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.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Second-half effort pushes Gators past Perry

 Xavier Prep basketball coach Jennifer Gillom didn’t know how it happened – she was just glad it did.

Her Gators did not do much right in the first half of their 6A Conference Premier Region game at Gilbert Perry on Monday (Jan. 31). The game, which started at an unusual 5 p.m. time, was the makeup of a contest that had been postponed earlier in the season.

But Xavier regained its composure in the second half and went on to post a 52-45 victory.

And now, as fate would have it, the two teams will meet again just a little more than 24 hours later – in a regularly scheduled game at Xavier’s Activity Center on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. Xavier has a 13-5 overall record, while Perry is 16-6.

“I’m not really sure what happened in the first part of the game,’’ Gillom said. “There was no defense, not many shots were falling and we were not rebounding. We still managed to win. We had hustle at the end and were able to turn it around enough to win.’’

The rebounding in particular left quite a bit to be desired.

“It was awful. That was the first thing I put on the board (at halftime),’’ she said.

Xavier also did a better job defensively in the second half against Perry’s Khamil Pierre, a 6-foot-1 junior.

The Gators outscored the Pumas 15-8 in the third quarter and managed to keep the home team at arm’s length the rest of the way.

Sophomore guard-forward Maureen “Mo’’ Ulrich had a stro;ng game, sophomore reserve Gosi Alilonu had one of her better games of the season with three key baskets for 6 points. She kept the ball alive under the basket on quite a few occasions.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Gators, fans have fun in home soccer finale

Xavier Prep’s soccer team played its final home match of the regular season at Petznick Field on Friday night (Jan. 28), and the Gators made sure that they sent parents and other followers of the team home happy.

They did it with a 2-1 victory over Chandler Basha, putting their record at 5-2-2. Basha fell to 11-6-2.

Star junior forward Bella Leonard provided the fuel with two goals, including a penalty kick with 25:22 left in the second half.

The teams traded scoring opportunities for the first 26 minutes until Leonard put the Gators on the board with 12:55 left in the first half. Basha tied it at 1, its goal set up by a free kick, and the half ended in a deadlock.

Xavier could not convert its free-kick opportunity off a deflection with 31 minutes left in regulation.  Leonard came through with the penalty kick score.

The Gators had a few opportunities to increase their lead, but were unable to put another on the board.

Basha had a free kick with 3:10 left, but could not make it work.

The Bears continued to apply pressure all over the field to try to get the ball back.

Late in the contest, Xavier junior forward Larkin Thomason took the ball all the way into the left corner in an attempt to maintain possession and use up more ticks on the clock, and the ploy was successful.

Xavier now takes to the road on Monday night at 6 for a match against Chandler High.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Gators coast past Chandler for 2nd time

 Xavier Prep’s basketball team came up with another 6A Conference Premier Region victory on Thursday night (Jan. 27), 60-35 over host Chandler High.

Xavier, the No. 2 team on the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s power-points list, raised its overall record to 12-5 and is unbeaten in region play at 4-0. Chandler slipped to 12-10 and 2-4 in region.

Sophomore point guard Dom Nesland and sophomore guard-forward Sarah Miller once again were at the top of their games, combining for 37 points.

Nesland connected on a pair of 3-point baskets, grabbed 8 rebounds and had 5 assists.

Xavier scored the first nine points of the game and had a 27-11 lead at the end of the first quarter.

By halftime, Chandler had 25 points and already had surpassed the 22 it had for the entire game in an earlier 92-22 loss to the Gators at Xavier.

Xavier outscored the Wolves 19-4 in the third quarter, leading to a running clock (lead of 30 points or more) at the start of the fourth.

The Gators’ next objective is to attempt to defeat a tough Gilbert Perry team on back-to-back days.

The teams will meet at Perry at 5 p.m. on Monday (Jan. 31) in a make-up game from earlier in the season, and again on Tuesday (Feb. 1) at 7 p.m. at Xavier.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Guess who? Leonard helps XCP reach tie with Perry

 Seismic soccer.

That’s how it seems to be these days between Xavier Prep and Gilbert Perry.

It began in the opening match of the 2020-21 season, when Perry eked out a 1-0 victory at home.

In the 6A state semifinals at Gilbert Campo Verde, Xavier won it 1-0 on Bella Leonard’s skyrocket goal on the final play of overtime, avoiding a penalty-kick winner-take-all.

Then, the 2021-22 version that came on Tuesday night (Jan. 25) at Xavier.

