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, 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.

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