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, December 23, 2021

Gator hoops looking for ways to turn it around

 The final days of December will offer Xavier Prep’s basketball team an opportunity to heal from injuries and reflect on its struggle in the recent Nike Tournament of Champions, try to figure out what it can do better in 2022.

The Gators won six regular-season games before entering the Nike and losing all four of their games.

The latest setback came on Wednesday (Dec. 22), 65-64 to Arizona 5A Conference team Goodyear Millennium at Phoenix Desert Vista in Ahwatukee.

Despite the loss, the Xavier coaches were pleased with the way the team fought back, showed improvement and a good team mentality throughout the game.

Sophomore guard-forward Sarah Miller led Xavier with 18 points and 6 rebounds.

“She was a constant,’’ said head coach Jennifer Gillom.

Juniors Gabi Trbovic (forward) and Sienna Cherwinski (guard) and sophomore guard Maureen (Mo) Ulrich “really stepped up,’’ according to Gillom, “and showed great poise.’’

Trbovic scored 14 points, including 4 of 4 shooting, and grabbed 5 rebounds. Cherwinski scored 15 points and had a pair of blocked shots. And Ulrich had 11 points, 5 assists and 8 rebounds.

With sophomore guard Dom Nesland out for the second straight game with an injury, Ulrich played the point again impressed the coaches with her drives to the basket and dishing the ball to open teammates.

Sophomore Gosi Alilonu played strong defense and came up with seven rebounds.

About halfway through the second quarter, senior forward Toni Garcia suffered an ankle injury and did not return. Her availability is uncertain moving forward.

Xavier returns to game action on Jan. 4 with a home contest against Anthem Boulder Creek.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Fourth tourney game becomes salvage operation

 In its first six games of the season, Xavier Prep’s basketball team was traveling smooth and steady along a superhighway, but now has veered off onto a rocky, desolate stretch filled with all sorts of debris.

The Gators have lost their first three games in the Nike Tournament of Champions, and now must try to salvage their fourth and final Nike contest before returning to their regular-season schedule in January.

The latest roadblock came on Tuesday (Dec. 21), when 6A Xavier fell to 4A Tucson Salpointe Catholic 65-50 at Phoenix Desert Vista in Ahwatukee.

Xavier (6-3) will meet 5A Goodyear Millennium on Wednesday (Dec. 22) at 8 a.m. at Desert Vista (auxiliary gym). The winner will finish as the 15th-place team in the John Anderson Bracket. Millennium is in a similar situation as the Gators, with losses in its first three Nike games and an overall record of 4-3.

The Gators started things off against Salpointe (8-2) with a three-point basket by Sienna Cherwinski and went on to a 9-5 lead, But the Lancers had a 16-3 run and ended up with a nine-point advantage at the end of the first quarter. Only a 3-pointer by Sarah Miller (22 points) kept XCP from being shut out in the final 5:20 of the quarter.

From there, Salpointe was in control. The Gators got another 3-pointer from Cherwinski to help cut the margin to four about midway through the third.

Xavier could not manufacture much on offense after that with low-percentage shot selection, troublesome passes that were intercepted or tipped away, or standing flat-footed on rebounds as Salpointe appeared to have more of an urgency to go and retrieve the ball.

Complicating matters was the fact that the Gators’ offense was slowed that sophomore point guard Dom Nesland was sidelined by a shoulder injury that occurred on Monday (Dec. 20) with a shoulder injury. She likely will not return to the court until January.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Sr. Lynn inducted into NIAAA Hall of Fame

 The National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association wrapped up its annual conference recently with a big finish in Denver.

Xavier Prep’s very own Athletic Director, Sr. Lynn Winsor, was one of 10 ADs who were inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame.

A post on the BVM’s Facebook page paid tribute to Winsor with these words . . .

“A champion of women’s equality and expansion of women’ sports, Sista Lynn has served as Xavier College Preparatory Athletic Director for 44 years and has coached and inspired thousands of students.’’

Members of XCP’s Athletic Department also were on hand at the conference to witness the great occasion.

