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.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Xavier hoops players become the Girls of Summer

 It will be about 4-5 months before the 2022-23 basketball regular season begins and we start to get a true idea of how good Xavier Prep’s Gators can be.

If you use the Gators’ performances as a measuring stick in three summer events, the latest wrapping up on Saturday night (June 25), there is a hint of optimism in the air.

Xavier finished 7-2 in the annual Thunderbird Summer League that culminated on Saturday night with a 51-35 victory over Phoenix Sunnyslope in the Blue Bracket title game. Xavier also was 2-0 in a recent Section 7 tournament appearance at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, and was 3-1 in the Lady Extravaganza tournament at Goodyear Millennium.

“This gives them (players) more confidence going into the season,’’ said Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom. “They can do it together if they stay focused and are more consistent.’’

Consistency will have to come out of necessity, given what appears to be a season-long knee injury to junior guard Sarah Miller, who emerged as one of the state’s top young talents last season.

Miller’s absence, plus junior point guard Dom Nesland’s intermittent participation in the summer due to club ball, gave an opportunity for some players who might not see as much playing time under normal circumstances to develop their skills in summer games.

That would be sophomore Lucy Sanford at the point, junior transfer Jasmine Olivar at guard, and a possible key reserve in the backcourt in sophomore Izzy Cerniglia, who seems very intent on earning herself a varsity roster spot.

Junior forward-guard Maureen “Mo’’ Ulrich made strides at both ends of the floor. She always has been a strong rebounder and defender, and now she is finding more ways to make an impact on offense.

Sophomore post player CeCe Mlat continues to evolve, and senior forward Gabby Trbovic has shown evidence that she is capable of being a big asset on offense.

Trbovich has been a decent shooter, sometimes hot and sometimes cold, but had not seen a consistency that the Gillom and the Gators have needed.

That was until recently in the T-Bird. In the last three games, she combined for close to 40 points, many of those on threes from along the baseline or the top of the key. She also has shown more aggressiveness with her rebounding and defense.

“She is a senior now and I think she realizes, “This is it for me’’ and knows that it’s time for her to step up,’’ Gillom said. “When she is shooting well, that helps spread the defense.’’

When the Gators flip the switch on defense, they play much better.

“You have that good defense and the offense follows it,’’ Gillom said. “We have been emphasizing that the whole summer.’’

So now the players will be able to relax a bit with a few pool parties and family vacations. And Gillom has plans to keep her summer routine intact.

That would be going back home to visit her mother out of state.

“Always good to see mama,’’ she said.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

XCP's blue hoops crew rises in Blue Bracket

 Call it coincidence, but Xavier Prep’s blue-clad Gators are nearing the championship game of the Blue Bracket in the Thunderbird Summer Basketball League.

The Gators stepped up in a big way on Friday night (June 24) with a 59-31 victory over Catholic rival Phoenix St. Mary’s to advance to Saturday’s (June 25) semifinals and, hopefully, title game.

Xavier (5-2 in the league) will face Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep at 4 p.m. in Thunderbird’s practice gym, next door to the main facility. A victory over Notre Dame would put the Gators in the title game at 8 p.m. in the main gym against either Anthem Boulder Creek or Phoenix Sunnyslope.

“We had a great effort at both ends (of the floor),’’ said Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom. “When we are playing like that, we can be hard to beat.’’

It also helps when the Gators get some productivity from their inside players instead of perhaps having to rely too much on their backcourt.

In this case, Xavier got 12 points from senior forward Gabby Trbovic and six from sophomore post player CeCe Mlat, who also had key blocked shots and rebounds.

“Those girls were huge out there tonight,’’ Gillom said. “That really helps us a lot.’’

Trbovic scored five of the team’s first seven points of the game, with her “patented’’ baseline shot as well as a give and go with senior guard Sienna Cherwinski.

Cherwinski led the Gators with 17 points. Junior guard-forward Maureen “Mo’’ Ulrich contributed 11 points.

