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, February 25, 2022

Heart, guts, adrenalin carry soccer champ XCP

 Jayme Brown has made a living on the soccer field, particularly in recent seasons, as a defender for Xavier Prep. When she touched the ball, it was to keep it away from the opposing offense.

So the senior was understandably surprised when Gators coach Barb Chura approached her with an idea in overtime of Thursday night’s (Feb. 24) 6A Conference state championship game against Gilbert Perry at Gilbert Campo Verde.

Chura wanted to make sure all of her contingencies were covered and sensed that the contest might be decided on a penalty-kick shootout, where each team chooses five players to take a shot against the goalie, one-on-one against the goalkeeper, with the team making the most goals ruled the winner.

“She (Chura) said, ‘If we go to (penalty kicks), you’re 5 (last) kicker,’ ’’ Brown said. “I kind of said to myself, “Really?’ ’’

Yes, really.

“I said, “You’ve got a strong leg and you can do this,’ ’’ Chura said.

As you can probably tell by now, the game indeed did go to the shootout after two scoreless 40-minute halves, two scoreless 10-minute overtimes and two scoreless 5-minute sudden death overtimes.

There was an assortment of close scoring opportunities earlier in the game that did not come to fruition due to the ball striking the goal or the teams being called for offsides.

Perry kicked first. That could be good, or not so good. If you miss a kick and have one stopped, as Perry did, the pressure is on you.

Junior Bella Leonard was first up for the Gators. She was the one who kicked the last-second 50-yard goal to give XCP a win over Perry in last year’s semifinals.

Leonard scored, and senior Ansley Burns did the same. Some nifty goaltending by the Gator keeper, sophomore Kate Willmering, ninth-seeded XCP led 2-0. Perry came back with two goals to tie it before Willmering batted the fifth kick away.

It was time for Brown to make an impact.

She approached the ball, took a swing with her right leg and straight and true, the ball made it to the back of the net.

The white-clad Gators won 3-2 on kicks to earn the 12th soccer title in school history and the seventh under Chura.

Brown certainly was excited about her decisive goal.

“My little sister (Ally, a freshman on the team) and I always talked about how nice it would be for us to win a championship together,’’ Brown said. “And we were able to do it.’’

Chura said that she “is happy for our school and our fans. A lot of families came out to see us.’’

And the Gators always have relied on their resolve.

“Heart, guts and adrenalin,’’ Chura said.

One of those who had all three was Willmering. When the team convened for pre-season workouts, Chura was not sure how the goaltending would play out, particularly after the graduation of All-State player Jaden Campbell.

Campbell joined the team as a volunteer assistant and worked with the keepers.

“We told her (Willmering) that she needed to step up, did that with a few others at some point,’’ Chura said. “We did it to make them better. I think when she reached the point of her teammates believing in her, she kind of took off. She and her teammates came out and worked hard every day.’’


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