

Gillom pointed to sophomore guard Sienna Cherwinski and freshman guard Dominique Nesland for their shooting and senior guard Tori Saucedo for her overall leadership against Perry. Reserves junior Toni Garcia and sophomore Hannah Young rolled up their sleeves and provided some key rebounding or at least kept the ball alive, tapping it to teammates and allowing them to control it.

Nesland gave the Gators an indication that it would be a good shooting night. She scored 12 of her game-high 16 points in the first quarter, including a pair of three-pointers in the first five minutes.

“She set the tone for us,’’ Gillom said.

Xavier would go on to finish with nine three-pointers. Cherwinski dropped in two long shots in a row in the third quarter after Perry had taken a one-point lead and added a third from long range to allow XCP to increase its lead to 46-41.

“Sienna knocked down those threes at a crucial time,’’ Gillom said.

The Gators led 48-44 entering the fourth quarter and managed to maintain their advantage on a basket by freshman Sarah Miller and a three by Saucedo. A bucket by Saucedo made it 55-50.

The teams traded turnovers for more than a minute before Nesland converted two free throws with 36.6 seconds left in the game. The parade to the foul line continued as the Gators wrapped it up with two free throws from Nesland, one from Saucedo and two from sophomore Mia Davis.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Soccer win in home opener is worth the wait

 Xavier Prep was scheduled to play its first home soccer match on Jan. 19, but that was cancelled and the Gators had to wait until Monday night (Feb. 1), when Chandler High’s Wolves visited Petznick Field.

It was worth the wait.

Xavier took a 2-0 lead at halftime, then scored three goals within a span of 1:19 of the second half and went on to post a 6-0 victory, putting its record at 2-1.

Gators coach Barb Chura was pleased with the effort, their second win in a row by shutout. This one by senior Jaden Campbell followed one by senior Ella Eberhardt on Friday against Chandler Basha.

During the first half in particular, Xavier faced a Chandler defense that packed in closer to the goal and limited Xavier shot attempts, but that changed in the second half when Xavier spread the ball wider and lured the defense a bit farther away from the goal.

That showed when Xavier connected on its three goals within the 1:19 for a 5-0 advantage. The goals were scored by senior Ololade Adebayo and back-to-back shots by sophomore Eva Allen.

Xavier's Ololade Adebayo (blue) is surrounded by three Chandler players. Adebayo scored a goal in the 6-0 victory. (Photos by Sr. Lynn Winsor).

“We were able to go back in and finish,’’ Chura said.

Sophomore Bella Leonard and freshman Talia Coury scored the Gators first two goals in the first half. Senior Megan McGinty tallied Xavier’s final goal with 1:41 left in the match.

Assistant coach Rafael Rios gives us a peace sign or a V is for victory sign. Either way, it's all good.

Xavier will get a chance to fine-tune its game and make a few adjustments before it plays again on Feb. 8 at home against Chandler Hamilton, which is due to face Gilbert Perry this Friday (Feb. 5). Xavier fell to Perry 1-0 in the season opener on Jan. 26.

“Perry is good and so is Hamilton,’’ Chura said of XCP’s Premier Region rivals.

Xavier Gators celebrate the 6-0 win over Chandler.