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.

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.’’

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