Bio

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 AIA365.com, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Go-ahead goal lessens soccer player's pain

 Doesn’t it just figure? You’ve worked and worked so hard to get ready for your school’s season-opening soccer match, and what happens?

For Xavier Prep senior forward Larkin Thomason, one of the Gators’ most productive offensive players, it was kind of an eerie situation on Thursday night (Dec. 1).

Xavier's Gators talk soccer strategy (Xavier photos).

Only about 10 minutes had passed in the Gators’ match against visiting Tempe Corona del Sol, when Thomason went from moving freely about refurbished Petznick Field to being on the ground in a heap with pain shooting through her right leg.

She had been inadvertently kicked on the outside of her shin by an opposing player and thought the worst. She was attended to by Xavier’s athletic trainers, Laurie White and Hannah Duszynski, and sat out the remainder of the first half.

When the second half began, Xavier held a 1-0 lead, thanks to a first-half goal by junior midfielder Lourdes Lauterborn. But Corona del Sol tied it with a goal just three minutes into the second half. Thomason wanted badly to go back in, but only if approved by the trainers. About four minutes later, her wish was granted.

At the 27:34 mark, there was a scramble in front of the Xavier goal and Thomason took aim with her opposite foot/leg (left) and sent the ball into the net.

Senior midfielder Holland Carey gave the Gators an extra scoring cushion with 8:24 left and Xavier rode it out the rest of the way for a 3-1 triumph.

Senior midfielder Bella Leonard (left), digs a ball out of the corner while senior forward Eva Allen (17) moves in to provide assistance.

“I guess I must have been in the wrong line of flight for the ball, except the ball wasn’t what hit me,’’ Thomason said. “Pain was radiating through me and I thought I might have broken a small bone or something. But it felt better later on, enough for me to get back in. It will be something I will have to watch.’’

If Thomason was hurting physically, fellow senior midfielder Bella Leonard had to be dealing with a bruised psyche. It seemed no matter what she did or where she shot from, all her kicks were a millimeter or two off or sailed up and over the goal.

She finally was able to salvage some productivity on Carey’s goal. Leonard brought the ball out of the left corner, danced away from a few defenders and took another shot. It didn’t go in, but bounced back off the Corona del Sol goalkeeper where Carey was waiting.

Meet Olivia Yu (16), Xavier's speedy fast-rising freshman forward.


Leonard can take comfort that her day surely will come.

Xavier coach Barb Chura was happy to put this one in the books.

“They (Corona del Sol) are competitive, very aggressive,’’ she said. “We probably could have had a few more goals, but their keeper stood on her head to stop us and kept them in the game.’’

The Gators made a few adjustments in the second half, in terms of finishing their shots (aware of deflections, etc.) and not just shooting them.

The team will attempt to put refinements into play in its next match, at Petznick on Tuesday (Dec. 6) against Phoenix Desert Vista. Start time is 6 p.m.


XCP's inside player combo tough to stop

 It was supposed to be a night of pomp and circumstance for the girls’ basketball team at Goodyear Millennium, but it was Xavier Prep’s visiting Gators who took care of the circumstance part.

Circumstances were in Xavier’s favor in Millennium’s first-ever “official’’ game on Thursday night (Dec. 1) at its new multi-million-dollar arena.

 The Gators went on a 15-5 third-quarter run on the way to a 43-35 victory, bringing their overall record to 5-0 in the young season.

The inside power of 6-foot-6 sophomore CeCe Mlat and 6-4 freshman Noelle Guiamatsia proved to be a tough combination for Millennium to overcome.

Guiamatsia scored 10 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked 3 shots. Mlat had 4 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks.

Junior point guard Jasmine Olivar scored 7 points, including a pair of 3-point baskets. Junior point guard Dom Nesland scored 7 points.

Other scorers for Xavier were junior forward-guard Mo Ulrich (6), sophomore point guard Lucy Sanford (5), and senior shooting guard Sienna Cherwinski (4).

Xavier will return home for its next game, on Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Phoenix Sunnyslope. That game will be preceded by the freshman-sophomore game at 4 p.m. and the junior-varsity game at 5:30.



Sunday, November 27, 2022

Basketball team wins Scorpion Shootout title

 If a basketball team wins four games in a tournament by an average margin of 50 ½ points, what do you think the final result would be?

That’s an easy one.

About as easy as Xavier Prep’s trip through the bracket in the annual Scorpion Shootout at Goodyear Desert Edge on Friday (Nov. 25) and Saturday (Nov. 26).

The Gators defeated host Desert Edge (77-15), Peoria High (94-28) and Peoria Centennial (53-5)  in their first three games, then wrapped up the tournament with a 61-35 victory over Yuma Cibola in the championship game.

A pair of outstanding XCP juniors, point guard Dominique Nesland and forward-guard Maureen Ulrich, were honored for their efforts in the tournament.

Nesland was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player and Ulrich was selected to the All-Tournament Team.

Xavier post player Cece Mlat (No. 11, middle) holds the Scorpion Shootout title trophy toward the rafters after the Gators went 4-0 (Photo by Don Ketchum).

“We played well both ways (offense and defense),’’ Nesland said. “We stayed within ourselves.’’

The only drawback, she said, came in the second half of the game against Cibola.

Xavier ran up a 28-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, but Cibola came back to outscore the Gators 19-15 in the second. The third and fourth quarters were pretty much even (Xavier 9-8 in both).

“In the second half, we had kind of a mental slide,’’ she said. “We didn’t finish digging the hole that we wanted to.’’

Xavier’s next game will be on Thursday (Dec. 1, 7 p.m. tipoff) at Goodyear Millennium, which will be playing its first “official’’ game in its new multi-million-dollar arena/gymnasium. The site was used for a big tournament over the summer (in which Xavier also played).

“We feel that Millennium will be a good test for us,’’ Nesland said. “And if we keep playing all season like we did here, we are going to be tough to beat.’’

Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom said her team’s defense improved, that the team is “playing together, playing hard and having a lot of fun.’’

From Dec. 19-22, Xavier will play in the annual Nike Tournament of Champions at Bell Bank Park in east Mesa. The event will feature teams from across the country, but mainly from the West.

“That will be at a whole different level,’’ Gillom said. “There will be a lot of good teams there, and hopefully we will have improved even more by that point to have a good showing.’’