Xavier totaled five three-point baskets, two each by Trbovic and sophomore point guard Lucy Sanford, and one by Cherwinski, who had missed some time previously due to summer school commitments, according to Gillom.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Hoops campers get comprehensive guidance

 The early summer is not a time for Xavier Prep’s Jennifer Gillom to get much relaxation. But that can be a good thing.

For most of June, the varsity basketball coach is multi-tasking. She leads the school’s varsity team in the evenings at the Thunderbird Summer League, and for two hours in the early afternoons for the week of June 20-23 puts younger players through their paces at XCP’s annual summer basketball camp in the Activity Center.

She has a good group of potential Gators for the camp, and gets assistance from some of her current Xavier varsity players – Lucy Sanford, Maureen Ulrich, CeCe Mlat, Gabby Trbovic, Gosi Alilonu and Annie Kopp.

There are about eight campers who will be entering their freshman year, eight more who are close behind in the eighth grade and a handful of younger players.

“There are some out here who have potential,’’ Gillom said.

It starts from the moment the players come through the door.

“Young players these days are more fundamentally sound than they were in the past,’’ Gillom said. “That is good. You don’t have to worry that much, just be able to work more on more advanced concepts and things they will be able to understand.’’

Some of the players will be ticketed for the JV-B (younger players/freshmen) and others for the JV-A (sophomores and perhaps a few juniors) this coming winter.

“We have ball-handling, shooting and running drills,’’ Gillom said. “We need work with our shooting form. We also are scrimmaging.’’

And there are various contests/drills to see which group can complete its task before anyone else. This draws enthusiasm for the varsity players such as the 6-foot-6 Mlat, a sophomore who ran along the sideline yelling encouragement and jumping into the air to give high fives.

“CeCe is really enjoying herself,’’ Gillom said, laughing.

“The thing about these older girls is that I think they are learning, too, and can pick up things they will be able to use in games later on, and to make good decisions.’’

Gillom prefers to play at a faster pace on both ends of the floor.

“I told ‘em I like to play the transition,’’ she said. “Get the ball out (from the basket to the wings) quickly and then score quickly. They are picking up on it. And to do this, you have to be emphasizing the footwork. These are things that they can practice the rest of the summer.’’

Xavier wins another, old hoops opponent awaits

 Xavier Prep’s basketball team wrapped up its “regular season’’ schedule in the Thunderbird (High) Summer League on Tuesday night (June 21) with a 43-31 victory over Phoenix Pinnacle, and now the Gators’ attention turns to an “old friend’’ with which they had a rivalry for many years.

Xavier (4-2 in the T-Bird) will meet fellow Catholic school Phoenix St. Mary’s as the summer league playoffs begin on Friday (June 24) at Thunderbird. The teams will have an 8 p.m. tipoff, with the winner moving on to the next round on Saturday (June 25) against Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep or Phoenix Horizon. Tipoff for the Saturday game is 4 p.m.

“We don’t know much about them (St. Mary’s) other than they are another team we are capable of beating,’’ said Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom.

St. Mary’s was on a three-season roll in the 2000-teens, winning state titles in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The last time Xavier defeated the Lady Knights was in the 2017-18 season with Gillom as coach. Xavier also earned victories in 2016-17, 2014-15 and 2013-14.

St. Mary’s is now in Arizona’s 4A Conference, while Xavier remains in 6A. Xavier has not won a state championship, but has come close, with back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2018 and 2018 under Gillom, in 1986 under John Chambers and in 1977 under athletic director Sr. Lynn Winsor.

Senior forward Gabby Trbovic energized the Gators early in the second half with a 3-point basket from the right corner. Xavier led by nine at that point, but Pinnacle came back within 28-26 when Xavier called a timeout.

Another corner trey by Trbovic got the Gators going again, and Xavier went on a 13-0 run to take control of the game.

Trbovic finished with a trio of threes and led XCP scorers with 11 points. Junior Jasmine Olivar had nine and junior Maureen “Mo’’ Ulrich and sophomore Lucy Sanford had eight each.

