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.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Two years later, Gators still reach beach elite

 The last time before Monday (March 22) that Xavier Prep played in any organized beach volleyball competition was in 2019, when the Gators defeated Gilbert Perry for their seventh state championship in eight seasons.

Beach volleyball and all of the other spring sports in 2020 were wiped out by the COVID virus.

So on Monday, the Gators were finally back in action. They played on their home sand, the Cavanaugh Family Courts, although the match against Phoenix Sunnyslope was designated as a home game for ‘Slope because of that school’s temporary inability to use its facilities.

The one thing that had not changed was Xavier’s dominance of its opponent.

Led by Stanford-bound senior Serena Turner, the Gators swept the Vikings 5-0. Xavier now turns its attention to Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge in Tucson, which will host XCP on Wednesday (March 24).

“I’d say there was a lot of nervousness for us today,’’ said Xavier Head Coach Tim McHale. “We are a very young team. We have only two seniors (Turner and Zaira Reyes).

“Still, it was good to be home, even though it technically wasn’t our home match. It was a good test for us to see where we’re at. We identified some things that we need to work on.’’

Just as with indoor volleyball, Xavier has developed a friendly rivalry with ‘Slope in beach volleyball. The two sports have overlapped for the Vikings, as both are coached by Amber LeTarte.

“A lot of us know each other,’’ McHale said.

There seems to be more and more of that going around, and that’s a good thing.

The first beach championships in Arizona were held in 2012, with no more than 10 teams. Now it has spread to nearly 80, with a lot of quality interaction.

McHale wanted his players to attempt to work on certain aspects of their game in the opener, if the opportunity presented itself.

For Turner, one of her elements came on the match’s final moments.

It was a “Skyball,’’ and no, it’s not the name of a new James Bond film.

It is a serve where the server hits the ball as high as possible with an underhand motion with the intent of the ball landing just on the other side of the net, making it more difficult for the opponent to judge its descent.

The ball did what it was supposed to do, and it was mission accomplished with more hopeful days ahead.

Monday’s results

No. 1 pairing – Serena Turner-Summer McCann, X, def. Taylor Haan-Alexia Scott, S, 21-12, 21-8.

No. 2 pairing – Lexi Yoza-Landree Coats, X, def. Gianna Barry-Andie Purdy, S, 21-17, 21-10.

No. 3 pairing – Zaira Reyes-Katie Anthony, X, def. Jaelyn Juniel-Avery Kronholm, S, 21-8, 21-8.

No. 4 pairing – Tiffany Tellez-Alexa Shiner, X, def. Kate Daoust-Amelia Shelley, S, 21-4, 21-7.

No. 5 pairing – Trinity Tran-Mei Tsou, X, def. Avery Bishop-Tess McDonald, S, 21-6, 21-8.

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