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.

Monday, June 28, 2021

XCP hoops can't close deal, Cesar Chavez takes title

 Xavier Prep’s basketball team had what it thought was a somewhat comfortable 10-point lead over Laveen Cesar Chavez midway through the second half of Sunday night’s (June 27) Blue Bracket championship game in the annual Thunderbird Summer League at Thunderbird High in north Phoenix.

Not too much longer and the Gators could wrap up the title and finish unbeaten in nine games.

But they kept hearing footsteps, faint at first but getting louder and louder.

The Champions caught the Gators with 3:42 left and passed them shortly thereafter. Soon, it would be over and Cesar Chavez would be crowned the bracket winner with Xavier finishing as the disappointed runner-up with an 8-1 record, 58-51.

It wasn’t the way that the Gators wanted to wind up, especially since they had defeated Cesar Chavez 52-46 in summer league play on June 8.

Xavier had played short-handed, missing six players for various reasons, but still managed to defeat Phoenix Sunnyslope 44-31 in a semifinal earlier in the afternoon on Sunday.

Four hours later, by the time for tipoff had arrived for the Cesar Chavez game, the Xavier roster had been built back up, although the team still was missing three key backcourt players.

One key player, sophomore-to-be Sarah Miller, had missed a game on Thursday (June 24) but returned for the Sunnyslope game.

She was her usual omnipresent self on the floor, scoring a team-leading 15 points against Sunnyslope and a team-high 17 against Cesar Chavez. The setback to Cesar Chavez also lessened the impact of a great-shooting day for incoming junior forward-post Gabi Trbovic, who scored 14 against Sunnyslope and 16 against Cesar Chavez. Her shots were magnetic, particularly along the baseline.

For the most part, the Gators seemed to have enough firepower on offense, but where they were lacking was on defense, according to assistant coach Rikki Mulloy-Trombley, who was filling in for head coach Jennifer Gillom.

“Our defense was more of a problem,’’ said Mulloy-Trombley, a graduate of XCP who went on to play at Cornell (Iowa). “We are a young team and it showed.

“We were reaching too much and were missing things on the “help side.’ Getting this corrected will only come with time.

“This whole tournament, in terms of game experience and the exposure to things that goes with it, was good for us. We are looking for more improvement as we get back in the gym when school starts.’’

The Gators should get some gym time during a basketball class during the later hours of the school day, then have official practices begin in October that will lead to the start-up of the regular season in November.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Gator golfers finish strong as national runner-up

 Xavier Prep’s Arizona Division I state champion golf team had a solid final day and a strong overall effort to finish as runner-up, but the Georgia state champion Lambert High team (Suwanee) was on top of its game again in Friday’s (June 25) final round to wrap up a wire-to-wire victory in the National High School Golf Association Girls National Tournament.

The event was played on three different courses, part of a nine-course layout, at the storied Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, N.C.

Lambert won with a 27-over-par total. Xavier was second at 55-over in the three days.

Xavier's national runner-up golf team. From left, assistant coach Jane Ladensack, players Annie Dawson, Jayden Jevnick, Lauren Garcia, Kate Hauptman, Ivy Song and Gators co-head coach Tui Selvaratnam (Xavier photo).

South Carolina was third, Nevada was fourth, with Phoenix Pinnacle fifth and Oro Valley (Tucson) Ironwood Ridge sixth.

Arizona Division I state champion Mattie Frick of Peoria Liberty shot a four-under-par 68 and thought she might get into a playoff with Chloe Johnson of Indiana, but Johnson birdied the final hole to win the national individual title by one shot. Johnson finished with a 1-under 215 for the tournament and Frick was at even-par 216.

“We had a good day today, but it was tough with the way Georgia was playing,’’ said Xavier Co-Head Coach Tui Selvaratnam. “Our freshmen (2020-21 school year) also played well.’’

That would be Kate Hauptman, who finished third in the Arizona state tournament, and Jayden Jevnick. Hauptman tallied a 1-over 73 and Jevnick was at 3-over 75 for the final round. Both were at 18-over, tied for 33rd.

Overall, the rest of the Gators looked like this over the three rounds:

Annie Dawson (junior-to-be in 2021-22), final round 78, 14-over par for the tournament, tied for 19th; Ivy Song (senior-to-be), final-round 82 (not counted in team score for final day), 16-over par, tied for 25th; and recently graduated senior Lauren Garcia, final-round 79, 17-over par, tied for 29th.

“The tournament was well organized, and the girls loved it. It was a great experience for them,’’ said Selvaratnam, who was helped by golf team assistant coach Jane Ladensack on this trip.

 “We played in the sun, wind and a little bit of rain, and it was good to be out on the course.

“Will we be able to come back next year? We hope so. Most of our girls will be back, and know what to expect with this tournament and know what they have to do to get here.’’

Four players out for Gators, teammates "step up'

 One, two, three, flour . . . who are the Gators on the floor?

That was the question for Xavier Prep’s basketball team in its “regular season finale’’ in the Thunderbird Summer League on Thursday night (June 24) at Phoenix Thunderbird High, and will be on Sunday (June 27) when the team plays in the “top’’ playoff bracket.

Xavier had four of its top players out for various reasons in a 42-33 victory over the Thunderbird Blue team on Thursday night. All are guards – Sienna Cherwinski, Sarah Miller, Dominique Nesland and Maureen Ulrich. They will be out again on Sunday.