Congrats, Sr. Lynn, you are the best !!

Gators need to give more attention to details

 There are many things that go into making an individual or a team a success on the basketball floor.

Shooting, rebounding, passing, dribbling and defense, of course.

But you also have to pay attention to details, some of the little things, the rest of it usually won’t work.

That was the missing link for the Gators on Monday (Dec. 20) in the Nike Tournament of Champions loser’s side of the “John Anderson’’ bracket at Tempe McClintock High. They played much better than in their opening-game loss on Saturday (Dec. 18), but it still wasn’t quite good enough.

Facing Lubbock Cooper HS from Texas, XCP trailed by as many as nine points in the second quarter, but charged back to take a couple of 3-point leads and trailed by just one at the half.

Lubbock Cooper managed to get things back under control in the fourth and held on for a 64-61 victory.

Xavier, now 6-2 overall, plays on Tuesday (Dec. 21) at Phoenix Desert Vista in Ahwatukee and will meet Tucson Salpointe Catholic at 10:30 a.m. The teams will return to Desert Vista for their final tournament games on Wednesday (Dec. 22).

If Xavier defeats Salpointe, it would play on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. If Salpointe wins, Xavier will have to rise bright and early on Wednesday and play at 8 a.m.

After the team met with Coach Jennifer Gillom beneath a flight of stairs after its loss, Gillom made sure to remind the players about the attention to detail issue. Some if it was as simple as turning their head the wrong way at the wrong time. Other instances involved thinking that one of their teammates was going to make a cut one way, when it turned out to be another.

Sophomore guard-forward Sarah Miller led Xavier with 19 points, nine coming in a time span of about a minute and a half, including two 3-pointers while keeping the Gators close.

What limited Xavier’s options down the stretch was an injury to sophomore point guard Dom Nesland, who banged up her shoulder halfway through the fourth quarter and had it iced and wrapped afterward. Gillom wasn’t sure if Nesland would return for one or both remaining games in the tournament, but the possibility exists that she will use the next week to 10 days to rest before the Arizona part of the XCP schedule resumes in January.

As tough as it was to watch on Monday, Gillom said she was glad to have tough competition.

“That’s why we’re here,’’ she said. “I know this will help us improve and be ready as we move through the season.’’

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Calif. team knocks Gators from unbeaten list

 Xavier Prep’s Gators had the will to win on Saturday (Dec. 18), but not enough time to do it.

They trailed Rosary Academy (Fullerton, Calif.) by 21 points entering the fourth quarter of their Nike Tournament of Champions game at Tempe Marcos de Niza, having been overwhelmed by the opponent’s quickness and ultra-pressure defense.

But the Gators came roaring back in the fourth quarter, going on an 11-0 run to cut its deficit to nine points before Rosary managed to regain its composure and held on for a 46-34 victory, knocking Xavier from the unbeaten ranks at 6-1.

After an off day for the tournament on Sunday (Dec. 19), Xavier moves to the lower part of the 16-team John Anderson bracket and plays on Monday (Dec. 20) in a 1:30 p.m. contest at Tempe McClintock against either Lubbock-Cooper (Texas) or Kenwood (Ill.).

Rosary kept the pressure on from the opening moments on, stifling Xavier with a defense that switched frequently or double-teamed, and the Gators rarely could handle it.

“It was their quickness and their physicality,’’ Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom said. “We needed to play a team like this. We are grateful for the opportunity to do it. We have to learn to play against teams like this because this is the type of team we are going to face in our (6A Conference) state tournament.’’

Of her youthful team, she said, “We showed that we could come back and play with them in the fourth quarter and we feel that we are capable of playing with anybody. The more games we play like this, the better off we will be.’’

Sophomore guard-forward Sarah Miller led the Gators with 15 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Another sophomore, Maureen (Mo) Ulrich, finished with eight points and did a good job defensively.

4 Xavier golfers honored by

 Xavier Prep’s golf team, which came within three shots of winning its 38th state championship this fall, had four players listed as Honorable Mention on the All-Arizona Team that was released on Saturday (Dec. 18).