Asked what helped the Gators make that late push, Gillom said, “Defensive intensity is the key right now. We also want to go hard after rebounds, never let them (opponent) get comfortable.’’

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Gators wake up at just the right time

 Xavier Prep had dropped two of its first four basketball games in the Thunderbird Summer League and did not want another.

After building a 12-point lead over Peoria Sunrise Mountain in the first half and seeing the Mustangs rally to take the lead early in the second half, the Gators finally figured things out and went on to post a 48-33 victory on Monday night (June 20).

Xavier is now 3-2 entering its final “regular season’’ game on Tuesday night (June 21) at 7 against Phoenix Pinnacle. The Gators had a recent win over Pinnacle in the Section 7 tournament at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.

The T-Bird tournament shifts to a playoff format this weekend. Action for that begins on Friday (June 24) and continues Saturday (June 25).

In its opening game on Friday at 8 p.m., Xavier will play Catholic rival Phoenix St. Mary’s. The winner advances to a second-round game on Saturday at 4 p.m. against Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep or Phoenix Horizon. The winner of that second game would advance to the bracket championship game on Saturday at 8 p.m.

Xavier had a comfortable 12-point lead in the first half that wasn’t so comfortable after all as the advantage was reduced to five points at halftime, after which Sunrise Mountain actually moved in front early in the second half.

That stay was brief, however, as Xavier started to hit the boards and picked up the pace on offense in an 8-0 run.

“They were outmanning us on the boards and we decided to wake up,’’ said Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom.

Junior-to-be Maureen “Mo’’ Ulrich increased the team’s intensity on the glass. She produced putback attempts for herself or her teammates at the Xavier end of the floor and more rebounds at the Sunrise Mountain end proved to be beneficial as the Gators moved in for baskets to maintain momentum at their own end.

“She might be considered as a guard, but she is strong and tough at any position,’’ Gillom said of Ulrich.

Ulrich scored 23 points, and sophomore point guard Lucy Sanford scored 11.

Xavier also got a boost from senior reserve forward Annie Kopp, who scored a basket, helped out on the boards and fed senior Gabby Trbovic for a nice basket off an inbounds pass early in the second half.

“She did what she had to do, was aggressive, and that’s the kind of play we need from her,’’ Gillom said of Kopp.

Xavier was a bit short-handed in the backcourt. Junior point guard Dom Nesland did not play due to a club-team commitment, and senior shooting guard Sienna Cherwinski was not available to overall soreness, according to Gillom.



Friday, June 17, 2022

Nesland helps stabilize Gator summer hoops

Xavier Prep’s stay in the annual Section 7 Basketball Tournament was short-lived, but the Gators made the most of the time they did have with a pair of victories on Thursday (June 16) in the event at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.

The Gators defeated Phoenix Pinnacle 49-40 and Mesa High 64-48 and were due to play two more on Friday (June 17) but had to respectfully decline those games against Surprise Valley Vista and Coronado (Las Vegas) due to summer school commitments, according to Coach Jennifer Gillom.

Thursday’s play also marked the return of junior point guard Dom Nesland to the lineup. She played in the recent Lady Extravaganza tournament in Goodyear but was unavailable to play in the early portion of the Thunderbird Summer League in north Phoenix due to her participation in club competition out of state. She is expected to play when the Gators return to T-Bird in the coming week for a pair of games on Monday (June 20) and Tuesday (June 21).

So now, counting the Lady Extravaganza, the T-Bird league and the Section 7, the Gators are at 7-3. It certainly is something to build on.

And with fellow junior guard Sarah Miller out with a knee injury, Nesland appears to be a strong building block.

She scored 19 points in the win over Pinnacle and 23 in the win over Mesa. She basically was all over the floor and even left it momentarily in the first game when she crashed through an empty row of folding chairs along the side of the court.

The Gators’ shooting effort was one of their better ones of the summer, particularly with the long-range 3-pointers. They charted eight in the first game, including seven in the early part of the contest (16-minute halves were used). They came back for 10 more against Mesa.

