Football is in the air. The excitement of a new high-school sports season is running high and no one can argue with the fact that this is the time of year that the game reserved for the male athlete will get the lion’s share of attention and publicity.
But, at the high-school level, it’s an all-girls school that annually stakes out a major claim on the next couple of months in Arizona. Xavier Prep owns the mountain that the other schools in Division I must climb if they want to compete in any of the three ‘other sports’ taking place right now.
The small Catholic school in central Phoenix is universally recognized as the team to beat when it comes to girls’ golf, cross country, or swimming & diving. It’s a frustration that has plagued the other schools across the state for too many years to think about.
It has been 14 years now since any other school has been able to wrest the state championship in golf from the Gators and six years since Xavier relinquished their hold on the cross country team title. And in golf, the Gators have won their last 181 matches.
That’s about all the evidence you need to be able to apply the word ‘dynasty’ to any of those sports.
So here’s the good news-bad news scenario for the rest of the schools. Actually, there is no good news. Xavier is poised for another run to the roses in all three sports – despite losing talent to the annual drain of graduation.
The sport that generally gets the most visibility among the three probably took the biggest hit when Sarah Fakler graduated last year after dominating cross country and track distance events for the past three years. The 5’5″ energizer bunny won three state titles in cross country, was undefeated her last two years, and was a three-time winner of the Gatorade Arizona Cross Country Runner of the Year.
And before her it was Jessica Tonn who dominated the sport while running for Xavier Prep. This year, there doesn’t appear to be a Fakler or Tonn in the line-up, but the Gators are deep enough to win it all again. More than likely, Xavier’s senior duo of Samantha Mattice and Shelby Brown will lead the way to another team championship and may very well end up fighting it out for this year’s individual state title as well.
In golf, Xavier actually owns 27 state team titles, but it’s the last 14 straight that are top-of-the-mind.
And to provide a little insurance that the streak continues, Xavier went out before last season and hired Brian Hoffer to take over the program. Hoffer was the University of Missouri swim coach for 18 years and now brings that experience to a top high-school program.
All but one of the components of the state championship 200 medley relay team that racked up plenty of points the past few years for the Gators has graduated, but Maddy Brandt returns from that foursome to provide the base for a new team and also to go after an individual title in the butterfly and the 200 IM.
Brandt might be the closest thing to a ‘star’ on this year’s squad since they have graduated a lot of Division I talent, but Hoffer feels he has the talent this season across the board to run up the points.
And that talent level is what will sustain the Gators’ golf program as well. The Gators return four golfer from last year’s championship team, including three top-10 individual finishers at state. Hannah O’Sullivan is the reigning individual state champion, Arianna Macioce finished fifth at state, and Madison Kerley was right behind in seventh place.
It’s not good news for the rest of the schools. But they adjusted to the idea a long time ago.