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, December 1, 2021

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.

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