With the 12-court setup for the event in the large open spaces of the stadium, one might think it could take awhile for the shooters to adjust with all the movement from other courts going on around them as well as the bright LED-type lighting.

Nesland was asked if she ever played in a similar environment.

She said she once played in an event such as this, but this took some getting used to.

“It wasn’t so much the movement surrounding you, it was more of the depth perception. You know, is the basket closer or farther?’’ she said.

She said it was good to see the 3’s dropping early in the first game.

“Yeah, sometimes you live by that, other times not,’’ she said.

Gillom said Nesland’s versatility “opens things up for us. It was good to see her back out there.’’

After the early run of 3’s, the Gators cooled off and Pinnacle was able to creep a bit closer.

“That was typical Xavier summer basketball,’’ Gillom said. “We need to learn to play a full game, not just three-fourths. It’s not a good way to do things.’’

Once the 3’s start clanking off the rim or simply drawing air, the players need to find something else.

“You have to be able to mix it up,’’ she said.

Sophomore guard Lucy Sanford did her part by hitting three 3’s.

Against Mesa, Xavier built a 10-point halftime lead after struggling late in the first half but regained its composure with six straight points to close it out on a 3 by Nesland, a follow shot by sophomore post player CeCe Mlat and a driving shot by junior guard Jasmine Olivar.

Xavier went on an 8-1 run to begin the second half to put things well in hand.

Olivar finished with 10 points and junior Maureen “Mo’’ Ulrich had 10 while continuing to work the boards.

“We did a much better job (than the first game) in both ends of the floor,’’ Gillom said.

The coach remains optimistic in regard to the development of the 6-foot-6 Mlat, who before coming to Xavier a year ago as a freshman had limited experience.

“We haven’t had many practices, so she has had to learn things while she’s playing (in games),’’ Gillom said. “She’s getting better out there and I think by the time the season starts (in late fall), she is going to be ready.’’

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Badminton "friends' discover details, put them to use

 With a good group of returnees and potential among last season’s junior varsity,  the future of Xavier badminton carries a good deal of optimism.

There might even be a player or two from a group participating in this summer’s badminton camp that could eventually add more stability to the team.

Second-year coach Brian McNerney was leading the players through various situations in the first of four days on Monday (June 13) that included learning about most of the equipment and putting oneself in the proper position to make the best shot.

While the players gripped their racquets, McNerney said that “mobility in the wrist creates power.’’

The campers worked on the basics of a serve. A maneuver that is successful due to a deft touch is the drop shot that barely clears the net and can make the opponents charge in.

And one of the favorite shots surely has to be the smash, which includes the coach’s claim of mobility in the wrist.

The group of about 11 campers then gathered for nearly an hour’s worth of competition, including some singles with a few doubles mixed in. He was assisted by a group of varsity and JV players from last season.

A key element of the return can be the backhand when trying to defend your side of the court and perhaps put the bird out of reach of the opponent would be the backhand.

“Most of this will get better with time,’’ McNerney told the group.

“It’s exciting for the girls to be out here. They are learning a lot about the game in a short time period and making a few new friends.’’

Summer basketball victory takes the (cup)cake

 It’s kind of hard to imagine a simple summer basketball league game having as much emotion as this one, but the evidence was there for everyone to see.

Coach Jennifer Gillom’s Xavier Prep Gators defeated Phoenix Sunnyslope 33-18 on Monday night (June 13) in the Thunderbird Summer League in north Phoenix, and it was a big turnaround after the Gators let a 15-point lead slip away in a loss to Goodyear Millennium in their previous game.

Gillom was excited about the reversal, but the emotion came out in the tears coming down her face and the hugs from her players and former players.

It was her birthday.

Wearing pointed party hats and big smiles, the players serenaded her with “Happy Birthday,’’ everyone munched on cupcakes and Gillom took a breath to extinguish a candle on hers. There were plenty of cell selfies to go around, and a former Gator player, Addie Putnam (Class of ’19), showed up with a bouquet of yellow flowers.