Notes

*Less than a minute into the title game against Cibola, senior shooting guard Sienna Cherwinski suffered what appeared to be a sprained ankle. She sat on the floor for a few moments while being looked at by the tournament’s athletic trainer before being helped to the bench. Cherwinski did not return and her status for upcoming games is uncertain.

*Cece Mlat, a 6-foot-6 sophomore post player, had an effort against Cibola that Gillom hopes she will see more of, scoring 7 points and getting some key rebounds and a few blocked shots.

*Varsity assistant coach and junior-varsity head coach Myron Crawford celebrated his birthday in the days leading up to the tournament. The players serenaded him with a birthday song and he responded with an impromptu break dance of sorts.


Friday, November 25, 2022

Gators run away from first two basketball foes

 There were a few instances in the 2021-22 girls basketball season when Xavier Prep’s Gators played like a contender for the state championship, but not enough to suit Coach Jennifer Gillom.

She vowed to get her team going from the early season to the end rather than just every so often.

The first test has come in the annual Scorpion Shootout tournament at Goodyear Desert Edge.

During Friday’s (Nov. 25) first day, Xavier showed what Gillom hopes life will be like.

The Gators opened things up at 9 a.m. against host Desert Edge and won by 62 points, 77-15. In their second game of the day, at noon, the points, rebounds, assists and steals were as plentiful as Xavier cruised to a 66-point triumph, 94-28, over Peoria High. Both games were played under a running clock, an indicator that the leader had a 30-point advantage by the end of the third quarter.

Xavier is due to play twice on Saturday. The first game will be at 4:30 p.m. against either Tucson High or Peoria Centennial. Depending on what Xavier does in that first game, the Gators could advance to the tourney championship game at 7:30 or the third-place game at 7:30.

“This is exactly what I expected,’’ Gillom said. “It is what you see in practice in terms of just about everything rolls over into the games. There is never a “lull’’ moment.

“Last year, we didn’t always do that. But this shows that we can.’’

Xavier had four players score in double figures against Peoria and four against Desert Edge.

The four who did it against Peoria were junior point guard Dominique Nesland, freshman power forward Irene Noelle Guiamatsia, junior forward-guard Maureen Ulrich and senior guard Sienna Cherwinski.

Against Desert Edge, the noteworthy efforts were by the same players -- Ulrich, Nesland, Guiamatsia and Cherwinski.

“That shows our consistency,’’ Gillom said.

Throw in the type of quick, pressing defense that the team has played in the past and the Gators can be even more dominant.

The 6-foot-4 Guiamatsia and her aggressive playing style should be popular among fans at Xavier’s Activity Center.

“She already is showing signs of being a force,’’ Gillom said. “With time, she is only going to get better. And she is a type of player who will make those around her better.''


Monday, November 21, 2022

Third straight soccer title well within reach of Gators

 Just when you think you’ve seen every way a team can win a soccer match and championship, around the corner come Xavier Prep’s Gators.

They never seem to run out of ways to take ownership of the title trophy, using an emotional approach, yet staying calm at the same time.

Xavier has won 12 state titles (seven under current coach Barb Chura), including two in a row, with four runner-up finishes (one under Chura).

And this year’s group is ready to show everyone that it can do it again. The 2022-23 season begins on Dec. 1 with a match against Tempe Corona del Sol at XCP’s remodeled Petznick Field.

“We look good,’’ Chura said.

The team appears to have a good mix of experience and youth. There are 10 seniors, four juniors, three sophomores and seven freshmen, the most since the record 13 first-year players in 2009.

Xavier is prolific up front, sturdy in the middle and along the back, and has a rising star goalkeeper in junior Kate Willmering.

Chura was uncertain about what to do a year ago at this time, looking for someone, anyone, to take up the keeping duties. It was a tough sell, because star Jaden Campbell had graduated after the Gators won the title the year before.

While it obviously was not the same as having Campbell back there deflecting incoming shots, Chura had the next best thing when Campbell became a volunteer assistant coach, one that she continues this winter as the goalkeeper whisperer.

Campbell worked with Willmering throughout the season, and Willmering blossomed at just the right time – in the state tournament.

In the state final, she turned away shot after shot that led to a 0-0 deadlock and resulting shootout against Gilbert Perry.

“She had the game of her life,’’ Chura said. “A lot of the time, she was flying horizontal.’’

With the score tied at 2 in the second shootout, Xavier went on to win it 3-2 on a goal by senior defender (yes, defender) Jayme Brown.

Brown’s sister, Ally, now a sophomore and listed as a midfielder and defender, returns to see if she has the same familial magic running through her veins.

Senior Bella Leonard (Xavier photo).


Meanwhile, senior forward Larkin Thomason and senior midfielder Bella Leonard will continue their chart-topping offense. Thomason joined the team last year and Leonard is best remembered for her long-range goal that traveled seemingly half the length of the field and landed behind the Perry goalkeeper for a 1-0 win on the final play of regulation in the 2021 semis.

Senior Larkin Thomason.

But don’t think it was just all luck. Leonard perhaps is the team most fundamentally sound player and has led to a recent national letter of intent signing with Notre Dame.

“This is crazy. I’m really excited to be with this team for another season,’’ Leonard said. “After what happened the year before, we were under a lot of pressure last season and we worked very hard and came through.

“I want to leave my mark as a team leader with this team and show the pride that it takes.’’

Said Thomason, “It’s about having the right people in the right places. It’s realistic to put the standard pretty high to win some games and a state title.’’

Like Leonard, Thomason would like to be called upon for leadership.

“When I was a younger player, there were older players who were leaders and I decided I want to be that kind of player,’’ she said.


Fun-tastic field gives soccer extra motivation

 The articifial turf at Xavier Prep’s Petznick Field seems greener than it has been in the past.

That’s because it is.

The artistic Gator logo in the middle of the field seems bigger, full of life.

That’s because it is.

The surface on which athletes run around seems smoother, easier to navigate.

That’s because it is.

Gee, you would think the field has been completely redone.

That’s because it has.

The first occupant of the facility this winter will be XCP’s two-time defending state champion soccer team.

The Gators have been practicing for about two weeks of preseason and some physical education classes are getting some work in.

“It is awesome, beautiful,’’ said soccer coach Barb Chura. “Xavier has some of the best facilities for a high school program, not just for soccer.’’

The original field was in use for nearly 10 years. Every year in the spring, the rising temperatures would make the surface of the field very hot. Water cannons were part of the maintenance, at least when players took breaks from practices and games.

“It doesn’t seem to heat up like the other did,’’ Chura said.