None of those players are seniors, but they have more experience compared to those who remain on the roster.

It’s not that the “younger’’ players don’t have ability – they have plenty. And they take their responsibility seriously – right now, they are the keepers of the flame.

That is just fine with Xavier assistant coach Patrick Mangosing, serving in the head-coaching role these last few games while Jennifer Gillom visits family.

Asked about the new dynamic, Mangosing said, “I loved it. The kids stepped up. They are playing for each other. When you put in the younger kids, there wasn’t a drop-off.

“This tells you a lot about the depth we have now. We really haven’t had much before, but I think you will see it this coming season.’’

Mangosing started senior Toni Garcia and junior Gabi Trbovic inside, with sophomore Gosi Alilonu playing out on the wing and sophomore Kalyn Doss and incoming freshman Lucy Sanford in the backcourt.

Doss and Sanford handled the ball well, passed well to set up their teammates and played good defense. Alilonu scored 5 points, including a 3-pointer.  And sophomore guard Aniyah Roberson logged some valuable minutes, scoring nine points, including a trey.

Garcia excelled in her usual workhorse role on the boards, and Trbovic came up with a rare summer double-double, with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Xavier was 7-0 during its summer league season. The Gators are the top seed in the four-team Blue playoff bracket.

That means they could play two games on Sunday (June 27). Their first game will be against Phoenix Sunnyslope at 4 p.m. in Thunderbird’s main gym. If the Gators win that one, they would advance to the bracket championship game at 9 p.m. against either Glendale Deer Valley or Laveen Cesar Chavez. Xavier defeated both of those teams earlier in the summer.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Xavier golfers, 2 other Ariz. teams battle it out

 With Georgia and South Carolina standing firm in the top two team spots, it will be up to Xavier Prep and two other schools to battle it out for bragging rights from Arizona when the third and final round of the National High School Golf Association National Tournament takes place on Friday (June 25) in Pinehurst, N.C.

Xavier, which was third after Wednesday’s (June 23) first round, remained in that spot after Thursday’s (June 24) second round. Phoenix Pinnacle, the defending champion in this tournament, climbed a bit from fifth to fourth. And Oro Valley (Tucson) Ironwood Ridge rose up from a tie for sixth to No. 5.

Senior-to-be Ivy Song had the top score for the Gators on Thursday with an even-par 72, allowing her to jump from a tie for 27th after Day 1 to a tie for 13th after Day 2, an improvement of 14 spots on the individual list. She shot a first-round 78 on Wednesday.

Incoming junior Annie Dawson had a four-stroke improvement after the first day, recording a two-over-par 74 to put her overall score at 152 and give her a tie for 20th spot. Recently graduated senior Lauren Garcia struggled at 80 after shooting a two-over 74 the first day for a 154 total, a tie for 29th.

Sophomore Jayden Jevnick had an 80 after shooting 79 in the opening round and was in a tie for 48th at 15-over par. And sophomore Kate Hauptman shot a 79 after an 82 in the opening round, landing in a tie for 56th with a two-day total of 161, 17 over par.

Hauptman was Xavier’s No. 4 scorer on Day 2, and Garcia’s score did not figure into the team scoring.

Xavier’s final-round tee times (Arizona time) on Friday are as follows, on the first hole of Pinehurst’s No. 9 course . . .

Hauptman 5:50 a.m., Jevnick 6 a.m., Dawson 6:10 a.m., Song 6:20 a.m., Garcia 6:30 a.m.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Gator golfers 3rd after first day of National

 Xavier Prep’s golf quintuplets were in a respectable No. 3 position after Wednesday’s (June 23) first round of the National High School Golf Association National Tournament at the storied Pinehurst (N.C.) group of courses.

The Gators played the No. 8 course (of 9 courses) and ended the first day at 21-over-par. The Georgia state champions were in the lead at 4-over, South Carolina was second at 16-over. Nevada was fourth at 25-over and Phoenix Pinnacle, the tournament’s defending champion, was fifth at 27-over. The girls’ field includes 29 teams.

The top first-round finisher for Xavier was recently graduated Lauren Garcia, who was tied for 6th with a 2-over 74. Other Gators contributing to the team score were incoming senior (Class of 2022) Ivy Song, tied for 27th with a 6-over 78; junior-to-be Annie Dawson, also at 6-over 78; and incoming sophomore Jayden Jevnick, tied for 36th with a 7-over 79. Another soph-to-be, Kate Hauptman, did not figure in the team scoring with a 10-over 82, but has a chance to redeem herself over the final two rounds.

The golfers will have reasonable tee times on Thursday (June 24), unless you figure that North Carolina is 3 hours ahead of Arizona.

Garcia will tee off at 5 a.m., Arizona time, followed by Song at 5:10, Dawson at 5:20, Jevnick at 5:30 and Hauptman at 5:40.

Cool is the rule for beach volleyball campers

 For one day, at least, beach volleyball players were able to put away their sunglasses and sun block as Xavier Prep held Day 3 of its 4-day summer beach camp at the Cavanaugh Courts on Wednesday (June 23).

Campers were greeted by a light refreshing rain and a cool 85-degree temperature for the 2-hour session with XCP head beach coach Tim McHale.

“You should enjoy this. It doesn’t happen very often,’’ McHale told the young players.

Xavier beach coach Tim McHale takes a break to enjoy the rain on Wednesday. (Photos by Don Ketchum).