“That’s what I enjoy about coaching this team,’’ Gillom said. “Everybody supports the coaches and the coaches support the girls. It’s nothing less than 100 percent.’’

Most of the points against Sunnyslope came from the backcourt, with four three-pointers. Sophomore Lucy Sanford scored eight points, junior Maureen Ulrich had seven, and senior Sienna Cherwinski had five.

Gillom got some quality playing time from 6-foot-6 sophomore CeCe Mlat, with possibly the most time she has logged in a game (regular season or summer) since joining the program a year ago.

“She’s still learning, but she is getting more and more into the flow,’’ Gillom said. “Her defense is good, but it’s improving still and I think she’s starting to realize that she can become a capable offensive threat.’’

Xavier is 2-2 in T-Bird play with two games to go next week, against Peoria Sunrise Mountain and Phoenix Pinnacle.

Also, coming up before that will be some action to finish up this week.

On Wednesday (June 15), the Gators will play host to a team from Montana in a scrimmage.

Then, on Thursday (June 16) and Friday (June 17), Xavier will play in the Section 7 Camp tournament at the Arizona Cardinals’ State Farm Stadium home in Glendale. The Gators will play twice on Thursday at 4:30 and 8 p.m., with two more on Friday. A portion of that schedule may be altered to accommodate some academic testing on the Xavier campus.


Friday, June 10, 2022

Learning basics key for young volleyball campers

 During the month of June, Xavier Prep has quite a few summer sports camps from which athletes can choose, and one of the most popular is indoor volleyball.

XCP head coach Lamar-Renee Bryant, her assistant coaches and a handful of varsity players who will be back this fall have been working in the Activity Center during the week of June 6 with seventh and eighth graders during the midday hours and incoming freshmen in midafternoon. Starting on Monday (June 13) they will begin a four-day session at midday with fifth and sixth graders.

Bryant watched the 25 future freshmen go through their paces and was pleased with their athleticism and willingness to learn the Xavier Way. She said that many will report for official tryouts, which are expected to total about 60, as the calendar moves toward September.

Part of the summer volleyball camp process is learning how to wear Xavier Gator Blue (photos by Anna Panagiotakopoulos).

About 10 of the freshmen campers also signed up for additional duties as part of the beach volleyball camp at XCP’s nearby Cavanaugh Courts. Those are held in the early mornings before the heat becomes more of a factor.

“This is a good athletic group we have here,’’ Bryant said.

She added that the players enjoy working with the varsity returnees in terms of learning what to expect at Xavier and how they might fit into the equation.

“It helps our older girls, too, to be able to share their knowledge and give advice,’’ Bryant said.

One of the key returnees will be senior Ava Larkin, a setter and right-side hitter. She said she is in her eighth year to be involved with the summer camps.

“We want to make sure these girls feel welcome,’’ Larkin said. “This will help them have a better experience. When I was younger and I was here, it was great for the older girls to have helped me.’’

A handful of returning varsity players, such as Finley Workman (13) and Olivia Lenz (4), provided assistance to Gators head coach Lamar-Renee Bryant.

Incoming freshman Mattea Saunders first joined the summer camps a year ago.

She wants to treat everyone like she was taught – “be encouraging to everyone and be a good teammate.’’

Like many fellow campers, she has played club, but feels she can benefit from the Xavier experience as well as the club.

Incoming freshman Mattea Saunders (pink) got plenty of work with serves, above, and setting for her teammates, below.

The one position she would like to focus on is libero (you can never have too many quality defensive players like that).

“We are learning a lot out here,’’ she said. “You just want to be consistent all the way around.’’

Her fellow campers undoubtedly would agree.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Big lead evaporates, Millennium edges XCP hoops

 Whatever Xavier Prep’s basketball Gators did in the first half of their Thunderbird Summer League game against Goodyear Millennium on Wednesday night (June 8), they could not repeat in the second half.

By the time the contest was over, the 15-point Xavier lead at halftime had disappeared and Millennium put its victory stamp on the Gators 47-45, outscoring Xavier 30-13 after intermission.