The field will have a lot of occupants other than soccer. In the spring, there will be the school’s two-time defending state champion softball team, lacrosse, and the new flag football team that is expected to begin play.

One thing that fans might not notice but Chura sure has is sideline boundary lines are a different color at the west end of the field. In that area, the surface has a coral/clay tint of the softball infield. In the past, the soccer sidelines there have been red, which kind of blend into the turf.

But from now on, those lines will be yellow, to allow officials to better see what is happening. It’s good for officials to be able to see, and she should know – she has been a club referee for quite some time.

“Even before they redid it, it was one of the best fields around,’’ said senior soccer midfielder Bella Leonard. “It is another great example of all the things that Xavier does for us (athletes). We just love being on the field.’’

Senior forward Larkin Thomason has studied the way the ball moves and bounces.

“I think it is going to give myself and my teammates more opportunities to score,’’ she said.


Friday, November 18, 2022

Xavier basketball team ready to make its move

 For five of the last six years, Surprise Valley Vista took over the 6A Conference state basketball tournament, winning the championship five times during that time frame.

But now comes a global warming of sorts, and the Monsoon might not be as powerful as they have been.

So that might just open things up for some other team, perhaps Xavier Prep, to swoop in and grab the first title in the school’s history.

The Gators are among the favorites listed by azcentral.com. XCP is a legitimate contender.

Xavier, which finished 19-6 last season after falling to Gilbert Perry in the semifinals, opens the new season in the two-day Scorpion Shootout tournament at Goodyear Desert Edge, on the two days following Thanksgiving.

The Gators will face host Desert Edge in the opener on Nov. 25, followed by a second contest shortly thereafter. Two more games will come on Saturday, with opponents being determined by what occurs on the first day.

Xavier will follow that up with another road contest at the large brand-new facility at Goodyear Millennium on Dec. 1. The Gators’ first home game will be Dec. 6 against Phoenix Sunnyslope.

Xavier will start the season behind the eight ball of sorts after having lost star junior swing guard Sarah Miller to a knee ligament tear that was expected to keep her out for this entire season.

But that last part, however, might not be entirely true.

The 5-foot-10  Miller, listed among the state’s top prospects, has been in rehabilitation mode with a feverish pitch behind the scenes recently and there are whispers that she could return to action for the Gators when the calendar flips to 2023.

“If you see some of the workouts she has been doing, you would say, “No way,’ ’’ said Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom. “On one of them, she jumps flat-footed, straight up on a desk, back down and up again a number of times.’’

Miller averaged 20.4 points and 5.1 rebounds last season. If she is slowed for whatever reason, Xavier will have an energetic group of guards to help compensate. They can handle the ball, pass the ball, shoot it and take it away from opponents.

“Our first 10 group is fast and works so well together,’’ Gillom said. “You have the first five and the second five and you can sub in and out and the pace never changes.’’

Junior point guard Dom Nesland will be running the Gators' offensive show (Photos by Don Ketchum).

Junior Dominique Nesland already is being courted by numerous colleges.

Nesland averaged 13.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.2 steals. Those numbers could continue to climb.

She has had some unofficial visits to military schools in the East (Navy and Army), and hopes to have the number of offers down to 20 by April or so.

The high school game itself, she says, “Is really fast, although you might not think so. ‘’

It figures to become much faster with the addition of a new 35-second shot clock.

Nesland said she has improved her shooting since last season through club ball.

”I can look for that 15-footer (jump shot) and be focused on that. Last year, I wasn’t as confident in it as I am now. I can also shoot the 3s (3-pointers) or have a few lay-offs (passes to inside players for higher-percentage shots).’’

The T-shirt worn by senior Sienna Cherwinski features a key element "We defend.''

Another key backcourt player is 5-9 senior shooter-defender Sienna Cherwinski. Some days, it seems as if she has been around the program forever.

Cherwinski is of Latin American descent and earlier this year played in a Basketball Without Borders Americas camp at San Luis, Potosi, Mexico.Top Latina prospects from other countries participated. Cherwinski’s mother, Yenni, is a native of Colombia. Cherwinski also participated in another similar camp in Atlanta.

“There were a lot of good players there and it took a lot out of you physically and mentally,’’ she said. “Hopefully, I can put some of what I learned to use this season.’’

She always has been a good shooter and now believes she is even better. As a senior, she wants to be a better leader.

“You have to work hard and trust your teammates. They need to trust in each other,’’ she said.

Junior point guard Jasmine Olivar, a transfer from Fort Thomas, will provide stability in the backcourt.

Another guard with a dynamic pedigree of her own is 5-7 junior Jasmine Olivar, who is one of the team’s newest players.

She joined the team during summer league play at Thunderbird High in north Phoenix and has continued to build on that.

In the summer league and again for the Gators in preseason workouts, Olivar looks like she fits right in.

She hails from the central Arizona Native American community of Fort Thomas, where she led the Apaches to the 1A Conference state title as a freshman two years ago and was the conference’s Player of the Year. Last season, she led Fort Thomas to a state runner-up finish against Rock Point and was the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.

She said she wanted to enhance her academics and had heard about Xavier, so she applied for a scholarship and was approved toward the end of the last school year.

“The time since I started here has been really exciting,’’ she said. “The summer was a transition and I have learned there is higher competition on the court and in academics. It has allowed me to challenge myself.

“When I have been on the court, I have always looked for an open shot if it is there, or for the open pass, which I am still doing. There is still a lot to learn, and I think I am doing well and am having fun. My teammates have been great to work with and have been helpful.’’

Three more key players for the Gators will be 5-10 junior guard-forward Maureen Ulrich, 6-6 junior post player CeCe Mlat and 6-4 freshman forward Irene Noelle Guiamatsia.

Mlat could be considered at the top of the list of improved players. In past games, she was uncertain about grabbing the ball on rebounds or giving the ball to teammates at the right time, and unsure about moving on the floor in general.

Now she is running the floor much better, getting into the flow, looking for shots near the basket and shooting with confidence, and playing more aggressively on defense.

 

XAVIER PREP VARSITY BASKETBALL ROSTER – 2022-23

Head coach – Jennifer Gillom. Assistant coaches – Patrick Mangosing, Bethany Roessler. Assistant – Angie Vecchiarelli. Athletic trainers – Laurie White, Hannah Duszynski.