He led Xavier to its eighth state championship in nine tries in May with a 16-0 record.

McHale said he had 28 players register for the camp. All but two showed up for the first day on Monday (June 21), and was a bit less on Tuesday (June 22) and Wednesday with some of the players participating in a club tournament in the Valley.

A camper sets the ball while her teammate gets ready to send it over the net.

The cooler weather seems to open the eyes to the surroundings as well.

Just over the wrought-iron fence that borders the back of the four courts is the Grand Canal that separates Xavier and neighboring Central High. There is a concrete pathway that carries all sorts of cycles, both foot- and electric-powered, and joggers of varying shapes and sizes.

McHale recognized one of the joggers and instructed the players to greet her.

“Hi, Chura!’’ they said in unison.

The runner was Xavier soccer coach Barb Chura, who also was a state championship coach during the recently completed school year.

Also, a nearby wedge of geese provided a squawking aerial serenade to the proceedings.

“This is fun for us to get back out,’’ said McHale, whose 2020 camp was wiped out by the Covid pandemic.

Coach Tim McHale, center, provides words of encouragement at the close of Day 3.

He was assisted by a handful of players who are expected to return to the varsity next spring.

“We are seeing more complete players come through here in the summer, and we certainly hope that continues,’’ McHale said. “We still work on fundamentals, but not to the degree that we used to do. Many of the kids already know what to do, so they can handle that part of it.

“We have been working on quality movement, having good footwork, passing and setting. We are expanding how beach should be played.’’

That includes strategy, knowing what to do when the wind is coming from a certain direction and the sun is at a certain angle.

Having current players out and giving them responsibility similar to what a coach would have might lead to some of them joining the coaching ranks at some point, kind of a second generation of Gators. An example would be Cierra Flood, who played both beach and indoor volleyball for Xavier before going on to play beach at Arizona State and returned as a beach volleyball assistant at XCP this spring.



Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Summer basketball camp is a confidence-builder

 The shot was released just beyond the 3-point arc. It looked as if it might go in the basket, but bounced off the rim at the last second.

The shooter wanted another try. Again, the ball went up and when it came down, there was no doubt this time. It was in, baby!

Those young players in the Xavier summer basketball camp were impressed. They had just seen Xavier head coach Jennifer Gillom, show what helped make her a force in the WNBA and as an Olympic player.

Gillom began to use her “pep talk’’ voice.

“See? It’s all about confidence,’’ she said. “You can miss a shot like that and think you won’t be able to make it. But if you keep trying, it’s going to go in.’’

That was just one of many pieces of advice that Gillom passed along to the group of 15-20 players in Monday’s (June 21) first of four days of camp at XCP’s Activity Center.

Xavier coaches like to see good ball-handling and tight defense. (Photos by Don Ketchum).

One of the first orders of business for Gillom and Xavier junior varsity coach Myron Crawford, who will run the camp during the final three days, was to get an idea of what types of skills the campers possess. Players here have a wide range of age and skill levels.

Gillom and Crawford were assisted by a numer of current varsity players – Gosi Alilonu, Sienna Cherwinski, Kalynn Doss, Toni Garcia, Emily Manuelito, Sarah Miller, Gabi Trbovic and Maureen Ulrich.

“The skills, we were looking for a good mixture,’’ Gillom said. “Ball-handling, passing, shooting, and they should have good footwork.

“Myron is a very good player development coach. He is patient with the kids. He has worked with some of the elite club teams and he’s great with giving them the fundamentals.’’

About halfway through the first session, Crawford had already noticed a few players who have above-average skills.

XCP varsity players (center of photo) Maureen Ulrich, Sienna Cherwinski and Sarah Miller watch a camper start to drive through the lane.

“There are a couple of players here who have promise and who have played club already,’’ he said. “If all of the girls keep working hard, who knows what might happen for them?’’

The last minutes of Day 1 were devoted to playing actual “games,’’ and the players were anything but timid. They went after the ball as if they were competing for a state title.

There is something about working with young people like this that helps the coaches remain energized.

“I think the kids enjoyed it. They got a lot out of it,’’ Gillom said. “It gives them an opportunity to learn new things and make new friends.’’

Guards guide Gators to another summer win

 Led primarily by their outstanding backcourt, Xavier Prep’s Gators are sprinting, not jogging, toward the mini “tournament’’ that will cap the 2021 version of the Thunderbird Basketball  League at Thunderbird High in north Phoenix.

The Gators raised their summer record to 6-0 with a 50-39 win over Glendale Deer Valley on Monday night (June 21), leaving them one “regular season’’ game remaining against the Thunderbird Blue team on Thursday night (June 24) at 9.

Xavier, assigned to the Blue Bracket, will get a first-round bye on Saturday (June 26) before playing on Sunday (June 27) at 4 p.m. against Phoenix Sunnyslope. The winner of that one will advance to the Blue Bracket title game at 9 p.m. on Sunday.

Against Deer Valley, which fell to 5-1, Xavier got 16 points from guard Sienna Cherwinski, a junior-to-be, 14 from incoming sophomore guard Maureen (Mo) Ulrich and 13 from sophomore guard Sarah Miller. Cherwinski had three 3-pointers.

The point of ignition came early in the second half. Deer Valley had cut the Xavier lead to 28-20, but the Gators dialed up the pace to score 11 straight points and gain a more comfortable advantage.