Xavier slipped to 1-2 in T-Bird summer play, with three “regular season’’ games remaining – against Phoenix Sunnyslope on June 13, Peoria Sunrise Mountain on June 20 and Phoenix Pinnacle on June 21. Counting its four games in the recent Lady Extravaganza tournament, Xavier is 4-3.

Xavier hit nine 3-pointers for the game, but most were in the first half. Only one was in the second half.

Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom likes to say that offense starts with defense, which was a key for the Gators in the first half. It was if they knew what the Tigers’ every move would be and utilized great footwork and quick hands.

Not in the second half, however.

Figuring it had nothing to lose, Millennium turned up the intensity in the second half and played strong defense of its own.

Xavier appeared timid at times, unsure what to do with the ball. On defense, the Gators looked like a different team, slow to react in many instances.

Guards led the way for Xavier on offense.

Incoming junior transfer Jasmine Oliver scored 14 points, including a pair of threes. Senior Sienna Cherwinski scored 12, all on threes.

So now it is back to the drawing board, and we will see how the Gators respond to the adversity.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Gators' coach has to mix and match in summer hoops

 These are the times that try coaches’ souls.

Particularly in basketball summer leagues. Since participation by the players is pretty much voluntary, a coach is not sure what they will get from one game to the next.

Except for one injury, Xavier Prep coach Jennifer Gillom had close to a full roster for the recent Lady Extravaganza tournament in Goodyear.

With the Gators’ attention turning to the annual Thunderbird Summer League at Thunderbird High in north Phoenix, Xavier played its first game against Glendale Deer Valley on Monday night (June 6) with more missing pieces, forcing Gillom to negotiate the mix-and-match, followed by more mix-and-match.

The noteworthy injury (Sarah Miller knee) was still there, and likely will be for quite some time. Two key guards – Sienna Cherwinski (scholastic tests) and Dom Nesland (club team action) also were absent, and forward-guard Gosi Alilonu suffered what appeared to be an ankle injury that might cost her a game or two.

Still, Xavier came very close to pulling this one out before being nipped at the wire by the Skyhawks, 44-43.

Newcomer Jasmine Olivar (transfer from Fort Thomas), sophomore holdover Lucy Sanford and JV call-up Izzy Cernliglia shared time in the backcourt. And Maureen Ulrich, normally a tough-as-nails, rebounding forward-type, occasionally assumed some of the ball-handling duties.

So the Gators move on to another game on Tuesday night (June 7) against Cave Creek Cactus Shadows at 9 o’clock. A third game in as many days will be played on Wednesday (June 8) with a 6 p.m. contest against Goodyear Millennium.

Olivar led the XCP scorers with 14 points.

The Gators trailed by 13 points early in the second half  and rallied to take a 31-29 lead on a basket by Olivar. Deer Valley then regained the lead briefly and back and forth it went,

Deer Valley then converted a handful of free throws for the decisive one-point triumph.

“We didn’t have a lot of people but we were still in the game,’’ Gillom said. “Deer Valley is one of the better teams in this league.

“We have a bunch of “scrappers.’ They play hard every minute. I like it. If you can have a moral victory at this time of year, I guess you might say we got one.’’

Monday, June 6, 2022

3 Gators in race for spring Players of the Year

 Only a few days remain before Saturday’s (June 11) annual azcentral Sports Awards gala at Arizona State’s Gammage Auditorium, and Xavier Prep has three athletes meriting strong consideration for spring sports Players of the Year.

Two senior softball players who helped Xavier capture its second straight 6A Conference state championship were named All-Arizona, allowing them to qualify for the Player of the Year honor.

They are pitcher Riley Flynn and shortstop Bridget Donahey.

Flynn finished with a 21-3 record and 215 strikeouts and hit .418 with four home runs and 22 RBIs for the Gators. She pitched a no-hitter against Phoenix Desert Vista in the state tournament, and finished her career with a 61-9 record.

Donahey hit 14 home runs with a .524 average and played solid defense throughout the season to help stabilize the Gators’ infield.