Perry scored a first-half goal, then Xavier tied it and went ahead in the second half. Perry sent the match into overtime with a late goal in regulation, and the two traded goals in overtime to wind up with a 3-3 finish.

Xavier is now 4-2-2, Perry 7-3-1.

The second half and overtime had more action than many other matches combined.

Seismic soccer.

The ground might have been rumbling a bit, with bodies flying, some sprawled on the artificial turf, numerous bloody scrapes and bruises appearing and what was thought to be a broken nose for a Xavier player.

“I think that might have been the best we have looked,’’ said Xavier coach Barb Chura.

“I think we dominated. They (Perry) just booted it, but we played soccer. They go for the direct boom ball and that’s their style. It works for them and I don’t want to take anything away from what they accomplished out there. It was a good match.’’

With about 16 minutes left in regulation, senior Hennessy Perez pulled the Gators even with a goal. At the 9:18 mark, Xavier took a 2-1 lead on a “Guess who’’ moment.

And the answer was, “Yes, that was a goal by Bella Leonard.’’

And it came as junior Larkin Thomason sent a brilliant pass from the left side that enabled Leonard, also a junior, to leap in front of the goal and put the ball into the net with a header.

Perry’s game-tying goal came with 1:33 left on a penalty kick.

As time began to wind down in the first 10-minute overtime, another “Guess who’’ moment gave Xavier a 3-2 lead when Leonard lofted a free kick that resembled the semifinal shot, arcing over the goalkeeper and into the net.

The second extra session moved on, and just when it seemed Xavier would be in line to walk away with a win, the lead official awarded Perry a penalty kick, and the Pumas’ Siera Herbert evened it at 3 with a no-doubter off her left foot with 4:54 left.

Both teams had a few more opportunities, including another chance for Leonard with 1:07 remaining, and the ball went wide left ever so slightly.

Chura was pleased with Leonard’s effort all night long.

“She had a great game,’’ Chura said. “I think it was her best game so far.’’

The Gators will play their final home match of the regular season on Friday night (Jan. 28) when they face Chandler Basha.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Everything falls in line for XCP hoops vs. Basha

 Monday (Jan. 24) was Parents Appreciation Night and Senior Night for the Xavier Prep basketball team and Spirit Line, and the Gators sent everyone home happy with a 71-29 6A Premier Region victory over visiting Chandler Basha at the Activity Center.

The Gators raised their overall record to 11-5 and solidified their No. 2 ranking in The Arizona Republic’s Super Team listing with a well-rounded performance.

Xavier collected 45 rebounds, made 18 steals and had three players score in double figures to put its stamp on the proceedings.

Sophomore point guard Dom Nesland led the way with 21 points, including three 3-point baskets, along with 8 rebounds and 5 assists.

Sophomore guard-forward Sarah Miller scored 15 points to supplement her 9 steals and 5 assists. And junior shooting guard Sienna Cherwinski got the Gators off to a good start in the first quarter by scoring all of her 11 points, including three 3-pointers.

Toni Garcia, the Gators’ lone senior player who was honored with senior student manager Devin Luke, scored 7 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. And sophomore guard-forward Maureen Ulrich had 6 points and 11 rebounds.

Xavier had built a 43-21 lead by halftime and outscored the Bears (6-13) 23-4 in the third quarter to set up a running-clock situation (a lead of 30+ points) in the final eight minutes.

Xavier and Basha will play another game on Feb. 5 at Basha, a rare Saturday contest, with a 12:30 p.m. start. It will be the makeup of a game that was postponed from earlier in the season.

And Xavier’s next game on the schedule will be on Thursday night (Jan. 27) at Chandler High. The two teama played on Jan. 11 at Xavier, with the Gators rolling to a 92-22 win.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Xavier hoops did not let this one get away

 Xavier Prep’s basketball team let what would have been a high-profile victory to slip through its fingers on Wednesday night (Jan. 19).

On Friday (Jan. 21), two nights after the overtime setback to Surprise Valley Vista, the Gators refused to allow that to happen again against visiting 6A Premier Region rival Chandler Hamilton.

Xavier was on top of its game from the start and had all phases working to earn a 47-28 victory.

Xavier raised its record to 10-5 while Hamilton, last year’s 6A state runner-up, slipped to 14-5.

“We needed that,’’ said Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom.

Though Xavier led for most of its game against Valley Vista, Gillom said the defending champs never gave up and by the end, her team was spent.

“It was emotionally draining,’’ she said.

