Bio

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 AIA365.com, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Full squad on duty increases volleyball chances

 Will the real Xavier Prep volleyball team please stand up?

The Gators, playing with a full roster for the first time this season, did just that by winning seven of eight games in the Westwood Tournament of Champions at Gilbert Mesquite and Mesa Westwood.

So Xavier is now 9-2 entering this week’s action, on Wednesday (Sept. 15) against Anthem Boulder Creek at home and on Thursday (Sept. 16) at Phoenix Desert Vista in Ahwatukee.

In the TOC pool play, Xavier defeated Queen Creek Casteel, Phoenix Sunnyslope, Mesa Skyline and Mesquite on Friday, and Phoenix Northwest Christian and Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep on Saturday morning at Mesquite.

That put Xavier at 6-0 in pool play and made them the No. 1 seed from Pool C in the top bracket of the tourney, which shifted to Westwood in the afternoon.

The Gators were taken to three sets by Gilbert High in the first round of bracket play, winning the third and deciding game 15-9 (third games in the abbreviated tournament format only go to 15 points).

That allowed Xavier to advance to the semifinals, where they faced 6A Conference defending state champion Chandler Hamilton. The Huskies also went to three sets in the first round of their bracket before turning away Phoenix Horizon.

It wasn’t that long ago when Xavier was dominated by Hamilton in the annual preseason scrimmage that included Sunnyslope and Chandler Basha. But there was no repeat in store for Xavier, at least in the first semifinal game.

Xavier, in fact, looked like a team that might be capable of making a lengthy playoff run. The Gators, who trailed early, later went on a 12-0 run, doing just about everything right in a 25-16 victory.

As one might expect, that opened a Hamilton hornet’s nest. Yikes . . . the Huskies did not like what had happened, winning 25-8 in Game 2 and 15-3 in the decisive Game 3.

Hamilton went on to win the tournament title with a 25-19, 25-18 victory over Goodyear Millennium.

Xavier coach Lamar-Renee Bryant saw a few things that Xavier might be able to do to give her team a chance against Hamilton when the 6A Premier Region foes play two more times, once at each school.

“If we stick to our game plan, we are capable,’’ Bryant said.

She called the tournament “a great weekend for us. It was good to have everyone available.’’

Senior outside hitter Emma Soderstrom has blossomed into perhaps the Gators’ best all-around player, and her efforts paid off with a selection to the all-tournament team.

“This weekend might be the best she ever played,’’ Bryant said. “Mentally, physically, she was able to score and was our best (offensive) attacker by far. She has worked extremely hard and is showing in the way she is playing.’’

Other Gators who made valuable contributions included freshman libero Olivia Lenz, senior middle blocker Isabella Sinacori, junior outside hitter Ava Larkin, freshman middle blocker Elle McCreery and senior setter Alexa Shiner.


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