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.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Basketball team features strong group of young players

 The start of the 2021-22 basketball season is almost here, and Xavier Prep coach Jennifer Gillom figures her team might as well face a few early challenges instead of waiting around. In theory, it will help the Gators get better.

That challenge will be playing four of their first five games on the road (Mesa Westwood, Phoenix Sunnyslope, Phoenix Pinnacle and Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor) sandwiched around the lone early home game (Phoenix North).

Xavier will play 18 regular-season games, along with two tournaments, the Nike Tournament of Champions in the southeast Valley just before Christmas and a national tournament in Stockton, Calif., honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King, in mid-January.

Xavier has been close to raising the 6A Conference state championship trophy over the last few seasons. It finished as state runner-up to Surprise Valley Vista in 2018 and 2019 and fell to Valley Vista in the semifinals to finish 13-4 last season while the Monsoon went on to win it all again.

The Gators are young (only one senior) but play much older, especially after last season, when some talented freshmen came aboard and made a big adjustment. Most of the better players saw action what seemed like 24-7 since the end of last season in club ball and Xavier’s participation in summer leagues.

Two key players (Mia Davis, Hannah Young) transferred to other schools in the Valley after the season. However, Davis apparently is out for the 2021-22 season due to a serious knee injury.

The Xavier returnees have Gillom eager to get the season going after she watched them in practices over the first two weeks of November.

“We have only been practicing two weeks and it has been fantastic,’’ said Gillom, who often is measured when handing out compliments. However, the ability possessed by this group makes it difficult to refrain from touting its potential.

“They look sharp together and the chemistry is very good,’’ Gillom said. “I’ve actually seen improvement in every player every day.’’

Two of the top three scorers are back as sophomores. They are Sarah Miller and Dom Nesland. The 5-foot-10 Miller averaged 13.5 points and the 5-9 Nesland averaged 9.2 while serving as the team’s primary point guard. Both also crash the boards with regularity. Miller averaged 5.5 rebounds and Nesland 4.0.

Sarah Miller (Photos by Don Ketchum).

Dom Nesland.

Junior Sienna Cherwinski also is a factor in the backcourt, particularly from long range. She connected on 25 3-pointers last season. Sophomore Maureen Ulrich provides some flexibility in the backcourt.

The lone senior is 5-9 Toni Garcia, who displays hustle, particularly under the basket, every time she steps onto the floor.

A promising sophomore is Gosie Alilonu. Junior forward Gabi Trbovic has a nice shooting touch, particularly along the baseline.

Two freshmen to watch are guard Lucy Sanford and forward-post Cece Mlat, who stands 6-feet-6 and is intimidating on defense and on the boards. Her offense is a work in progress.

“It’s pretty encouraging out there,’’ said Miller. “We pick each other up. We’re in good condition.  I think we’ve improved a lot since last year.

“We play good defense, and our offense is good. We can all score, which creates a dilemma for the opposing defense about who to cover.’’

She said she was drawn to Xavier by its all-around environment.

“It’s a great community atmosphere. I know I will go to college some day and will need to have good time management skills, and Xavier is already helping with that.’’

It is her goal to be a complete player.

“Coach gives me the option sometimes to look at what the defense is giving me and to try to take advantage.’’

Nesland is capable of being “Dom’’-inant at times. She refined her game over the summer, playing for a club team in the Bay area backed by former Phoenix Suns player and NBA coach Jason Kidd and will try to do more of that next summer for a Los Angeles-based team affiliated with Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi.

She already has been contacted by colleges and hopes to have a decision by this time next year, to allow her to play her junior and senior seasons “stress-free.’’

Before that, there is the business of helping Xavier extend its reach far into the state tournament.

Nesland said she will try to “get everyone involved on offense,’’ dishing the ball off at just the right moment.

“I think coach trusts me,’’ she said. “But there’s a lot to playing this game. You have to do a lot of everything to win.’’

If the season falls into place, the Gators will be doing a lot of everything to get a lot of wins.



Head coach – Jennifer Gillom. Assistants – Patrick Mangosing, Rikki Mulloy.


Gosie Alilonu, So.; Juliet Botiller, So.; Sienna Cherwinski, Jr.; Kalyn Doss, So.; Toni Garcia, Sr.; Annie Kopp, Jr.; Sarah Miller, So.; Cece Mlat, Fr.; Dom Nesland, So.; Aniyah Roberson, So.; Lucy Sanford, Fr.; Gabi Trbovic, Jr.; Maureen Ulrich, So.; Sofia Zielinski, So.


(Games at 7 p.m. unless otherwise indicated).

Times, locations subject to change.

Nov. 30 -- @ Mesa Westwood.

Dec. 3 -- @ Phoenix Sunnyslope.

Dec. 6 – Phoenix North.

Dec. 9 -- @ Phoenix Pinnacle.

Dec. 10 -- @ Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor.

Dec. 14 – Scottsdale Chaparral.

Dec. 18-21 – Nike Tournament of Champions, locations and times TBA.

Jan. 4 – Anthem Boulder Creek.

Jan. 6 -- @ Gilbert Perry.

Jan. 7 -- @ Chandler Basha.

Jan. 11 – Chandler High.

Jan. 12 – Phoenix South Mountain.

Jan. 19 – Surprise Valley Vista.

Jan. 21 – Chandler Hamilton.

Jan. 24 – Chandler Basha.

Jan. 27 -- @ Chandler High.

Feb. 1 – Gilbert Perry.

Feb. 3 -- @ Tucson High.

Feb. 8 -- @ Chandler Hamilton.



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