But Hamilton always has been a formidable opponent, and Gillom knew her team would face another tough game.

“We usually play to the level of the other team,’’ she said. “We came out and played well. We played the way we like to play, the way we need to play if we are to get to the (state) final, where we feel we should be.’’

About four minutes into the first quarter, Hamilton was placed in an unfortunate spot when sophomore forward Savanna Creal drove along the baseline and went down with a significant amount of pain in her left ankle. She was helped off the floor by Xavier athletic trainer Laurie White and Hamilton coach Trevor Neider and did not return.

Hamilton then took its first and only lead before Xavier reassumed control.

Sophomore guard-forward Sarah Miller and sophomore point guard Dom Nesland continued to lead the Xavier offense. Miller scored 24 points and Nesland had 12.

Xavier also had a solid effort on defense and with its rebounding.

Senior forward Toni Garcia had 6 points and eight rebounds and another sophomore guard, Maureen Ulrich, continued her development into the team’s top rebounder, with 12.

Xavier will be back in the Activity Center on Monday (Jan. 24) for another Premier Region game, this time against Chandler Basha. Tip-off is 7 p.m.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Gator soccer stunned by 2 late Pinnacle goals

 For the first 70 minutes of their soccer match at Phoenix Pinnacle on Thursday night (Jan. 20), Xavier Prep’s Gators played pretty well but were tripped up by the Pioneers in the late stages and fell 2-1.

The Gators put up a first-half goal (by junior Larkin Thomason) and continued to lead by that slim margin as the second-half clock moved toward the contest’s conclusion.

Both teams dueled at virtually every turn, and the match had a state tournament-type of vibe. It was physical throughout.

With about 9 minutes left in regulation, Pinnacle (10-3-1) pulled even at 1. Xavier (4-2-1) tried to regain the lead, but could not put the ball in the net as Pinnacle started to apply the pressure, often keeping the ball in the Xavier end.

Then, with about 5 minutes to go, lightning struck again.

Pinnacle’s Anuli Okafor got the ball on Xavier’s left side, to the side of the goal where it would seem difficult to get the ball in the net from that angle.

But Okafor let it fly and it went in, much to the joy of the Pioneers and their fans huddled in the stands, keeping warm although it seemed colder than 62.

Seemingly drained of energy at that point, the Gators attempted to get the goal back and perhaps force overtime. Time was not an ally, however.

Xavier will be back at its Petznick Field home for its next match on Tuesday (Jan. 25) against Gilbert Perry.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Overtime overload for hoops vs. Valley Vista

 Xavier Prep’s Gators were looking for a signature basketball victory, you know, one to send them into the stratosphere and on to bigger and better things.

No sooner than they put the cap back on the pen that they looked down at the dotted line, only to discover that it had been signed in invisible ink. Replacing their signature was one bearing the name of Valley Vista’s Monsoon.

Valley Vista, which has won two 6A Conference state championships in a row and four out of the last five, had outscored Xavier 7-1 in the final minute and a half to force overtime on Wednesday night (Jan. 19), and took care of business in the extra session for a 71-65 victory at the Activity Center.

The Monsoon did so after losing senior star guard Jennah Isai, an Oregon commit, to a shoulder injury in the first half.  It was another unfortunate dose of frustration for Isai, who has a ton of talent but has been plagued by serious knee injuries during her time in Surprise.

Like many Xavier fans, Gators coach Jennifer Gillom was stunned by the late turn of events.

“I’m not really sure what happened,’’ Gillom said. “We played very well for 3 ½ quarters, but not in the last 3 minutes. I guess you could say we got nervous. The only thing we can try to do is to learn from our mistakes.’’

One thing her team can do, is to keep Valley Vista, and all the other opponents from here on out, from camping out at the free-throw line.

“This was kind of like a state tournament game with the free throws,’’ she said.

Valley Vista was 11 of 12 in the fourth quarter and 8 of 9 in the four-minute overtime. That’s 19 of 21 when it counted the most.

The biggest free throws for the Monsoon came with two seconds left in regulation. Freshman Destiny Lunan calmly sank both of her charity shots to set up the overtime. One miss and Xavier would have been dancing in the streets.

The Monsoon (15-5) also helped their cause with eight 3-pointers. Xavier (9-5), meanwhile, which has lived by the 3 most of this season, had just two from long range. Part of that could be attributed to the fast break, which had sophomore guard-forward Sarah Miller on the receiving end in most instances. She finished with 31 points.

