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.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Sweep allows Gator v-ball to climb in rankings

 After playing seven matches in two days at the Nike Tournament of Champions over the weekend, Xavier Prep’s volleyball team did not have much time to rest up before its next match against visiting Phoenix Sunnyslope on Wednesday night (Oct. 6).

But the Gators seemed to return with renewed energy, sweeping the Vikings 3-0 in a hard-fought match at the Activity Center.

Scores were 25-19, 26-24 and 25-19.

Xavier (18-7) was due to face Peoria Liberty on Thursday (Oct. 7) in the second match in as many nights at the Activity Center.

Peoria is No. 5 in the Arizona Interscholastic Association rankings, Xavier is No. 7 and Sunnyslope is No. 11.

Senior outside hitter Emma Soderstrom and junior outside hitter Ava Larkin were the key factors for Xavier. Soderstrom (18) and Larkin (12) combined for 30 of the team’s 40 kills. They also combined for 21 digs.

The Gators were tough on defense, with 69 digs. Freshman libero Olivia Lenz had 21 digs and senior libero Hannah Ulisch had 11 digs. Junior middle blocker Emma Caruso led the team with 3 blocks. And senior setter Alexa Shiner had 35 of the team’s 40 assists.

In the first game, Xavier had a 14-4 lead when Sunnyslope (19-11) called its second timeout of the contest. The Vikings calmed down and went on a 7-0 run to get back into it. Xavier, however, was able to maintain control after that to secure the win.

Neither team could pull away in Game 2, exchanging leads. Sunnyslope appeared to have the upper hand with a 23-21 lead, but Xavier got a kill from Soderstrom and a service ace from Shiner to pull even.

Sunnyslope inched back in front and had the victory at its fingertips. Xavier did not give up, however, and came back with three straight points to decide the game.

The first part of Game 3, then Xavier managed to separate a bit with a 20-13 lead. Sunnyslope pulled closer at 22-19, and that was it as the Gators scored the final three points in a row.

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