The golfers were junior Annie Dawson, sophomores Jayden Jevnick and Kate Hauptman, and senior Ivy Song.

Dawson finished in a tie for fifth, Song was seventh, Hauptman was tied for 14th, and Jevnick was tied for 26th.

The Player of the Year and Coach of the Year will receive their awards at the media outlet’s annual Arizona High School Sports Awards event at the close of the school year.

Xavier's schedule, locations change in Nike tournament

 Attention, Gator Nation . . .

For those intending to follow Xavier Prep’s basketball team in the Nike Tournament of Champions in person from Dec. 18-22, please be advised of bracket and location changes that were announced by tournament officials on Friday night (Dec. 17).

The Gators were originally placed in the “Mike’’ bracket but now are in the “John’’ bracket and will begin play on Saturday (Dec. 18) against Rosary of Fullerton, Calif., with a 1:30 p.m. tipoff at Tempe Marcos de Niza High.

The John bracket will consist of 16 teams.

After an off day on Sunday (Dec. 19), play resumes on Monday (Dec. 20).

If Xavier wins on Saturday, it will advance to a 10:30 a.m. game on Monday at Marcos de Niza. If Xavier loses on Saturday, it will slip into the lower half of the bracket and play on Monday at Tempe McClintock High.

The final two days for the John bracket will be played at Phoenix Desert Vista High in Ahwatukee.

Monday’s winners will play on Tuesday (Dec. 21) at 10:30 a.m. and Monday’s losers will play at 1:30 p.m.

The bracket championship and ninth-place games will be played on Wednesday (Dec. 22) at Desert Vista, both at 12:30 p.m.



Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Cherwinski leads charge for Gator basketball

 When you are looking for an example of an all-around effort by a basketball player, Tuesday night’s (Dec. 14) performance by Xavier Prep junior guard Sienna Cherwinski is one by which almost all others can be measured.

Cherwinski helped the Gators remain unbeaten at 6-0 with an 88-32 victory over visiting Scottsdale Chaparral. She scored a team-leading 24 points, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range and 6-of-7 from the traditional 2-point range.

Don’t stop there – take a look beyond at additional numbers.

She also had 7 assists, 5 steals and 4 rebounds.

“Sienna is capable of doing something like that every single night,’’ said Xavier Coach Jennifer Gillom.  “She can post up, she can do it all. She is a real team player. I keep telling her, encouraging her, “This is what we need from you.’ ''

Xavier jumped to a 31-7 at the end of the first quarter and Cherwinski had a big hand in that.

She scored 17 points during that time, including three 3-pointers. She connected on another trey in the second quarter as the Xavier lead was 48-23 at halftime.

The outcome was all but sealed in the third quarter when Xavier used a 19-0 run to set up the usage of the running clock with its big lead.

In the third quarter, sophomore guard Dom Nesland hit two of her three 3-pointers on the night and went on to finish with 20 points.

Senior Toni Garcia showed strength under the basket with 9 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals. Junior forward Gabby Trbovic scored seven points and freshman post CeCe Mlat had four points and forced Chaparral to alter some of its shots inside with her height (6-feet-6) and long reach.

Next up for Xavier is the Nike Tournament of Champions in the southeast Valley. The Gators are expected to play at least four games, with the first coming on Saturday (Dec. 18) at 1:30 p.m. against West Linn, Ore., at Tempe McClintock High. The remainder of the tournament will be held Monday (Dec. 20), Tuesday (Dec. 21) and Wednesday (Dec. 22).

Saturday, December 11, 2021

"Scoring Machine,' depth carry Xavier soccer

 Xavier Prep’s “Scoring Machine’’ continued to score, but there was more to the Gators’ 3-1 soccer victory over visiting Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor than that.

Xavier coach Barb Chura was able to utilize the team’s depth, which kept her players fresh, and there was a defensive adjustment that helped the team after Sandra Day O’Connor tied the contest at 1-1 with 19:57 left in the second half.

