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, November 18, 2022

Xavier basketball team ready to make its move

 For five of the last six years, Surprise Valley Vista took over the 6A Conference state basketball tournament, winning the championship five times during that time frame.

But now comes a global warming of sorts, and the Monsoon might not be as powerful as they have been.

So that might just open things up for some other team, perhaps Xavier Prep, to swoop in and grab the first title in the school’s history.

The Gators are among the favorites listed by XCP is a legitimate contender.

Xavier, which finished 19-6 last season after falling to Gilbert Perry in the semifinals, opens the new season in the two-day Scorpion Shootout tournament at Goodyear Desert Edge, on the two days following Thanksgiving.

The Gators will face host Desert Edge in the opener on Nov. 25, followed by a second contest shortly thereafter. Two more games will come on Saturday, with opponents being determined by what occurs on the first day.

Xavier will follow that up with another road contest at the large brand-new facility at Goodyear Millennium on Dec. 1. The Gators’ first home game will be Dec. 6 against Phoenix Sunnyslope.

Xavier will start the season behind the eight ball of sorts after having lost star junior swing guard Sarah Miller to a knee ligament tear that was expected to keep her out for this entire season.

But that last part, however, might not be entirely true.

The 5-foot-10  Miller, listed among the state’s top prospects, has been in rehabilitation mode with a feverish pitch behind the scenes recently and there are whispers that she could return to action for the Gators when the calendar flips to 2023.

“If you see some of the workouts she has been doing, you would say, “No way,’ ’’ said Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom. “On one of them, she jumps flat-footed, straight up on a desk, back down and up again a number of times.’’

Miller averaged 20.4 points and 5.1 rebounds last season. If she is slowed for whatever reason, Xavier will have an energetic group of guards to help compensate. They can handle the ball, pass the ball, shoot it and take it away from opponents.

“Our first 10 group is fast and works so well together,’’ Gillom said. “You have the first five and the second five and you can sub in and out and the pace never changes.’’

Junior point guard Dom Nesland will be running the Gators' offensive show (Photos by Don Ketchum).

Junior Dominique Nesland already is being courted by numerous colleges.

Nesland averaged 13.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.2 steals. Those numbers could continue to climb.

She has had some unofficial visits to military schools in the East (Navy and Army), and hopes to have the number of offers down to 20 by April or so.

The high school game itself, she says, “Is really fast, although you might not think so. ‘’

It figures to become much faster with the addition of a new 35-second shot clock.

Nesland said she has improved her shooting since last season through club ball.

”I can look for that 15-footer (jump shot) and be focused on that. Last year, I wasn’t as confident in it as I am now. I can also shoot the 3s (3-pointers) or have a few lay-offs (passes to inside players for higher-percentage shots).’’

The T-shirt worn by senior Sienna Cherwinski features a key element "We defend.''

Another key backcourt player is 5-9 senior shooter-defender Sienna Cherwinski. Some days, it seems as if she has been around the program forever.

Cherwinski is of Latin American descent and earlier this year played in a Basketball Without Borders Americas camp at San Luis, Potosi, Mexico.Top Latina prospects from other countries participated. Cherwinski’s mother, Yenni, is a native of Colombia. Cherwinski also participated in another similar camp in Atlanta.

“There were a lot of good players there and it took a lot out of you physically and mentally,’’ she said. “Hopefully, I can put some of what I learned to use this season.’’

She always has been a good shooter and now believes she is even better. As a senior, she wants to be a better leader.

“You have to work hard and trust your teammates. They need to trust in each other,’’ she said.

Junior point guard Jasmine Olivar, a transfer from Fort Thomas, will provide stability in the backcourt.

Another guard with a dynamic pedigree of her own is 5-7 junior Jasmine Olivar, who is one of the team’s newest players.

She joined the team during summer league play at Thunderbird High in north Phoenix and has continued to build on that.

In the summer league and again for the Gators in preseason workouts, Olivar looks like she fits right in.

She hails from the central Arizona Native American community of Fort Thomas, where she led the Apaches to the 1A Conference state title as a freshman two years ago and was the conference’s Player of the Year. Last season, she led Fort Thomas to a state runner-up finish against Rock Point and was the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.