Xavier also had an honorable mention selection – sophomore infielder Lauren Putz.

And Gators coach Brad Downes was among the top candidates for Coach of the Year.

XCP’s tennis team had another strong season under coach Laurie Martin, finishing as Division I state runner-up to Scottsdale Desert Mountain.

Leading the way for the Gators through most of the spring was senior Ryan Kershner, who is an All-Arizona selection and Player of the Year candidate.

She often faced the opponent’s top singles player and then turned around to play doubles with sophomore Danielle Dyer. That combination won the state individual doubles title.

Dyer was named as an Honorable Mention, as was senior Victoria Chrostowski, and Martin was a finalist for the Coach of the Year honor.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Gators finish 3rd in their Lady Ex hoops bracket

 Followers of Xavier Prep’s basketball team think their team will have a chance to make a run at the 6A Conference state championship this coming winter.

However, followers of Phoenix Desert Vista feel the same way about their team.

Those two teams squared off on Saturday (June 4) in the Gold Bracket of the 9th annual Lady Extravaganza tournament at Goodyer Millennium.

The teams traded baskets throughout, before Desert Vista got the upper hand with a late-game sequence that produced a 43-40 victory.

Xavier had pulled even at 39 as the running clock continued to tick, and could have taken the lead but could not convert on four straight shots. Desert Vista gained possession and took the lead for good with its free-throw shooting.

That put Xavier in the game for third place in the Gold Bracket opposite Peoria Sunrise Mountain, which was playing back-to-back after a setback to host Millennium to begin the day.

The Mustangs gave it all they had, but Xavier, with a break of an extra hour between games, salvaged the third-place designation with a 60-54 victory.

Xavier finished with a 3-1 record in this year’s Lady Ex, the same record it had in the tournament in 2021.

There were things that the Gators could have done better – all teams can say that – but coach Jennifer Gillom was pleased with her team’s play, considering that the team really had only one practice to prepare to face some of the state’s top teams.

“We would have liked to have won that (Desert Vista) game, but I am happy that things turned out the way they did,’’ Gillom said.

Junior point guard Dom Nesland scored 12 points against Desert Vista and 14 against Sunrise Mountain. Junior forward-guard Maureen “Mo’’ Ulrich combined for 18 points in both games and hit the boards aggressively all day. Senior guard Sienna Cherwinski combined for 21 points.

If there was one player who perhaps stood out more than others was sophomore guard Lucy Sanford. She has come a long way since her freshman season and her playing time is expected to increase. At 5-foot-4, she isn’t intimidated by the bigger girls, has a nice mid-range shot along with longer range, and can slip inside for rebounds. She combined for 15 points.

“Lucy is getting better and better. She was huge for us out there today,’’ Gillom said.

So it was a good place to start for the Gators. Now they turn their attention to the annual Thunderbird Summer League in north Phoenix that begins on Monday (June 6). Xavier will play three games during the week, against Glendale Deer Valley, Cave Creek Cactus Shadows and Millennium. Xavier’s junior-varsity team also will be participating.

“As we get better this summer and get ready for the season, “I think we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with,’’ Gillom said.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Xavier hoops makes strong run in tourney at new gym

 On paper, it seems like not much will change for high school basketball teams from one season to the next, with summer tournaments and leagues in between.

But in reality, there might be more to it than meets the eye.

Take Xavier Prep’s Gators, for instance. They lost just one senior to graduation from their 6A Conference semifinal team, but enter the summer stretch with a few fresh faces and one of its top players sidelined with a knee injury.

That can make for some uncertainty. So the Gators took two of the three floors at Goodyear Millennium’s new $16.5 million gymnasium complex and proceeded to emerge unscathed with a 2-0 record in the 9th annual Lady Extravaganza tournament on Friday (June 3).

Xavier defeated Mesa Westwood 62-30 in its first game of the day, and after a two-hour break rallied to overtake Tucson Salpointe Catholic, 42-36.