“The girls know that defense wins championships, so if they have a chance to win, that’s what they will have to do,’’ said Xavier assistant coach Patrick Mangosing, who was filling in for head coach Jennifer Gillom. “We feel we are capable of scoring 20 or 30 points off our defense.’’

Incoming freshman post player CeCe Mlat made her presence felt. She either blocked a handful of Deer Valley shots or caused the opponents to alter other shots, and gathered in a few rebounds.

“She seems to pick things up quickly. She is coachable,’’ Mangosing said. “I think people are going to see some great things from her as the (winter) season goes on.’’

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Dyer, Soto selected Republic tennis honorable mention

 Xavier tennis players Dani Dyer and Belani Soto finished their freshman season with a state runner-up effort in the Division I state tournament.

And the girls were placed on the Honorable Mention list by The Arizona Republic as the newspaper announced its All-Arizona Team on Sunday (June 20).

Congratulations, Dani and Belani !!

Friday, June 18, 2021

Bon voyage, Coach Laura -- you served Xavier well

 To protect and serve.

That was the motto followed by Laura Forbes and her colleagues at the Tempe Police Department during her 30 years there, many as Assistant Chief of Police.

When she left the department late in 2008, she was looking for something to help her protect and serve in another endeavor.

A staffer she knew at Xavier Prep said the sisters in charge had been asking for people to help out with various tasks at the school. So Forbes decided to give it a try, perhaps using the lifeline to continue to help serve people in the community.

“I was walking through campus to meet with Sr. Lynn (Winsor, Athletic Director and Vice Principal for Activities) when the bell rang,’’ Forbes said. “All of the girls started to pour out into the hallways and walkways, wearing their uniforms. My jaw dropped. It all seemed so organized. They were all so polite and many of them said hello.

“I was thinking, “Hey, I could work with this.’ I said that if Sister gave me an opportunity, I could work with whatever she gave me.’’

Laura Forbes

And so it came to pass.

Forbes and Winsor hit it off and Forbes went on to become one of the most valuable assets of the athletic staff, being able to step in and work with athletes in the various sports even though she did not have a lot of experience in a few of them.

She worked with the divers on the swim-dive team before there was a pool at neighboring Brophy Prep. She worked with the younger basketball players at the freshman and junior-varsity levels, and the same with softball and lacrosse.  And in more recent years, she has helped develop athletes in the sport of badminton as varsity coach.

Finally, Forbes decided that it was time to retire at the conclusion of the 2020-21 school year, giving her 12 years as a Gator. Although she has had a few health challenges along the way, she was quick to point out that that is not the reason she is leaving.

“I just decided that it is time,’’ she said during a break in a recent badminton camp session at XCP. She helped new coach Brian McNerney during the camp.

“I no doubt will miss the students and all of the other coaches and people I have worked with and gotten to know. There are a few things I might like to do, like travel. And if Sr. Lynn should call and need some assistance with a project from time to time, I might be available if the situation is right.’’

She would not trade working with these athletes during this time for anything. She has wanted to help them as much as possible along the way.

In 2014, she discovered the true impact of what she was doing in her time with the student athletes.

Forbes’ mother attended some of the games Forbes was coaching. One day, a student-athlete climbed into the bleachers and asked the mother if she could sit and watch with her. The girl knew Forbes had been undergoing some chemotherapy. She knew it was Forbes’ mother and wanted to tell her something about the coach.

Forbes’ eyes began to moisten when telling the story.

“This was a girl who was very quiet, didn’t say a whole lot but always worked hard to be her best,’’ Forbes said. “She proceeds to tell my mom about the impact I had had on her life, what that meant to her. I didn’t really know what to say.

“That was the cherry on top of the cupcake for a coach. That is what makes it all worthwhile, it is why you do what you do, to help these kids in whatever way possible.’’

Forbes said she was doing some math the other day. She figured she had worked with about 32 different teams at Xavier with an approximate average of 15 athletes per team. That would put the number of athletes she has worked with here at 480.

When Winsor was told that The XCP Files wanted to recognize Forbes and her career, Winsor said, “That would be great. She has been so loyal to Xavier.’’

Thanks, Coach Laura, for all you have done to protect and serve Xavier and Tempe and all parts of the community. All the best moving forward!!

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Champion Gators to golf on well-known course

 The five golfers who helped Xavier Prep win its 37th state championship last fall are ready for another adventure, this one on the national scale.

By winning the title, the Gators were asked to participate in the invitation-only National High School Golf Association National Tournament for 2021, which is next week across the sprawling nine-course layout at historic Pinehurst, N.C. The courses have been the site of numerous PGA and LPGA events, college tournaments, and the high school tournament that began in recent years.

Teeing it up for XCP will be Kate Hauptman, who will be a sophomore this fall and was a third-place overall finisher a year ago, senior-to-be Ivy Song, who was sixth, sophomore Jayden Jevnick, who was 11th, recently graduated senior Lauren Garcia, who was 16th, and junior-to-be Annie Dawson, who finished in a tie for 29th.

Xavier golfers, top to bottom, are Annie Dawson, Lauren Garcia, Kate Hauptman, Jayden Jevnick and Ivy Song. (Xavier photos).

The traveling group will be led by Xavier Co-Head Coach Tui Selvaratnam and assistant coach Jane Ladensack. Xavier Athletic Director and Co-Head Coach Sr. Lynn Winsor will be unable to attend due to a prior commitment.

