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, November 10, 2021

Door opens to semifinals for Xavier volleyball

 Queen Creek’s volleyball team dropped its first two games against host Xavier Prep in their 6A Conference quarterfinal match on Tuesday (Nov. 9). It was logical to assume that Xavier would be able to sweep the Bulldogs without much of a problem.

That’s what Gilbert Perry thought, too, in its first-round match against Queen Creek on Nov. 4.

Third-seeded Perry won its first two games, but No. 14 Queen Creek rallied to win the match 3-2 and advanced to face No. 6 Xavier.

The Gators were well aware what had transpired at Perry, and were determined not to allow the same thing to happen to them.

Xavier maintained its focus and won 3-0 (25-14. 25-16. 25-20) to earn a spot in the semifinals on Thursday night (Nov. 11) at second-seeded defending champion Chandler Hamilton. The event begins at 6 p.m.

Xavier was the victim of 3-0 sweeps by Hamilton during the regular season, but still managed to put together a 24-10 overall record. Hamilton is 32-5 after a 3-0 win over No. 7 seed Peoria Liberty.

In the other semifinal on Thursday, fourth-seeded Tempe Corona del Sol (28-6) travels to face -top-seeded Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor (27-4). That contest begins at 6:30 p.m.

Corona del Sol advanced with a  3-1 win over No. 12 seed Phoenix Desert Vista and Sandra Day O’Connor advanced with a 3-0 win over Scottsdale Chaparral.

Perry’s loss to Queen Creek handed Xavier the quarterfinal match on a platter. Xavier was ready to take it and run with it.

Xavier coach Lamar-Renee Bryant looked up at the Activity Center bleachers afterward and watched dozens of blue-clad Gator fans spill out into the lobby with smiles on their faces.

“To have this extra home game, to have this crowd . . . that was big,’’ she said. “Our girls were aware of what happened (the Queen Creek-Perry match) and they worked hard to be able to take care of things.’’

Two of the Gators’ tallest players, 6-foot-2 freshman Elle McCreery and 5-11 sophomore Finley Workman, had worked their way into more playing time in the later stages of the regular season. And they were major factors against Queen Creek, making a big impact along the net. Each got 11 kills and 2 blocks.

“They stepped up,’’ Bryant said.

Senior Emma Soderstrom had 12 kills and 16 digs and senior Bella Sinacori had 7 kills and 3 blocks. Senior setter Alexa Shiner had 37 assists, senior defensive specialist Hannah Ulisch had 24 digs and freshman libero Olivia Lenz had four service aces.

Now comes Hamilton. The Huskies are powerful, to be sure. Do the Gators have any magic left?

“It’s that time of year when anything is possible, so why not us?’’ Bryant said.

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