The Gators move on to the Gold Bracket and are due to play two more games on Saturday (June 4) at Millennium. Tournament director Marc Beasley of Monarch Sports was feverishly working on the math from Friday’s Pool games to see which teams offered the best matchups.

Games will be at 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.

Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom was pleased by her team’s win over Westwood, and was feeling even better after the rally over Salpointe.

The 12-team tournament features the defending state champions in 6A (Surprise Valley Vista), 5A (Millennium) and 4A (Salpointe) and the 6A runner-up (Gilbert Perry).

The rest of the field certainly is no slouch with Xavier, Peoria Sunrise Mountain, Gilbert High, Chandler Hamilton, Mesa High, Chandler Seton Catholic, Phoenix Desert Vista and Westwood.

After the win over Westwood, Gillom said, “It was a good appearance with both sides of our team (offense and defense). Our communication skills are the key. When you have those, it makes you so much better.’’

Against Salpointe, Xavier jumped to a 10-0 lead, due mainly to a pair of three-point baskets by junior-to-be Dom Nesland and another from long range by senior-to-be Sienna Cherwinski.

But you just knew that Salpointe was not going to roll over, and the Lancers didn’t.

They rallied for a two-point halftime lead (20-minute halves with a running clock, as well as the new 35-second shot clock that will be implemented this winter.

Salpointe held a 29-21 lead about halfway through the second half. Xavier made a run to tie it at 31 on a three by Nesland, but one might have wondered if the Gators used up their energy in pulling even and might not have enough to complete the deal because the Lancers came back to lead by four.

A three by Cherwinski and a three-point play off a drive by Nesland put Xavier ahead for good, 37-35, at the 2:23 mark. Salpointe was then forced to foul, and the Gators made five of the next six free throws.

Junior-to-be guard-forward Sarah Miller has been sidelined with a sore knee, meaning sophomore Lucy Sanford and junior newcomer Jasmine Olivar will pick up the slack. Olivar looks to have some decent skills and comes over from 1A Fort Thomas in central Arizona after she helped her team to a runner-up finish last season and a title during her freshman year.

Gillom also likes the potential of incoming freshman guard Arianna Showater from the Tucson area.

“The girls found a way to win this one (Salpointe). We also have a strong bench and that helps the starters play with more energy when they come back in,’’ Gillom said. “We (coaches) are proud of this team and what we did today.’’

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Basketball season never seems to end for Gators

 Basketball has become a virtual year-round sport for many schools in Arizona, including Xavier Prep’s Gators.

XCP will begin its summer journey on Friday (June 3) with its participation in the annual Lady Extravaganza Tournament, which this year will be held at the new multi-million mega gym complex at Millennium High in the west Valley community of Goodyear.

Xavier is one of 12 teams participating. The Gators begin play with two pool games in Pool C, which also includes Tucson Salpointe Catholic and Mesa Westwood. Xavier will face Westwood on Friday at 4 p.m. and Salpointe at 7 p.m.

After Friday’s play, the field will be re-evaluated and teams will be seeded into three four-team divisions. Most teams are expected to play two games on Saturday (June 4). Games are tentatively scheduled for noon, 1 and 2 p.m.

Coach Jennifer Gillom will get the chance to evaluate her roster at this early stage. The Gators lost only one senior to graduation (Toni Garcia), but the rest of the roster is expected to return.

The Gators’ top players are expected to be (2022-23 year in parentheses), guard Sarah Miller and point guard Dom Nesland (both juniors), forward-guard Maureen Ulrich and guard Sienna Cherwinski (senior).

Xavier, which reached the 6A Conference semifinals last season and finished 19-6, also will play in the annual Thunderbird High Summer League in north Phoenix. The Gators are expected to play six regular-season games there plus playoffs. Xavier will play games on June 6, 7, 8, 13, 20 and 21.

The schedule opens with Glendale Deer Valley on June 6, followed by Cave Creek Cactus Shadows (7), Millennium (8), Phoenix Sunnyslope (13), Peoria Sunrise Mountain (20) and Phoenix Pinnacle (21).