The group will leave this weekend and have practice rounds on Sunday (June 20), Monday (June 21) and Tuesday (June 22). The tournament, consisting of three rounds, will be held June 23-25.

Also representing Arizona in the tournament will be Phoenix Pinnacle, which won this tournament last season after besting Xavier in the Arizona state tournament in the fall of 2019. Pinnacle was invited again this year after the Covid pandemic limited or canceled travel plans for many teams a year ago. Pinnacle finished as state runner-up behind Xavier last fall.

The tournament will have 49 state champions participating (both boys and girls), with a combined individual list of more than 500 golfers.

“It is an honor for our team to play in this tournament. The girls are thrilled,’’ said Winsor.

She added that players have been working on their skills practically since the 2020 season ended.

“They have been playing in AJGA (Arizona Junior Golf Association) tournaments, which certainly should help,’’ Winsor said.

Selvaratnam said she played in a tournament at Pinehurst in the mid-2000s and is well aware of the historic aspect of the area.

“There is a lot of history,’’ she said. “Many legends have played there, and it will be fun for our kids to go.’’

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Badminton campers cool off, learn about their sport

 There is more to the game of badminton than simply just swinging a racquet, and if fortunate, having the plastic bird land on the other side of the net.

There is much more to it – strategy, longer shots vs. shorter shots, when to use a power swing vs. one with a lighter touch, and foot placement, among other learning points.

A Xavier badminton camper charges toward the net to make a return shot (Photos by Laura Forbes).

That is the kind of instruction and experience that about 12 young players are getting in this week’s annual summer badminton camp at Xavier Prep’s Activity Center. The sessions were to run for two hours from Monday (June 14) through Thursday (June 17).

Players ranged from elementary school level to those older girls who are nearing the time of entry into high school.

Putting them through the paces are Brian McNerney, who will be coaching the sport for the first time as XCP’s head coach, and former varsity coach Laura Forbes, who has retired from coaching.

A memorable summer for everyone.

“The girls have been good, very receptive,’’ said McNerney. “That first day, we warmed up, taught them about the game court and what the areas mean, the differences of playing singles and doubles, working on serves and how to get it (shot) in, and the shots you have to try to master.

“They also need to keep their racquets high most of the time, work on drops and plays at the net in an effort to keep their opponents off-balance.’’

Players added to the fun with a chance to play in a few 15-point games.

The workouts began with a few laps around the court to help loosen the muscles and implement the proper breathing.

Demonstrating some of the techniques were a handful of players from last year’s team who recently graduated and some who are expected to return this fall.

One camp attendee drops the plastic bird and is ready to follow through on a serve.

Those from the graduating class of 2021 were Lina Vanderwey and Sophie Riviere, who served as the Gators’ top doubles team and finished fourth at state. Riviere’s sister, Gigi, who will be a junior this fall, and another junior-to-be, Riley Dowdall, also provided assistance.

As far as the 2021 fall varsity is concerned, McNerney is expected to have more of a balanced roster and not rely so much on seniors. That will allow some of the underclassmen to get more playing time.

Whether future varsity players from this current camp group will be in the mix in the coming years remains to be seen, but one could see a healthy improvement from the start of one two-hour session to its completion.

That’s what it’s all about, and this is a good place to start, learning about the game while staying out of the heat in the air-conditioned gym at the same time.

Xavier summer hoops show just keeps rolling along

 Another opponent fell by the wayside on Tuesday night (June 15) as Xavier Prep recorded a 54-43 victory over Peoria Sunrise Mountain in the Thunderbird Summer League at Thunderbird High in north Phoenix.

Xavier remains unbeaten in the league at 5-0, with its last two TSL games coming up on Monday night (June 21 vs. Glendale Deer Valley) and on June 24 vs. Thunderbird Blue. Game times are 7 and 9 p.m., respectively. Sunrise Mountain slipped to 4-1.

A brief playoff will be held on dates to be determined, likely before the end of June. It looks as if it will be a maximum of two games.

Xavier went on a 16-0 run late in the game and Sunrise Mountain responded with a 9-0 effort in an attempt to get back into it, but by then it was too late.

“What we did in the last 10 minutes, you just don’t see that,’’ said Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom.

“This team has a lot of fight on defense, and you’re seeing how it can lead to points for the offense. We need to continue to remember that – where that scoring comes from.’’

Gillom was pleased with the play of sophomore-to-be point guard Dominique Nesland, who was playing her first game in the TSL (leg soreness) but did play in brief stretches in the recent Lady X Tournament in Mesa. She finished with 18 points against Sunrise Mountain.

“It was a great game for Dom and overall, it was a good team effort,’’ Gillom said.

Xavier had eight three-point baskets, while Sunrise had just three.

Friday, June 11, 2021

No matter how or vs. who, a hoops victory is good

 While it did not have the same impact as a state tournament game, a 46-28 victory by Xavier Prep over defending 6A girls basketball champion Surprise Valley Vista in the Thunderbird Summer League on Thursday night (June 10) was good under any circumstances.

“Oh, I don’t know about any of that (avenging a previous loss). I just love the fact that we came out, played hard and had fun,’’ said Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom.

The Gators seemed to be focused from the opening tip.

Sophomore-to-be guard Sarah Miller in particular was dialed in, scoring 14 of her team’s 31 points in the first half as Xavier built a 20-point advantage at the break.