(Numbers subject to change)

1, Lucy Sanford, 5-4, So., PG

2, Isabella Cerniglia, 5-8, So., G

3, Jasmine Olivar,5-7, Jr., G

5, Sienna Cherwinski, 5-9, Sr., G

10, Maureen Ulrich, 5-10, Jr. G

11, Athiel Mlat, 6-6, Jr., C

12, Ava Portilla, 5-4, Fr., G

13, Gabriela Trbovic, 6-2, Sr., F

14, Emily Manuelito, 5-7, Sr., G

15, Gosi Alilonu, 5-10, Jr., F

21, Annie Kopp, 6-0, Sr., C

22, Dominique Nesland, 5-9, Jr. PG

24, Sarah Miller, 5-10, Jr., G

52, Irene Noelle Guiamatsia, 6-4, Fr., F

XAVIER PREP VARSITY BASKETBALL SCHEDULE, 2022-23

(Game times subject to change)

Fri., Nov. 25 – 2 games, Scorpion Shooutout @ Goodyear Desert Edge. Game #1, vs. Goodyear Desert Edge, 9 a.m. (main); Game #2, winner or loser’s bracket, noon, (main or auxiliary).

Sat., Nov. 26 – 2 games, Scorpion Shootout @ Goodyear Desert Edge, Times TBA.

Thurs., Dec. 1 -- @ Goodyear Millennium, 7 p.m.

Tues., Dec. 6 – Phoenix Sunnyslope, 7 p.m.

Sat., Dec. 10 -- @ Sierra Vista Buena, 3 p.m.

Mon., Dec. 19 – Nike Tournament of Champions @ Bell Bank Park, Mesa, Times TBA

Tues., Dec. 20 – Nike Tournament of Champions @ Bell Bank Park, Mesa, Times TBA

Wed., Dec. 21 – Nike Tournament of Champions @ Bell Bank Park, Mesa, Times TBA

Thurs., Dec. 22 – Nike Tournament of Champions @ Bell Bank Park, Mesa, Times TBA

Wed., Jan. 4 – Chandler High, 7 p.m.

Thurs. Jan. 5 -- @ Anthem Boulder Creek, 7 p.m.

Tues., Jan. 10 – Gilbert High, 7 p.m.

Thurs., Jan. 12 – Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor, 7 p.m.

Fri., Jan. 13 -- @ Chandler Basha, 7 p.m.

Mon., Jan. 16 – MLK Day Game vs. Phoenix Desert Vista @ Tempe Marcos de Niza, 11:45 a.m.

Wed., Jan. 18 -- @ Chandler Hamilton, 7 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 21 – Gilbert Perry @ Brophy Prep, 5:30 p.m.

Thurs., Jan. 26 – Chandler Hamilton, 7 p.m.

Fri., Jan. 27 – Chandler Basha, 7 p.m.

Tues., Jan. 31 -- @ Chandler High, 7 p.m.

Thurs,, Feb. 2 – Gilbert Perry, 7 p.m.

                                                                   

Tick, tick, tick . . . 35-second clock is here for hoops

 

:35.

That is the number that should be foremost in everyone’s mind in the 2022-23 basketball season after the Arizona Interscholastic Association approved the usage of the 35-second shot clock, with the blessing of the National Federation of High Schools.

The idea serves as a deterrent for teams wanting to slow the pace of play to a crawl to stay close in a game as well as help in getting teams that are more offense-minded to start tapping the accelerator a little more often.

For some teams, it will take some getting used to. For others such as Xavier Prep’s Gators, the team already employs pressure defense, which has led to many turnovers over the last few years created by head coach Jennifer Gillom’s teams.

The 35-second clock only will be used at the varsity level to begin with, not just at Xavier but at all schools. There are plans to adopt the device at the junior-varsity and freshman levels, but getting enough people to operate the clock at the scorer’s table and monitor everything from an official’s perspective will be a challenge at first.

The possession arrow is not easy to keep track of under normal circumstances at the table, but under this new mandate, the 35-second clock has the possibility of being like the arrow on steroids by comparison with the ball potentially changing hands so many times.

Eventually, it is hoped that all involved will get used to it, as with most everything else.

Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom always has been a proponent of pressure defense, and already has been putting her players through the paces in preseason practice and on occasion in games.

“Being more aggressive with rebounding and getting those steals,’’ she said. “Our girls know they can score – we need to stop the offense of the other teams.’’

Junior point guard Dominique Nesland said a faster pace on defense can help teams stay in shape.

“You want to get the ball up the floor, but not to where you run out of gas,’’ she said. “Playing really fast has not been a big deal for us.’’

Jasmine Olivar, a junior point guard, is one of the newest Gators, having moved over from the central Arizona Native American community of Fort Thomas. She has experienced “Rez Ball’’ pressure and speed mentality without the shot clock first-hand and knows what that can do for a full 32 minutes of a rapid heartbeat.

“Defense is really important,’’ Olivar said. “The more pressure we can put on the ball, the better.

“If we can continue to do this, keep it up, it can help achieve a dream come true for the team (state championship), and for Coach Gillom.’’


Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Footwork is key for frosh to pick up tennis game

 Most of the 70-plus players who participated in the Xavier Prep freshman tennis program in the fall came away with confidence and enjoyed the experience while awaiting to decide what their next steps will be as they move through their remaining three years.

The two higher skill-level teams, the Blue and the Green, combined for a 13-7 record with a about two dozen or so refining their skills. The remainder of the 40 players, most at the beginner’s level, learned quite a bit during their intense-yet-fun sessions each Friday.

“I think that Fridays were the most fun for the girls,’’ said co-head coach Karen Fleissner. “I think they came away feeling good about themselves.

“Some of these girls have the skills and confidence that they will be able to try out for the varsity (in the spring).’’

Fleissner joined the program as co-head coach and worked with co-head coach Judy Hernandez assistant coaches Barbara Holcomb, Amy Gallo, Ford Oliver Jr., Lara Murphy and Meg Yuan.

Fleissner had been, and remains the boys’ coach at Phoenix Arcadia in the spring.

She said her way of doing things at Xavier wasn’t much different than what she had been doing previously with the other program.

“We had two competitive teams here, and on top of everything it was a little more hectic due to the numbers, but it wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle,’’ she said.

Fleissner said she has always enjoyed working with players at the grass-roots level and monitoring their progress.

“The more competitive ones have a lot of athletic ability,’’ she said. “I enjoy watching them develop their footwork which is a very important aspect.’’