She said she wanted to enhance her academics and had heard about Xavier, so she applied for a scholarship and was approved toward the end of the last school year.

“The time since I started here has been really exciting,’’ she said. “The summer was a transition and I have learned there is higher competition on the court and in academics. It has allowed me to challenge myself.

“When I have been on the court, I have always looked for an open shot if it is there, or for the open pass, which I am still doing. There is still a lot to learn, and I think I am doing well and am having fun. My teammates have been great to work with and have been helpful.’’

Three more key players for the Gators will be 5-10 junior guard-forward Maureen Ulrich, 6-6 junior post player CeCe Mlat and 6-4 freshman forward Irene Noelle Guiamatsia.

Mlat could be considered at the top of the list of improved players. In past games, she was uncertain about grabbing the ball on rebounds or giving the ball to teammates at the right time, and unsure about moving on the floor in general.

Now she is running the floor much better, getting into the flow, looking for shots near the basket and shooting with confidence, and playing more aggressively on defense.



Head coach – Jennifer Gillom. Assistant coaches – Patrick Mangosing, Bethany Roessler. Assistant – Angie Vecchiarelli. Athletic trainers – Laurie White, Hannah Duszynski.

(Numbers subject to change)

1, Lucy Sanford, 5-4, So., PG

2, Isabella Cerniglia, 5-8, So., G

3, Jasmine Olivar,5-7, Jr., G

5, Sienna Cherwinski, 5-9, Sr., G

10, Maureen Ulrich, 5-10, Jr. G

11, Athiel Mlat, 6-6, Jr., C

12, Ava Portilla, 5-4, Fr., G

13, Gabriela Trbovic, 6-2, Sr., F

14, Emily Manuelito, 5-7, Sr., G

15, Gosi Alilonu, 5-10, Jr., F

21, Annie Kopp, 6-0, Sr., C

22, Dominique Nesland, 5-9, Jr. PG

24, Sarah Miller, 5-10, Jr., G

52, Irene Noelle Guiamatsia, 6-4, Fr., F


(Game times subject to change)

Fri., Nov. 25 – 2 games, Scorpion Shooutout @ Goodyear Desert Edge. Game #1, vs. Goodyear Desert Edge, 9 a.m. (main); Game #2, winner or loser’s bracket, noon, (main or auxiliary).

Sat., Nov. 26 – 2 games, Scorpion Shootout @ Goodyear Desert Edge, Times TBA.

Thurs., Dec. 1 -- @ Goodyear Millennium, 7 p.m.

Tues., Dec. 6 – Phoenix Sunnyslope, 7 p.m.

Sat., Dec. 10 -- @ Sierra Vista Buena, 3 p.m.

Mon., Dec. 19 – Nike Tournament of Champions @ Bell Bank Park, Mesa, Times TBA

Tues., Dec. 20 – Nike Tournament of Champions @ Bell Bank Park, Mesa, Times TBA

Wed., Dec. 21 – Nike Tournament of Champions @ Bell Bank Park, Mesa, Times TBA

Thurs., Dec. 22 – Nike Tournament of Champions @ Bell Bank Park, Mesa, Times TBA

Wed., Jan. 4 – Chandler High, 7 p.m.

Thurs. Jan. 5 -- @ Anthem Boulder Creek, 7 p.m.

Tues., Jan. 10 – Gilbert High, 7 p.m.

Thurs., Jan. 12 – Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor, 7 p.m.

Fri., Jan. 13 -- @ Chandler Basha, 7 p.m.

Mon., Jan. 16 – MLK Day Game vs. Phoenix Desert Vista @ Tempe Marcos de Niza, 11:45 a.m.

Wed., Jan. 18 -- @ Chandler Hamilton, 7 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 21 – Gilbert Perry @ Brophy Prep, 5:30 p.m.

Thurs., Jan. 26 – Chandler Hamilton, 7 p.m.

Fri., Jan. 27 – Chandler Basha, 7 p.m.

Tues., Jan. 31 -- @ Chandler High, 7 p.m.

Thurs,, Feb. 2 – Gilbert Perry, 7 p.m.


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