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, April 28, 2022

O'Connor shows Gators how it's done, takes beach title

 The court is adjourned.

It is an interesting way to describe a high school that carries the name of a long-time Supreme Court justice from Arizona in its endeavor to win an athletic state championship.

So, top-seeded Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor let the gavel drop on No. 2 Xavier Prep to win the Division I beach volleyball title on Wednesday night (April 27) 4-1 at Casteel High in Queen Creek.

Xavier (13-2) had won eight of the previous crowns in the nine-year history of the sport, including a triumph over Sandra Day O’Connor for the trophy in 2021. Sandra Day O’Connor finished 15-1 this season.

If you look into the eyes of Sandra Day O’Connor players and those of Xavier players over the years, you can tell that they are focused to the point where just about every shot goes where it is supposed to and nearly every defensive maneuver is successful.

“That’s why a team like O’Connor is so exceptionally talented,’’ said Xavier coach Tim McHale. “Tonight, you could tell it. They made a number of adjustments. We made some, too, but they were able to make theirs work more often.’’

The fact that Sandra Day O’Connor has about eight players, including an underclassman or two, who already have committed to the Division I college level, also helps.

McHale said he doesn’t automatically assume his team will add to its title trophy collection each year, but he always thinks the Gators’ chances are good. That included this season, despite a 5-0 shutout at the hands of Sandra Day O’Connor on March 30.

“This game is played at a high, emotional level, and with that, the risk is high,’’ McHale said.

“I’m not going to lie. This hurts. Always, always. Saying that, you know things like this are going to happen sometimes.’’

For most of the season, McHale has had to endure the pitfalls of having a torn Achilles’ that required surgery. He has pushed himself along on a small cart device. It works on a smooth surface, but not so much on sand, so he has to stay in one spot during the matches and have his players come to him for instructions during timeouts, etc. All of this adds to the fatigue factor.

The Xavier players kept the tears away immediately afterward, but let the water flow later.

“I didn’t think I would cry like this,’’ one said.

The Eagles were on their game from the beginning, particularly with the 5s and 4s pairs. It was almost as if they surprised the Gators, who fell behind and could not catch up.

Sandra Day O’Connor freshman Olivia LeBlanc, already listed as one of the nation’s top players in some publications, and sophomore Piper Rama look to be No. 1 material down the road. Their win over Xavier in the No. 3 pairs mathematically clinched the match and the title, and the world stopped briefly as teammates and fans sent pink and white streamers high into the air.

The clinch occurred as the No. 2 pairs were being conducted on an adjacent court. It was the site of Xavier’s best effort of the match, and only victory, by sophomore Trinity Tran and senior Katie Anthony, 23-21 and 21-15 over Sandra Day O’Connor’s Tristin Smith and Sophia Myers.

Eagles No. 1s Margo Smith and Sydnee Broadway put a pink ribbon on the proceedings with a 21-14, 21-19 win over Xavier senior Landree Coats and junior Summer McCann.

So we will see what happens if the teams reconvene in 2023.

2022 Division I beach volleyball state championship

Wednesday, at Queen Creek Casteel

Sandra Day O’Connor 4, Xavier Prep 1

No. 1 pairs – Margo Smith-Sydnee Broadway, SDO, def. Landree Coats-Summer McCann, X, 21-14, 21-19.

No. 2 – Trinity Tran-Katie Anthony, X, def. Tristin Smith-Sophia Myers, SDO, 23-21, 21-15.

No. 3 – Olivia LeBlanc-Piper Rama, SDO, def. Noelle Peterson-Mei Tsou, X, 21-11, 21-13.

No. 4 – Liana Huesca-Sarah Lewis, SDO, def. Alexa Shiner-Tiffany Tellez, X, 21-14, 21-14.

No. 5 – Reese Holtorf-Ashlyn Rough, SDO, def. Lauren Vanderwey-Maddie MacDonald, X, 21-11, 21-16.




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