She drilled a three-pointer early in the second half as did junior guard Sienna Cherwinski as the Gators increased their lead to 26 points. Valley Vista attempted to regain some composure later on, but couldn’t get fully back on track. The Monsoon are playing without two of their top players, Mikela Cooper and Jennah Isai.

“Sarah is becoming a great leader,’’ Gillom said. “You’re going to see that from her more and more every year.

“She is a fantastic player. I love her energy at both ends of the floor.’’

Maureen (Mo) Ulrich, another sophomore guard, is developing into a player who fits in well with Miller, especially with the absence of sophomore point Dominique (Dom) Nesland, who has not been available of late.

Incoming freshman post player CeCe Mlat had another solid effort, and Gillom took notice.

“CeCe is really coming along,’’ Gillom said. “She seems to be much stronger than I thought she would be. I like what I am seeing.’’

Xavier is now 4-0 in the T-Bird league, and will have just one game next week, on Tuesday (June 15) against Peoria Sunrise Mountain at 5 p.m.



Wednesday, June 9, 2021

XCP hoopsters survive challenge from Cesar Chavez

 Fresh off a third-place finish in the Lady X Tournament in Mesa over the weekend, the Xavier Prep basketball team returned to the Thunderbird Summer League in north Phoenix on Tuesday night (June 8) and picked up their third win there, 52-46 over Laveen Cesar Chavez.

Sophomore guard Sarah Miller scored eight of the Gators’ first 13 points and it appeared as if they were going to have an easier time of it, but Cesar Chavez’s scrappy team just wouldn’t go away. The Champions trailed by only two at halftime.

Xavier (3-0 here, 6-1 total for the summer) ramped up the defense to begin the second half, and sophomore guard Maureen (Mo) Ulrich was a big factor on offense with 10 of the team’s first 13 points, including a pair of three-pointers. Senior-to-be Toni Garcia kept the ball alive for the Gators about three or four times as it went airborne near the basket.

Cesar Chavez remained within striking distance the rest of the way but could not pull even.

CeCe Mlat, a 6-foot-6 incoming freshman, scored a big bucket (her first points as a Gator) with 5:50 left in regulation to put the lead at seven. Junior guard Sienna Cherwinski knocked down her second three-pointer of the night to make it 47-39.

Mlat appears to be gaining confidence and is developing more court awareness. That was evident when she tracked down a loose ball near the opposing bench to help Xavier retain possession at a crucial moment.

Sophomore guard Aniyah Roberson hit the front end of a one-and-one free-throw situation with 24.2 seconds left, and Cherwinski converted both ends of a one-and-one with 7.4 seconds left for the final margin.

Xavier returns to action on Thursday night (June 10) at 8 against Surprise Valley Vista, the defending 6A state champion which defeated the Gators in last year’s semifinals. However, the Monsoon have fallen on hard times, at least temporarily, after an 0-4 finish in the Lady X.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

V-ball camp attendees must be ready to make move

 There was no time to waste, not much standing around. With only four days allotted for Xavier Prep’s annual volleyball summer camps, players must be as ready as possible to begin the learning process.

The festivities began Monday (June 7) and run through Thursday (June 10), with seventh and eighth graders participating in the late morning and  early afternoon, and incoming ninth graders taking the floor from 2-4 p.m.

There are approximately 40 players in each who hope to use what they learn for the varsity tryouts that will be held around the time that classes start fo the 2021-22 school year.

In the case of the older players, many have had club experience and their camp reflects more on strategies that are more involved as well as the overall pace of the workouts as well as the matches. The younger girls work more on their basic skills.

A volleyball camp attendee gets a chance to make a pass near the net (Photo by Don Ketchum),

Head volleyball coach Lamar-Renee Bryant has two coaches helping her – Jamie Itule and Anna Panagiotakopoulos (Coach P).

Also helping to put the wheels in motion are some of Bryant’s varsity squad – seniors-to-be Alexa Shiner, Tiffany Tellez and Hannah Ulisch, junior Kate Tax and sophomore Finley Workman.

Bryant has coached club ball for quite some time, so she knows that players can learn things one way at that level and have a different approach at their high school.

“You can apply all of it to your game, but here at Xavier we want the players to do what we have been doing for a long time,’’ Bryant said.

She also tells the players that Xavier “is a special place’’ and that many people often go by the LBF (Let’s Be Friends) mantra. “Being kind is a choice,’’ Bryant said.

On the first day, the older players worked on passing, a bit of setting and positioning, with serving and defense being included in the equation as the week moved along.

Of course, being aggressive is a primary element. And don’t forget about communication.

“You have to be able to talk. You can’t just stand around and say nothing,’’ Bryant said. “It’s “Say What You See.’ ’’

It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out – you never know if you will be able to find a hidden gem during the week.

Softball campers work hard and have fun

 A chance to walk where the Gators walked, to be on the same field that served as a launching pad for Xavier Prep’s first state softball championship, was a memorable experience for most in a group of young ladies who participated in the first of four rounds of the XCP summer softball camp at Petznick Field on Monday night (June 7).

Xavier Coach Brad Downes, assistants Deryk Sexton and Tom Sahhar and a handful of former and current Gator players welcomed about 16 players of varying ages to the camp, which is running at night this year after several summers with morning sessions.

The cooler (by comparison) weather was more conducive to a session of greater benefit for the campers.

Xavier softball campers line up for the next drill (Photos by Don Ketchum).