Sunday, November 13, 2022

Gator runners proud of their third-place finish

 It really came to no surprise that the school that would have its name engraved on the Division I state championship cross-country trophy would be Gilbert Highland, for the second straight year on Saturday (Nov. 12) at the Cave Creek Golf Course in north Phoenix.

And the Hawks came through with an effort for the ages, with six of their seven runners finishing in the top 10 to win it all with a microscopic 20 points over Phoenix Desert Vista (65).

As impressive as those two teams were, there was another whose accomplishments throughout the season with its hard work and resolve resulted in a very satisfying third-place finish – the Xavier Prep Gators.

Led by the No. 10 individual finisher, senior Reese Brown, Xavier totaled 146 points. The rest of the active Gator contingent finished 28 (senior Nora Hinkle), 34 (junior Julia Russo), 39 (senior Bella Gomez), 46 (freshman Ella Wadsworth), 51 (junior Lily Beaver) and 68 (senior Kylie Graf) in the 149-runner field.

Xavier Prep senior Nora Hinkle.

Perhaps the happiest of the blue-clad Gator nation was the school’s long-time coach, Dave Van Sickle. As usual, he started the season not truly knowing where his team would wind up, and began to see something special in this group day by day and week by week and how it approached its work.

“We progressed all the way through,’’ he said Saturday. “This year, we had our best race at the end.

“This was a group of super intelligent kids. They understand what they are doing. They listened to the explanations of why things are done a certain way and tried to apply them.’’

Van Sickle is expected to have a similar group in 2023 when most of this year’s underclassmen will return.

Back when Hinkle was an underclassman as a sophomore, Van Sickle taught a weight-training class and noticed a few potential cross-country runners in the group. One was Hinkle, who seemed obsessed with pounding away on the treadmill. He asked her to join the cross-country group and she took it from there.

“We knew there were times when we would not win every race, but coach impressed on us the idea of being ready and I think we were most of the time,’’ Hinkle said.

“It was all about working and being part of a second family. I am so proud of each and every one of these girls.’’

Hinkle would like to study pre-med and biology and maybe run at the collegiate level. She has her eye on a couple of schools in the East – Worcester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

Wherever she winds up, she will be certain to apply many valuable assets that she picked up during her lengthy running and academic experiences at Xavier.

#   #   #   #   #

Note: Emma Baugh and sister Cloe Baugh of Highland ran 1-2 in the individual race. Emma Baugh was state runner-up a year ago.

Team scores – Gilbert Highland 20, Phoenix Desert Vista 65, Xavier Prep 146, Gilbert Perry 164, Chandler Hamilton 200, Mesa Mountain View 211, Queen Creek High 218, Chander High 242, Marana High 257, Tucson Rincon/University 258, Chandler Basha 269, Mesa Red Mountain 309, Anthem Boulder Creek 369, Tempe Corona del Sol 379, Glendale Mountain Ridge 382, Phoenix Carl Hayden 494, Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor 505, Phoenix North 537.


Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Xavier students, staffers rely on power of the pickle

 

The first day of pickleball on new courts should be the first of many similar fun experiences at Xavier Prep (Xavier photo).

Xavier Prep students, faculty and staff who are looking to whet their appetite during lunch time on Tuesdays and/or Thursdays might consider tossing a few pickle slices on their sandwich.

Or, they can play a few games of pickleball.

That’s right, Y’all heard me!

The Xavier Pickleball is under way at the newly refurbished Stark Tennis Center on the west side of campus. Markings for pickleball boundaries were added to the blue surface that were part of the reconstruction.

Twenty-two girls showed up to play recently on the first day, along with athletic department staffers Susan Contreras, Tui Selvaratnam, Jamie Itule and Ana Panagiotakopoulos. Running the show for the Gators is long-time coach Karl Behring, known to everyone as “Coach Karl.’’

He has coached tennis and pickleball in his native northern California, and is excited about seeing the sport develop here.

“I think it’s easier to pick up than tennis,’’ he said.

The girls and staffers have been enthusiastic and the coaches move around with good agility.

“We’re looking to have a lot of fun out there,’’ Coach Karl said.


Mountain bike season ends, team made strides

 The Xavier Prep/Brophy Prep club mountain biking team finished up its 2022 season on Sunday (Nov. 6) with the Arizona Cycling Association’s high school state championship, the fifth race of the season, at the Wren Arena in the southern Arizona community of Fort Huachuca.

Xavier had perhaps its strongest overall season, but slipped a bit in this contest.

The Xavier/Brophy group finished fifth in the race.

“We were a bit disappointed in our showing, but we are still very proud of our season,’’ said team coach Rich Perrott.

And he certainly was proud of his group of senior girls, who raced in their final event together.

They were Grace Morgan, 19th place in the JV-1 category, Alyssa Isaac, 6th place in JV-2, Lizbeth Garcia, 17th place in JV-2, Morgan Wubker, 18th place in JV-2, and Lily Foster, 23rd place in JV-2.

Other Xavier athletes and their finishes:

Junior Mary Hill, 9th place in the Varsity category and Clara Findlay, 17th in JV-2.


Sunday, November 6, 2022

Holding trophy is "where we're going to be some day''

 There are many factors that figure into how a sports team will develop from year to year.

One of the main things is age – that will change as the younger players get older with more experience and the older ones graduate, leaving the younger ones to have on-the-job training.

That is what Glen Coy and assistant David Smithers faced this fall, their second year as the swim and dive coaches at Xavier Prep.

“We were young, to be sure,’’ Coy said. “We went into the season optimistic, with a lot of underclassmen who had potential, although you never really know how that will work out.’’

Xavier finished 12th in the Division I state meet that wrapped up on Friday (Nov. 4) and Saturday (Nov. 5) at the Skyline Aquatic Center in Mesa.

Challenging powerhouse Scottsdale Chaparral wasn’t in the cards this time around, as the Firebirds won their ninth straight title in a row, about half of it in Division I and half in Division II before that.

So the Gators did what they could.

Lainey Weiland and fellow senior Dylan Miller combined to mix individual events with relay work for decent results, especially considering their improvement from Day 1 to Day 2.

Some younger athletes showed promise, sophomore swimmers Krista Tymkiw, Genevieve (Geni) George and Carter Cook and sophomore diver Maya Superfon.

George has battled back after being slowed by some serious health issues a year ago and could be a major factor with two more years to go. Cook has shown versatility in a number of events and Superfon came in with a mid-20s spot on the qualifying list, but by the time the finals had been completed, she was at No. 10, a huge improvement.