Junior forward Larkin Thomason scored her machine-like eighth and ninth goals of the young season, and added an assist on a goal by freshman forward Michal Cagungun as the Gators raised their record to 3-0-1 at Petznick Field. Sandra Day O’Connor, playing only its second match of the season, is 1-1.

Thomason’s first goal came with 35:34 left in the first half with an assist by Cagungun.

Sandra Day O’Connor tied it in the second half, and it took just another 1:45 for the Gators to regain the lead, on a goal by Cagungun.

The Gators’ defense shut down the Eagles after the match was tied, putting four defenders along the back area near the goal to lessen the chances of additional scores.

Thomason assisted on Cagungun’s goal that made it 2-1, and Thomason scored again with 11:57 remaining in the second half with an assist from junior Julianne Veloria. Chura was amazed by the element of speed that Cagungun brings to the table.

Sandra Day O’Connor’s goal got the Gators’ attention.

“I just told them (Xavier players) that in soccer, you are going to get teams that hang with you. O’Connor is a good team, much improved over last season,’’ Chura said.

The depth situation is due to improved play across the board, and the coach said that in practice, when the first unit squares off against some of the reserves, “it can get pretty even.’’

Xavier will not play another match until Jan. 10, when it travels to face Phoenix Desert Vista in Ahwatukee.

In the meantime, practice times will be spread out with a few days of action in a row followed by a day of rest, allowing those with bumps and bruises to heal.

For XCP hoops, road doesn't seem a bad place to be

 Playing on the road seems to be almost as comfortable for Xavier Prep’s basketball team as being at home.

For the fourth time in five games, the Gators boarded the team bus and headed to Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor in the northwest Valley, and managed to keep their unbeaten record intact wih a 67-47 victory over the Eagles. Xavier now stands at 5-0.

Sophomore guard-forward Sarah Miller played an impactful all-around game with a team-high 21 points and seven rebounds. Junior guard Sienna Cherwinski had 13 points and five assists.

Xavier will finally return home to the Activity Center on Tuesday night (Dec. 14) against Scottsdale Chaparral. And beginning on Dec. 18, the Gators will participate in the Nike Tournament of Champions at several sites in the southeast Valley. The team is expected to play at least four games.

Friday, December 10, 2021

After the unexpected, Gators do what is expected

 You just never know what is going to happen when you walk into the gym.

The unexpected unfolded when Xavier Prep’s basketball team entered Phoenix Pinnacle’s home court on Thursday night (Dec. 9).

Before the opening tip, before a shot was taken, before a dribble bounced, before you could hear any sneakers squeak, the host Pioneers were busted with a rules violation and accompanying technical foul shots, of which the Gators’ Sienna Cherwinski made one.

And with 3:27 left in the third quarter and Xavier holding a comfortable 58-23 lead, the game was stopped when rain leaking from the roof was dripping on the Gators’ baseline.

The Pinnacle facilities person eventually drove a scissors lift through the gym door and raised the platform to the rafters, where he hung an industrial-sized plastic bucket. About 20 minutes later, play resumed and Xavier went on to remain unbeaten at 4-0 with a 76-46 victory.

“You never expect events like we had tonight,’’ said Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom. “You just have to be ready to play. Our girls do a good job of that.’’

Gillom instructed her players to return home and get some rest, because the Gators are due to play again on Friday night (Dec. 10), on the road again vs. Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor.

The Gators gained the upper hand early with a swarming defense that had Pinnacle rarely able to get the ball past the half-court line. By the end of the night, Xavier had recorded 19 steals, including four each by Cherwinski, Gosi Alilonu and Sarah Miller.

On offense, Dom Nesland and Miller, her backcourt running mate, each had four assists.

And it was Nesland who was on fire with her shots, connecting on seven 3-pointers and finishing with 27 points. Miller had 16 points and Maureen (Mo) Ulrich had 11. Ulrich also led the team in rebounding with nine.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Three-pointers power Gators to hoops victory

 What do you get when you combine a meteorologist with a hoopsologist?