For two hours, the players did some jogging and sprinting, played catch (extending the distance of their throws), worked on over-the-shoulder catches (both infielders and outfielders), and took ground balls.

One camper prepares to field a ground ball on Petznick Field's artificial surface.

They also had a drill in which they tested the accuracy of their throws from the shortstop area to a tee at first base with a net behind it, trying to knock the ball off the tee. A few of them did so, one after the ball hit the ground first and another on a ricochet off the frame of the net. But they still counted.

The best was saved for last when the players stood in at the plate as they took their hacks against Downes, who was making the tosses behind a net/screen. After everyone took their swings, they were divided into three teams for a “game.’’ The excitement level rose considerably.

Could this be Xavier's next great hitter? It will be interesting to find out.

Players providing assistance were recently graduated senior catcher Macy Lee, incoming senior outfielder Elliot Smith and third baseman Lauren Putz, a sophomore-to-be. The state champion Gators also took some swings, hitting the ball as hard and as far as the campers could dream they will be able to do some day.

Downes said the campers ranged in age from incoming fourth graders to incoming freshmen.

“We (coaches) really liked the energy from the campers and their willingness to try new skills,’’ Downes said. “The camp is a fun time for our (varsity) players to work with the campers and the campers certainly like meeting the players.’’

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Xavier pitcher Flynn a candidate for softball POY

 Xavier Prep has a softball player on the Player of the Year candidates list by The Arizona Republic with its All-Arizona Team.

It is junior pitcher Riley Flynn, who posted a 16-2 record for the Gators, including a 10-0 shutout in five innings (10-run rule) over Mesa Red Mountain for Xavier’s first-ever 6A state championship.

Flynn had a 1.62 earned-run average and 178 strikeouts.

Xavier also had two Honorable Mention selections – senior catcher Macy Lee and junior shortstop Bridget Donahey.

Players and coaches from softball and all other sports will be honored at The Arizona Republic azcentral .com High School Sports Awards ceremony on July 15.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Gators finish 3rd in Lady X basketball tourney

 It was billed as the 8th Annual  Lady X (Extravaganza) basketball tournament, meaning just about anything could happen with all of the various X factors. Eight of the state’s top high school girls’ teams were gathered at Westwood High in Mesa for the two-day event on Friday (Nov. 4) and Saturday (Nov. 5).

Xavier Prep’s Gators were seeded second out of eight teams. They won their first two on Friday, over No. 5 seed Gilbert Perry (49-46) and host Westwood (60-44), the No. 7 seed.

The biggest challenge came in a Saturday morning game, with Xavier falling to third-seeded Goodyear Millennium 32-27 in a physical game and then coming back in the third-place game to defeat No. 8 seed Gilbert Mesquite 50-40.

Fourth-seeded Chandler Seton Catholic defeated Millennium, the three-time defending 5A Conference state champion and defending tournament champion, 40-37, for this year’s Lady X title.

Counting two games in the Thunderbird High Girls Summer League in north Phoenix, Xavier is now 5-1. The Gators will resume play there on Tuesday (June 8) against Laveen Cesar Chavez at 8 p.m.

Millennium was the best defensive team that Xavier has faced this summer. The Tigers are well-coached (by Kevin Thomas) and employ a very physical defense that attempts to bump opponents out of their comfort zone, frustrating them in the process.

That is essentially what happened to Xavier. The defense forced the Gators into some shots they didn’t want to take, and on most of the ones they did want to take, they were off-target.

It seemed like just none of the Gators could find the hoop. Usually when a few players can’t hit, there is someone there to pick up the slack. That didn’t happen here.

Still, the Gators hung in there. They were down by 10 at the half, and cut the margin to 28-27 on sophomore Maureen (Mo) Ulrich’s drive to the basket with about seven minutes to go. Xavier could not gain further traction after that.

Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom admitted that her players were knocked off stride by the physical nature of the game.

“It is hard to play with that much contact,’’ she said. “We tried to fight through it, but weren’t able to make it all the way back. You’re going to have to face this kind of defense at some point, so I guess now is a good time to try to get used to it.’’

Of the Gators’ shots not falling in general, Gillom said, “Shots can happen that way. You have to be able to learn to make adjustments.’’

Against Mesquite, Xavier jumped to a 9-0 lead out of the gate. The lead had been trimmed to four by halftime, but the Gators went on a 19-5 run in the early stages of the second half. Key plays were a pair of three-pointers by sophomore guard Sarah Miller and a one trey by Ulrich.

“We still have to work on playing as a team, learning each other’s tendencies,’’ Gillom said.

Miller led the Gators in scoring in both Saturday games, with 10 and 14, respectively. Miller was named to the all-tournament team.

Miller, Ulrich and sophomore point guard Dominique Nesland as well as senior forward Toni Garcia have looked good thus far in the summer.

And the team is expected to receive assistance from CeCe Mlat, a 6-foot-6 player who is an incoming freshman. She showed good shot-blocking  ability in the tournament.

“Just in the few games she played, you could see she already is getting a better idea of what to do,’’ Gillom said.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Coach flips switch, gives Gator hoops winning charge

 Xavier Prep basketball coach Jennifer Gillom flipped the switch at halftime, and her team was infused with energy.

Playing with their trademark pressure defense, the Gators turned a 23-11 halftime lead into a 33-point advantage about halfway through the second half and went on to post a 54-26 victory over Phoenix Horizon in Thursday night’s (June 3) action in the Thunderbird High Girls Summer League at Thunderbird.

