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.

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.

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