Weiland had mixed emotions about her final swims for the Gators.

“I came in wanting to continue to improve and do it with some of my favorite people in the world (teammates),’’ she said.

She hopes to be able to monitor next year’s group of Gators from right down the road. She recently completed her paperwork to see if she can join the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State and hopes to receive an answer regarding her status soon.

“We tried hard and supported each other. It was great,’’ she said.

Coy said he was walking with some of his underclassmen along the cool deck when they saw a number of trophies.

The coach stopped, pointed at the shiny hardware and said, “That’s where we’re going to be some day. Some of those will be ours.’’


Gators, state swimming and diving by the numbers

 Division I girls’ state championship swimming meet

Friday and Saturday at Skyline Aquatic Center, Mesa

Team scores

Scottsdale Chaparral 315, Phoenix Horizon 262, Phoenix Desert Vista 224, Mesa Red Mountain 211, Anthem Boulder Creek 147.5, Chandler Hamilton 137, Mesa Mountain View 135.5, Gilbert Perry 126, Queen Creek Casteel 118, Phoenix Pinnacle 105.5, Tucson Rincon/University 86, Xavier Prep 81, Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor 79, Gilbert High 57, Tempe Corona del Sol 59, Gilbert Higley 34, Chandler High 34, Tucson High 30, Chandler Basha 18, Gilbert Highland 12, Mesa Desert Ridge 11.5, Yuma Cibola 11, Peoria Sunrise Mountain 9, Mesa High 9, Yuma Gila Ridge 4, Mesa Westwood 2, Maricopa High 1, Surprise Shadow Ridge 1.

Xavier results

1-meter diving finals – Maya Superfon, So., 10th, 359.90.

200-yard medley relay prelims – Xavier Prep disqualified.

200-yard freestyle – No individuals.

200-yard individual medley prelims – Krista Tymkiw, So., 26th, 2:19.87.

50-yard free prelims – Lainey Weiland, Sr., 18th, 25,32; Dylan Miller, Sr., 28th, 25.72.

100-yard butterfly B Final – Genevieve George, So., 10th, 59.26; Carter Cook, So., 16th, 1:00.54.

100-yard butterfly prelims – Carter Cook, So., 11th, 59.77; Genevieve George, So., 12th, 59.74.

100-yard freestyle B final – Lainey Weiland, Sr., 11th, 54.40.

100-yard freestyle prelims – Lainey Weiland, Sr., 13th, 54.98.

500-yard freestyle prelims – Sophie Dumanski, Fr., 27th, 5:39.32; Audrey McEwen, Fr., 29th, 5:41.49.

200-yard freestyle relay A Final  – XCP 7th, 1:41.51 (Lainey Weiland, Audrey McEwen, Cassie Worth, Dylan Miller).

200-yard freestyle relay prelims – XCP 8th, 1:42.38, same four as above.

100-yard backstroke A Final – Genevieve George, So., 7th, 1:00.37.

100-yard backstroke prelims – Genevieve George, So., 6th, 59.70.

100-yard backstroke B Final – Krista Tymkiw, So., 14th, 1:02.59.

100-yard backstroke prelims – Krista Tymkiw, So., 14th, 1:02.18; Cassie Worth, Sr., 23rd, 1:03.27; Carter Cook, So., 28th, 1:04.45.

100-yard breaststroke B Final – Ava Gill, Jr., 10th, 1:10.27.

100-yard breaststroke prelims – Adriana Lauterborn, Fr., 21st, 1:12.06.

400-yard freestyle relay B Final – XCP, 10th, 3:43.21 (Carter Cook, Dylan Miller, Cassie Worth, Genevieve George).

400-yard freestyle relay prelims – XCP 9th, 3:45.71, same four as above.


Friday, November 4, 2022

Xavier v-ball bids adieu to state tournament

 There only are a few opportunities for a volleyball team to step in during the last few minutes, take control of the game and perhaps the match itself.

Xavier’s Gators have been haunted by that scenario on occasion this season, and the most emotional, crushing instance of all came in the ninth-seeded team’s first-round match at No. 8 Queen Creek on Thursday night (Nov. 3).

Xavier won the opening game, dropped a close one in Game 2 and battled back and forth with the Bulldogs in Game 3.

As the score inched to a 24-23 Xavier lead, Queen Creek came back to tie it and on two other occasions before winning it 29-27 for a 2-1 advantage.

It took the Gators’ breath away. As Game 4 began, they watched Queen Creek score the first five points and never were able to catch up as Queen Creek took the match 3-1.

Final scores were 25-17 Xavier, 25-21 Queen Creek, 29-27 Queen Creek and 25-17 Queen Creek.

Xavier ended its season with a respectable 20-13 record. Queen Creek moved to 22-13 and will play a quarterfinal match against top-seeded host Tempe Corona del Sol on Tuesday night (Nov. 8).

“We had our opportunities to put the game away, but weren’t able to do it. We gave it our best effort,’’ said Xavier Coach Lamar-Renee Bryant.

Bryant will have 12 current underclassmen back next season, and she had a message for those players after Thursday night’s match.

“I want them to remember how they are feeling right now,’’ she said. “Last year, we played Queen Creek in the tournament (quarterfinals) and eliminated them. Those of them who came back this year remembered and look what happened. We’ve gotta do the same thing next year.’’

Queen Creek used the heavy hitting from 6-foot junior Blaykli Bobik and 6-2 sophomore Haleina Bowers to rattle the Gators.

Xavier attempted to use crosscourt misdirection on some of its returns, but Queen Creek caught up to the ploy later on.

Sophomore middle blocker Elle McCreery and junior outside hitter Finley Workman helped the Gators up front, and sophomore defensive specialist/libero Olivia Lenz came up with numerous digs to help Xavier stay out of trouble as much as possible.

First-round results

(Seedings in parentheses)

Tempe Corona del Sol (1) 3, Chandler High (16) 0; Queen Creek (8) 3, Xavier Prep (9) 1; Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor (5) 3, Gilbert Highland (12) 2; Gilbert Perry (4) 3, Phoenix Desert Vista (13) 0; Gilbert High (3) 3, Surprise Shadow Ridge (14) 0; Peoria Liberty (6) 3, Mesa Mountain View (11) 0; Phoenix Sunnyslope (7) 3, Surprise Valley Vista (10) 0; Chandler Hamilton (2) 3, Phoenix Pinnacle (15) 0.

