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 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.’’

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