Xavier’s 21-0 run allowed it to boost its summer record to 2-0. Horizon did not score until 10:35 remained in the second half.

“We were a bit passive early on because we didn’t know much about this team (Horizon),’’ Gillom said. “I told them (at halftime) I wanted them to play more aggressively and that would help with the momentum. It helps limit the momentum shifts back and forth and helps you keep the momentum.’’

The roster still is very young, but many got a great deal of experience with increased playing time last season. They are building on that, and can help the younger players (former JV members and an incoming freshman) “know that’s how they have to be,’’ Gillom said.

By building a significant lead, the coaches also can work more on the offensive strategy, cutting to the basket and trying to set up layups and other close-range shots.

Senior-to-be Toni Garcia had another productive rebounding effort, particularly early, as well as keeping the ball alive so her teammates could get it.

Sophomore guard Sarah Miller is showing signs of becoming the team’s leader with aggressive play and her court presence. She survived a scare in the early moments of the game when she went to the floor while driving to the basket and coming in contact with a Horizon player.

It looked to be a leg injury. She remained on the floor while being evaluated but eventually got up, walked slowly to the bench and returned to action shortly thereafter.

Juliett Botiller, another sophomore who played JV a year ago, stood out with her aggressive play on defense (quick hands) and showed she could score with a release that borders on the unusual (hard to explain – you have to see it).

“She’s consistent with it and I’m not going to mess with it,’’ Gillom said.

A third sophomore backcourt player is Aniyah Roberson, a point guard who played JV last year. She played on the varsity for the first time after not being available in Tuesday’s (June 1) game and showed potential with good quickness.

High-profile tournament

The annual Lady X tournament, sponsored by Monarch Sports and the City of Mesa, will be played on Friday (June 4) and Saturday (June 5) at Mesa Westwood. So it stands to reason that it will have a “Lady X’’ team (Xavier).

Xavier comes off its first two wins in the Thunderbird league with four games in this tournament, at 6 and 8 p.m. on Friday and two more contests on Saturday. Opponents are Gilbert Perry in the opener and Westwood in the second game.

Eight teams are entered and they are considered by those in the know to be among the state’s best.

They are (in order of seeding) – Surprise Valley Vista, Xavier Prep, Goodyear Millennium, Chandler Seton Catholic, Gilbert Perry, Mesa High, Westwood and Gilbert Mesquite.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

No bummer in summer hoops: Gators score victory

 It was a good first step for Xavier Prep in Tuesday night’s (June 1) opening game of the annual Thunderbird Girls Summer Basketball League at Thunderbird High in north Phoenix.

Xavier won its first game of the seven-game schedule, 56-35 over Anthem Boulder Creek.

T-Bird’s main gymnasium was brightened by rows of LED lights, but the Gators could have played defense blindfolded as they applied pressure throughout.

Most of the Xavier players returned from the varsity or junior-varsity teams from last season.

In the Gators’ lone practice before this opener, coach Jennifer Gillom didn’t waste any time in letting the players know her primary point of emphasis is defense.

“They’ve all done it before, so they knew right away what to expect,’’ she said.

The summer league can offer an opportunity to learn how to play without former players who have graduated or taken their game elsewhere via transfer to another school or diving into the club scene.

The most noteworthy departures were of Mia Davis, a junior to be, will play club ball, and Hannah Young, another junior who is transferring to Surprise Valley Vista. The 6A Conference defending state champion, Valley Vista  is fielding a team in this league that will face Xavier on June 10.

Davis is a versatile player who is athletic enough to play guard and strong enough to play underneath the basket, Young was beginning to establish herself inside on both offense and defense as the 2020-21 season moved along.

The revolving door has been used by players in the professional and collegiate levels for quite some time, and now high school players are following suit in what they see is an effort to better themselves.

It is now a fact of life. Gillom has dealt with this in all three levels.

“Hey, that kind of stuff is going to happen, and you have to keep everything moving,’’ she said. “It matters in who you are working with now, trying to get them ready.’’

She was pleased with how the Gators played against Boulder Creek, how they played defense, ran the ball and how they tried to set up the offense with better passes than you might expect for a game at this point.

Forward Toni Garcia, the team’s lone senior-to-be in 2021-22, provided a spark in the early going with her work around the basket. She has developed into a valuable asset for Gillom.

Sophomore guards Sarah Miller and Maureen Ulrich looked solid to help overcome the absence of another sophomore, Dominique Nesland, who was nursing an injury.

Junior Gabi Trbovic showed signs that she will be more of a factor this winter with her shooting and rebounding.

“She looks a lot stronger,’’ Gillom said.

The coach is encouraged by former JV members Gosi Alilonu, Emily Manuelito and Juliett Botiller, and really likes the potential of incoming freshman point guard Lucy Sanford.

The Gators will return to action on Thursday (June 3) at 8 p.m. in Thunderbird’s main gym against Phoenix Horizon, and will have two games next week.

XCP softball climbs to No. 14 in national rankings

 Xavier Prep’s 6A Conference state championship softball team has increased its profile on the national scale when it was noted that the Gators have moved from 19th to 14th among teams across the country in the most recent MaxPreps national high school softball rankings.

Xavier finished their big season at 19-2 and swept its four games in the state tournament, including a 10-0 victory in five innings over Mesa Red Mountain in the state title game on May 17.