Quarterfinal schedule

Tuesday, Nov. 8

All games, 6 p.m.

Queen Creek at Corona del Sol, Sandra Day O’Connor at Perry, Liberty at Gilbert High, Sunnyslope at Hamilton.


Thursday, November 3, 2022

XCP runners appear ready to make their move at state

 Draped by a sky full of bluster, Xavier Prep’s Gators had plenty of muster to get the job done as they attempted to win the Division I, Southwest Section state qualifying cross-country meet on Thursday (Nov. 3) at Crossroads Park in Gilbert.

Xavier had five of its seven runners finish in the top 14 and totaled 40 points, with runner-up Surprise Shadow Ridge doubling that number with 80. The field of competitors featured 86 runners.

Runners representing XCP were determined by a compilation of numbers over the last few meets of the season, according to Head Coach Dave Van Sickle.

“There were a lot of changes going on, so we had to stay on top of it,’’ he said.

There could be another change or two for the D-I state meet on Nov. 12 at the Cave Creek Golf Course in north Phoenix, Van Sickle said. The Division I girls will be the final race of Championship Saturday, at 1:55 p.m.

Xavier senior Reese Brown finished second in Thursday's Southwest Sectional and is poised for a good run in the upcoming Division I state meet.

The top finisher for Xavier in this sectional was senior Reese Brown, who covered the 5,000 meters in 20:02.40 to become the runner-up.

Brown’s teammates also did well.

They were No. 6 finisher, junior Bella Gomez, at 20:27.00; No. 9 finisher, freshman, Ella Wadsworth, at 20:37.10; No. 11 finisher, junior Julia Russo, at 20:42.10; No. 12 finisher, senior Nora Hinkle, at 20:43.40; No. 18 finisher, junior Lily Beaver, at 20:53.40; and No. 31 finisher, senior Kylie Graf, at 22:25.10.

The overall individual winner was Marana High junior Mariza Chavez, at 19:51.00. She was on pace from the beginning and did not let up. Van Sickle called her the best runner in southern Arizona.

After Brown’s finish on the sectional, she is hopeful of streamlining the team’s point production to challenge teams such as Gilbert Highland, at the state meet.

She said each meet can offer up a strategy refinement, and this one worked for her.

“It depends on the race,’’ she said. “Today, I took things conservatively. I chose to not use up a whole lot of energy until the end.’’

The weather was a factor. The rain finally came toward the end of the race, and continued afterward.

“That was fine with me,’’ she said. “Coach Van (Sickle) told us to be ready for it. I actually expected worse. It was a little cold, but it was nice not having the sweat dripping off of you like it does most races.’’

She called her senior season, particularly these last few weeks, "a bittersweet thing, but I am looking forward to a new chapter in college.’’

And that would be at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, where she plans to study neuroscience.


Wednesday, November 2, 2022

It's official: Volleyball to play at Queen Creek

 Xavier Prep’s volleyball team has worked hard all season to reach the 6A Conference state tournament, and now the time has come for the Gators to see how far they can advance.

After a 3-0 “play-in’’ victory over Glendale Mountain Ridge on Monday (Oct. 31), ninth-seeded Xavier (20-12) officially begins tournament action on Thursday (Nov. 3) with a match on the road against eighth-seeded Queen Creek (21-13). The match begins at 6 p.m., with the winner moving on to the quarterfinal round on Tuesday (Nov. 8).

Tempe Corona del Sol is the tournament’s top seed.

Here is a look at the first-round schedule and results from the “play-in’’ games . . .

6A Conference first round

Thursday, Nov. 3

All games, 6 p.m.

(Seedings in parentheses)

Chandler High (16) at Tempe Corona del Sol (1), Xavier Prep (9) at Queen Creek (8), Gilbert Highland (12) at Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor (5), Phoenix Desert Vista (13) at Gilbert Perry (4), Surprise Shadow Ridge (14) at Gilbert High (3), Mesa Mountain View (11) at Peoria Liberty (6), Surprise Valley Vista (10) at Phoenix Sunnyslope (7), Phoenix Pinnacle (15) at Chandler Hamilton (2).

Play-in results

Xavier Prep 3, Glendale Mountain Ridge 0; Phoenix Pinnacle 3, Marana High 1; Chandler High 3, Mesa Red Mountain 1; Gilbert Highland 3, Tucson Rincon/University 0; Mesa Mountain View 3, Anthem Boulder Creek 0; Phoenix Desert Vista 3, Maricopa High 0; Surprise Valley Vista 3, Mesa High 1.


Monday, October 31, 2022

Volleyball wins, moves on to state tourney

 Xavier Prep’s Gators did what they needed to do and took care of business on Monday (Oct. 31), sweeping Glendale Mountain Ridge 3-0 in a 6A Conference “play-in’’ game at the Activity Center.

Xavier (20-12) was the highest-rated play-in team at No. 9, while Mountain Ridge (10-21) was the lowest at No. 24.

Xavier moves on to the first round of the state tournament that begins on Thursday (Nov. 3), and the opponent is expected to be Queen Creek, which had been the No. 8 team in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s power points rankings. First-round pairings will be announced on Wednesday (Nov. 2).

Queen Creek (21-13-1) and Xavier had been battling down to the wire over the last few weeks to determine which might wind up being the eighth seed and which might be the ninth.

Thursday night’s winner is expected to go on and face top-rated Tempe Corona del Sol (35-5) on Oct. 8 in a quarterfinal contest. Corona del Sol has defeated Queen Creek and Xavier.

Xavier has not played Queen Creek a whole lot over the years, but Gators Coach Lamar-Renee Bryant said most of what matches there have been have been very competitive.

“I’m happy for our seniors with the way they played today, in their final home match with Xavier,’’ she said. “It’s about how you handle these types of matches that keeps you going.’’

This play-in game originally was to have been played on Tuesday (Nov. 1), but festivities on campus for the 60th anniversary of Xavier President and former Principal Joan Fitzgerald at the school caused the schedule to be altered.

“I want to thank Mountain Ridge and the AIA to allow this to happen for us with such a meaningful moment for Sr. Joan,’’ said Bryant.

Xavier was strong at the net against Mountain Ridge.

The setters spread the wealth to the front-liners, giving them many opportunities to put the ball down into the Mountain Lions’ side of the court.

Junior Camilla Cornejo-Farmer and junior Finley Workman had seven kills apiece and sophomore Courtney Snopko had six.