Things won’t get much easier for Xavier on Friday night (Jan. 21) when it faces Chandler Hamilton (14-4) in a 6A Premier Region contest at the Activity Center. Hamilton fell to Valley Vista in last year’s title game.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Soccer seniors honored -- juniors shine, too

 Xavier Prep’s soccer program staged its annual Senior Night on Thursday (Jan. 13) at Petznick Field. The four seniors honored were Ansley Burns, Keila Lopez, Hennessy Perez and Jayme Brown.

They received plenty of adulation from parents, Coach Barb Chura, administrators and fans, along with the Gator team mascot. Flowers were seemingly everywhere.

Some of the most interested spectators were Xavier teammates Bella Leonard and Larkin Thomason.

Now juniors, they will be similarly honored next season. But they already have been playing like seniors since first stepping onto the field as young players.

And against visiting Phoenix Mountain Pointe, they again set themselves apart.

Leonard scored four goals and Thomason found the back of the next three times in a 10-0 Xavier victory. Also scoring for XCP were Perez, Burns and sophomore Lucy Brink.

Under the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s new Mercy Rule, the match was stopped at the 60-minute mark (Regulation is 80 minutes) if a team is leading by eight or more goals. Eight of Xavier’s goals came in the first half.

Leonard and Thomason have played on the Utah Royals Football Club-AZ team.

The talent of Leonard became increasingly evident during her sophomore season, particularly in the late stages of the Gators’ run to the Division I championship.

She gained national notoriety when her long, high-arcing shot grazed the crossbar and eluded the Gilbert Perry goalkeeper for a stunning 1-0 victory in the semifinals. The shot was shown on video over and over again by ESPN as one of its Top 10 Plays of the Day.

Xavier went on to defeat Scottsdale Chaparral for the D-I title.

It is difficult not to notice Leonard, who already has committed to Notre Dame, and her strong leg. She had the power and distance against Mountain Pointe to help the Gators raise their record to 4-1-1.

Thomason seems to find a way to score by slipping past defenders while using solid footwork to do so. She and Leonard are among the team’s top scorers.

Xavier will hit the road for its next match, on Jan. 20 at Phoenix Pinnacle.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Gators ride another big wave in hoops victory

 A second lopsided win in as many nights should help the Xavier Prep basketball team’s collective mind, but the Gators need to play with the same aggressiveness and purpose against tougher opponents down the road, such as a battle with top-rated Surprise Valley Vista at Xavier on Jan. 19.

Twenty-four hours after Tuesday night’s (Jan. 11) 92-22 win over Chandler High, the Gators were back in the Activity Center and picked up where they left off, rolling to an 89-12 triumph over Phoenix South Mountain on Wednesday (Jan. 12).

The formula was the same – press the opponent into submission, hit the glass to secure rebounds or at least keep the ball alive, and employ a good shot selection.

Sophomore guard-forward Sarah Miller scored the team’s individual season high with 35 points on 17 of 24 shooting, including a 3-pointer. The basketball floor became a track meet for her and some of her teammates as they led the fast break. Miller also had 8 rebounds.

Junior shooting guard Sienna Cherwinski again was accurate from 3-point range. After dropping in five of the long shots against Chandler, she came back with four more against South Mountain as she totaled 17 points.

And sophomore point guard Dom Nesland scored 10 points and handed out 9 assists.

Xavier finished with 40 rebounds, and a pair of inside players, freshman CeCe Mlat and senior Toni Garcia, each had 3 blocked shots.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

XCP basketball overwhelms Chandler

 With an avalanche of 3-pointers and a torrent of steals, Xavier Prep’s basketball team decisively defeated visiting Chandler High 92-22 on Tuesday night (Jan. 11).

Xavier’s record improved to 8-4, while Chandler slipped to 10-7.

The Gators’ two previous games against Gilbert Perry and Chandler Basha had been postponed, so they came out with some pent-up energy to outscore the Wolves 36-0 in the first quarter. Sophomore point guard Dom Nesland scored 10 of her 16 points during that time frame and sophomore guard-forward Sarah Miller scored eight of her 19.

The chasm widened considerably to 53-5 at halftime. The Wolves did their best to keep up, but the decision would not be in doubt, and the clock was switched to a “running’’ format for the fourth quarter.

Xavier would finish with 10 3-point baskets (out of 23 attempts) and used its pressure defense to collect 32 steals.

Junior shooting guard Sienna Cherwinski was 5-of-10 from 3-point range and finished with a team-high 21 points. Sophomore guard Maureen Ulrich continued her steady improvement with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 9 steals. Freshman post player CeCe Mlat blocked four shots and grabbed 3 rebounds.