The answer came on Monday night (Dec. 6) at Xavier Prep’s Activity Center.

There was a big cloudburst and it rained 3-pointers.

XCP’s basketball team connected on 11 of the long-range shots and coasted to an 85-22 victory over Phoenix North in a game that went to a running clock in the fourth period after Xavier’s lead reached past the required 30 points.

So Xavier continued its hot start by winning its third game in as many tries. The Gators fill out the rest of this week with road games at Phoenix Pinnacle (9-1) on Thursday night (Dec. 9) and Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor on Friday night (Dec. 10). O’Connor (2-1) was set to face defending 6A Conference state champion Surprise Valley Vista on Wednesday night (Dec. 8).

The treys were pretty much balanced across the board, with three in the first, two in the second, four in the third and two in the fourth.

Xavier had seven players connect on the threes. Sophomore Dom Nesland had three, sophomores Sarah Miller and Josie Alilonu had two each and junior Sienna Cherwinski, freshman Lucy Sanford and sophomores Juliet Botiller and Aniyah Roberson had one apiece.

Four Gators scored in double figures – Nesland and Miller (17 each), Cherwinski (13) and Alilonu (11).

Larkin sparks Xavier Prep soccer again

 To say that Larkin Thomason is on a roll is an understatement.

The Xavier Prep junior forward scored four goals on Monday night (Dec. 6), bringing her total to seven in just three matches, as the Gators (2-0-1) rolled past visiting Phoenix North 14-0 at Petznick Field.

Senior forward Keila Lopez and junior forward Tatum Kramer each scored twice.

The Gators will return to action on Friday night (Dec. 10) at 6 p.m. at Petznick against Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Gators score second victory of young hoops season

 Two for two.

Xavier Prep’s basketball team claimed its second victory in as many games to open the 2021-22 season, stopping host Phoenix Sunnyslope 53-34 on Friday night (Dec. 3).

As with most teams at this point in the season, the Gators were off the mark with some of their shooting, but were able to find more of an accurate touch in the second half. An aggressive defensive effort helped clear the way.

Xavier had an eight-point lead at halftime and put more space between it and the Vikings with a 16-7 run in the third quarter.

Key plays in the third were two steals that set up scores by sophomore guard Dom Nesland and another by sophomore Sarah Miller, who finished with a team-high 17 points.

Miller, Nesland and junior guard Sienna Cherwinski all had a 3-point basket.

After two road games, Xavier will play its home opener on Monday night (Dec. 6) against Phoenix North. Varsity begins at 7 p.m., and JV at 5:30.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Defense dominates for soccer teams in 1-1 tie

 There was a great deal of anticipation in regard to Thursday night’s (Dec. 2) soccer match between Xavier Prep and host Scottsdale Chaparral.

Many people thought that the contest would resemble last year’s Division I state championship duel, which Xavier won 2-0.

And this one came as advertised. Both teams took turns controlling the contest and each scored a goal before two defense-dominated overtime periods kept the score at 1-1 when the night was through.

“We had so many opportunities and their goalkeeper definitely had to make some fantastic saves against us,’’ said Xavier coach Barb Chura.

Xavier had some solid goaltending from sophomore Kate Wilmering, who stood tall the whole game “and did a really nice job,’’ according to Chura.

On offense, the Gators connected on a first-half goal by junior forward Larkin Thomason, who scored twice in a season-opening 5-0 win over Glendale Mountain Ridge on Tuesday night (Nov. 30). Larkin’s goal against Chaparral was assisted by sophomore midfielder Lucy Brink.

“Many people contributed and had great minutes for us,’’ Chura said.

Next on Xavier’s agenda is a match on Monday night (Dec. 6) against Phoenix North at Petznick Field. Time is 6 p.m.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

New Xavier Prep tennis courts are true blue

 After about eight months of eager anticipation, the brand-new courts at Xavier Prep’s Stark Tennis Center are open for play.

Varsity and JV players for XCP and freshman players who played competitively during the recently completed fall season were allowed to get their feet wet starting Nov. 29 on the new blue surfaces that resemble an inviting swimming pool or pond to cool off in.