Workman also had nine digs on defense, and sophomore libero Olivia Lenz had 11. Senior setter Ava Larkin had 23 assists.


Gators rule in the pool, state is coming up

 If you were looking for a spot to gear up for the state Division I chamoionship swimming and diving you needn’t have looked any farther than the Brophy Prep Aquatic  Center.

On Saturday (Oct. 29) the annual AMDG Invitational took place and Xavier Prep’s Gators rolled up a 530-point effort to win the event, which consisted of nine teams. Queen Creek Casteel was second with 360 and Phoenix Pinnacle was third with 256.

Now Xavier appears to be primed for a solid showing at the state meet, on Saturday (Nov. 5) at the Skyline Aquatic Center in east Mesa (2:30 p.m. start time). Diving finals will be held on Saturday at the Phoenix Country Day School at10:25 a.m.

Xavier had four event winners – the 200-yard medley relay, senior Lainey Weiland in the 50-yard freestyle, sophomore Carter Cook in the 100-yard butterfly and junior Ava Gill in the 100-yard breaststroke.

Xavier results

200-yard medley relay – Xavier “A’’, 1st, 1:54.29 (Krista Tymkiw, Ava Gill, Carter Cook, Lainey Weiland); Xavier “B’’, 4th, 2:03.58 (Sophia Sweatlock, Sophie Villanueva, Brooke Person, Lola Lysak).

200-yard freestyle – Sophie Dumanski, Fr., 4th, 2:05.95; Audrey McEwen, Fr., 5th, 2:07.95; Kate Bierman, So., 7th, 2:10.36.

200-yard IM – Genevieve George, So., 2nd, 2:16.20; Krista Tymkiw, So., 4th, 2:20.65; Ava Gill, Jr., 5th, 2:23.97; Adriana Lauterborn, Fr., 6th, 2:26.83.

50-yard freestyle – Lainey Weiland, Sr., 1st, 25.45; Dylan Miller, Sr., 3rd, 25.68; Cassie Worth, Sr., 4th, 26:07; Lola Lysak, So., 7th, 26.82.

100-yard butterfly – Carter Cook, So., 1st, 1:00.00; Genevieve George, So., 2nd, 1:00.04; Raleigh Kaul, Fr., 6th, 1:06.23; Brooke Person, Jr., 7th, 1:06.60.

100-yard freestyle – Dylan Miller, Sr., 4th, 56.00; Lainey Weiland, Sr., 5th, 56.02; Corbin Smiley, Fr., 13th, 1:01.41.

500-yard freestyle – Sophie Dumanski, Fr., 4th, 5:37.27; Audrey McEwen, Fr., 5th, 5:39.24; Malena Lebedeff, So., 7th, 5:45.45; Bella Guerra, Jr., 9th, 5:53.92.

200-yard freestyle relay – Xavier “A”, 4th, 1:50.78 (Lola Lysak, Corbin Smiley, Malena Lebedeff, Audrey McEwen); Xavier “B”, 6th, 1:55.54 (Perla Akiki, Waverly Bagley, Maryn Day, Kate Bierman).

100-yard backstroke – Krista Tymkiw, So., 4th, 1:01.56; Cassie Worth, Sr., 5th, 1:03.00; Carter Cook, So., 8th, 1:07.18; Raleigh Kaul, Fr., 9th, 1:07.84.

100-yard breaststroke – Ava Gill, Jr., 1st, 1:09.90; Adriana Lauterborn, Fr., 7th, 1:14.36; Sophie Villanueva, Fr., 8th, 1:15.53; Bella Guerra, Jr., 10th, 1:16.55.

400-yard freestyle relay – Xavier “A”, 2nd, 3:42.62 (Lainey Weiland, Dylan Miller, Cassie Worth, Genevieve George); Xavier “B,” 5th (Brooke Person, Allie Weiland, Lola Lysak, Corbin Smiley).

Team scores

Xavier Prep 530, Queen Creek Casteel 360, Phoenix Pinnacle 256, Chandler Basha 228, Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep 199, Gilbert High 170, Gilbert Williams Field 63, Gilbert Mesquite 62, Flagstaff Northland Prep 7.


Friday, October 28, 2022

After loss to Hamilton, XCP v-ball looks to "play-in"

 The first time that Chandler Hamilton’s volleyball team played Xavier Prep this season (on Oct. 5), Hamilton more or less sleepwalked through the match and the host Gators made the Huskies pay with a 3-0 sweep.

On Thursday (Oct. 27) the teams squared off again at Hamilton in the regular season finale for both, and this time the Huskies were wide awake, having little trouble with the Gators in taking a 3-1 home victory on Senior Night.

Scores were 25-19, 19-25, 25-19 and 25-12.

Hamilton, the two-time defending 6A Conference champion, raised its record to 31-7, while Xavier fell just one win short of the 20-win level at 19-12.

The state tournament begins on Nov. 3, but in order to get there, Xavier must win a “play-in’’ game on Monday (Oct. 31) at Xavier against Glendale Mountain Ridge. The contest begins at 2 p.m.

The top eight teams listed in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s power points rankings are assured a first-round home game. Xavier was the No. 9 team in the final rankings, therefore necessitating a play-in appearance. Mountain Ridge is No. 24.

All of the play-in games are scheduled Tuesday (Nov. 1), but Xavier’s contest had to be moved up one day due to important school events on campus Tuesday.

A trip to the state tournament is not automatic by any means, particularly if the Gators played the way they did against Hamilton on Thursday.

Xavier rebounded from its loss in the opening game to match and even surpass Hamilton stride for stride in Game 2. The Gators got a quick 5-0 jump and managed to maintain control.

Xavier was down 17-13 midway through the second half of Game 3 and even managed to pull even at 18. Hamilton then scored six straight points and headed toward the finish line soon after.

Hamilton went on another six-point run in the fourth game and Xavier did not challenge.

Xavier Coach Lamar-Renee Bryant was candid in her assessment.

“We gave up at the end,’’ she said. “That’s not who we are. It was disheartening. We lost our confidence and our leaders were quieter.’’

Some of the Gators put up decent numbers. Senior setter Ava Larkin had every one of the team’s 39 assists to go along with 3 service aces. Sophomore defensive specialist/libero Olivia Lenz had 28 digs. Sophomore middle blocker Elle McCreery had 12 blocks, junior outside hitter Finley Workman had 12 kills and freshman Vivian Hickman had 11 kills.