Xavier will have a quick turnaround on Wednesday (Jan. 12). The Gators will meet Phoenix South Mountain at 5:30 p.m., and that game will be preceded by a game between the schools’ junior varsity teams at 4 p.m.

In the latest Arizona Interscholastic Association power points rankings released on Wednesday, Xavier was No. 2 behind Surprise Valley Vista, the defending 6A Conference champion. Valley Vista defeated the Gators in last year’s semifinals, and the teams are due to meet on Jan. 19 at Xavier.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Xavier soccer can't seem to shake off rust

 When Xavier Prep’s soccer team stepped onto the field Monday night (Jan. 10) at Phoenix Desert Vista in Ahwatukee, it had been one month to the day that the Gators had played their previous match.

That scenario, particularly during the holiday time, might not always serve a team well. Teams might tend to find it a bit difficult to return to their productive style of play, as would be the case when the season starts and the players are trying to get used to each other.

Xavier played well in spots, but not enough to get past Desert Vista as the Thunder rode a goal just 4:56 into the second half to break a 1-1 tie and held on for a 2-1 victory.

It was the first loss of the season for the Gators, who at 3-1-1 are ranked No. 7 among 6A Conference teams by the Arizona Interscholastic Association after the release of its first power points list of the season on Tuesday (Jan. 11). Desert Vista (7-3-1) is No. 4.

Both teams kept trying to find ways to get the ball through a seam in their opponent’s defense in the first half.  Desert Vista broke the ice with 16:31 left before halftime on a goal by Emily Hermann.

Xavier tied it at 1 with 7:13 left in the half on a goal by senior Ansley Burns.

After Desert Vista took the lead with a goal by Mya Fortun in the second half, Xavier had a few opportunities to tie it again, but could not connect.

One shot was from point-blank range that was deflected by the Thunder’s goalkeeper, and another was a high-arcing shot that grazed the crossbar.

Xavier returns to action on Thursday (Jan. 13) with its first home match of 2022 at Petznick Field, a 6 p.m. contest against Phoenix Mountain Pointe. It also will be Senior Night, with the oldest Gators celebrating their soccer careers here.

Gators' Goforth listed among state's top runners

 Xavier  Prep senior runner Tatum Goforth, who finished eighth among individuals in the Division I state cross-country meet, has been recognized with an Honrable Mention selection in The Arizona Republic’s All-Arizona Team.

Xavier finished fourth among teams, behind state champion Gilbert Highland, Phoenix Desert Vista and Peoria Liberty.

Congratulations, Tatum !!

Friday, January 7, 2022

Soderstrom earns Republic volleyball honor

 Emma Soderstrom, a senior outside hitter at Xavier Prep, was among the Honorable Mention selections as The Arizona Republic on Friday (Jan. 7) announced its All-Arizona Girls Volleyball Team for 2021.

Twelve players were listed on the All-Arizona Team, and that qualified them for the Player of the Year honor. And long-time Phoenix Horizon coach Valorie McKenzie was named as the Coach of the Year. The players and coach will be honored at the end of the school year during the Arizona High School Sports Awards ceremonies.

Soderstrom had 337 kills, 372 digs, 40 service aces and 21 blocked shots to help the Gators post a 24-11 record.

Congratulations, Emma !!

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Basketball players love to run, love to play defense

 We are in a new year and that should allow Xavier Prep’s basketball team to erase most of the bad vibes from an 0-4 performance in the Nike Tournament of Champions just prior to the Christmas holiday.

A victory such as Xavier’s 61-45 triumph over visiting Anthem Boulder Creek on Tuesday night (Jan. 4) can put the Gators on the road to recovery.

Xavier raised its overall record to 7-4, while Boulder Creek dipped to 5-8.

The Gators’ point production was handled by five players, three of them in double figures.

Sophomore guard-forward Sarah Miller led the way with 24 points, sophomore guard Maureen Ulrich had 20 and sophomore point guard Dom Nesland had 12.

Xavier corralled an impressive 44 rebounds, including 11 each from Ulrich and junior forward Gabi Trbovic and 8 from Nesland. Six of Ulrich’s rebounds were at the offensive end as she maintained an aggressive approach.  And freshman post CeCe Mlat had 3 blocks and altered several other shots.

 “We knew we would have to stick with what we always do,’’ Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom said. “We love to run and we love to play defense. That is what we are used to and what we have to try to do.’’