What a wonderful place to play! (Xavier photos)

Where do Gators live? In a blue lagoon!

And with the addition of lighting, the courts will be available for night matches. And the courts themselves can be configured for the fast-growing sport of pickleball.

There are picnic-type tables to use for social events, along with a grassy area similar to the one that was used previously.

The only thing missing are the large ash trees that had to be removed due to overgrowth of the root system. New trees have been planted in their place and should be able to provide plenty of shade once they reach maturity.

Xavier has long been a force on Arizona’s high school tennis scene. Now we have the courts to match that!

"Perfect game' highlights hoops victory over Westwood

 Xavier Prep’s basketball team had a strong opening lap in its season opener on Tuesday night (Nov. 30) and it turned out to be a big victory lap with a 68-48 road triumph over Mesa Westwood.

Sophomore Sarah Miller was the team’s top scorer with 22 points, and grabbed six rebounds. Junior Sienna Cherwinski had 15 points and six rebounds.

Sophomore Dom Nesland and senior Maureen (Mo) Ulrich each scored 10 points. For Ulrich, it was a “perfect’’ game – she was perfect from the field (1 of 1), from 3-point range (2 of 2) and from the free-throw line (2 of 2).

Xavier will play another road game on Friday night (Dec. 3) against Phoenix Sunnyslope.

Efficient effort gives Gators season-opening soccer win

 It was the first match of Xavier Prep’s soccer season and coach Barb Chura said her players were “excited, nervous and anxious’’ entering the home contest against Glendale Mountain Ridge on Tuesday night (Nov. 30).

The Gators put their feelings aside to score a 5-0 victory over the Mountain Lions, and now some of that sentiment might return on Thursday night (Dec. 2) when XCP travels to face Scottsdale Chaparral.

Freshman Michal Cagungun (18) saw plenty of action in her first varsity match (Photos by Sr. Lynn Winsor).

The reason? It’s a rematch of last year’s Division I state championship title meeting won by Xavier 2-0 to claim the 11th crown in the school’s history.

“We are anticipating a tough match,’’  Chura said.

Xavier soccer players gather for a few words of inspiration before their match against Mountain Ridge.  

What would be an efficient effort against Mountain Ridge began somewhat slowly, with the Gators trying to gain their footing, particularly at the offensive end.

The clock ran down to the 10:04 mark of the first half before Xavier was able to put the ball in the net on a shot by senior defender Ansley Burns.

About 3 ½ minutes later, the Gators scored again on the first of two goals by junior forward Larkin Thomason. She came through again, this time on a header, with only three seconds left before the intermission.

Junior midfielder Bella Leonard tallied the Gators’ fourth goal with 23:31 left in the contest, and junior Collins Entz finished it off on her goal with just 15 seconds left in the match.

Collins Entz looks downfield for a teammate to receive the ball she will send.

Sophomore goalkeeper Kate Willmering and junior Sarah Castlen combined on the shutout. The keepers have been working with Jaden Campbell, who starred in goal for the Gators the last few seasons before graduating in 2021 and has volunteered to pass along her knowledge.

Chura listed a handful of Gators who stood out in the contest.

*Freshman forward/defender Lainey Swanson. “She was one of the best players out there for us, particularly in the first half,’’ Chura said.

*Sophomore defender Talia Coury, productive with her communication skills. “She does a good job of setting things up with her voice,’’ Chura said.

*Senior midfielder Hennessy Perez. Participation in club ball has led to a great deal of improvement. “She has more confidence and has become so much better than last year,’’ Chura said.

*Freshman midfielder Ally Brown. She is the sister of senior defender/midfielder Jayme Brown, and slices through the defense with her quickness. She also excels with her analytical skills. “She reads the game well and will only get better,’’ Chura said.

*And you can’t forget Bella Leonard. After a remarkable run in last year’s state tournament, her star continues to rise and already has made her college commitment to Notre Dame. “She plays at such a high level, it’s amazing,’’ Chura said.