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.

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