How Xavier College Prep created dynasty in Arizona high school sports

Xavier College Prep stands as a beacon for success among Arizona high school sports with 151 state championships. (Photo by Brett Lapinski/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The year is 1973. Secretariat has won the unprecedented Triple Crown, the Miami Dolphins’ perfect season is complete, and the greatest sports dynasty in Arizona high school history is born.

During the 1973 girls swim and dive season, coach Mary Faith led her Xavier College Prep Gators to the first state championship in school history. Fast forward 50 years, and Xavier College Prep has amassed an additional 150 state championships – a feat no other single-sex or co-ed school has accomplished in Arizona.

Although the number of state championships is in the hundreds, the main reason behind the success stems from one legendary nun. Founded in 1943, Xavier is a private, Catholic all-girls school located in Central Phoenix.

Xavier College Prep’s golf team ranks as the school’s most decorated sports program with a total of 38 titles. (Photo by Brett Lapinski/Cronkite News)

Arriving in 1974, Sister Lynn Winsor took over the reins as Xavier’s golf coach. In doing so, Winsor built the most historic golf program in high school history. Before retiring at the start of the 2023 season, Winsor was at the helm of a national record 37 state championships – a mesmerizing run that included a national record of 16 consecutive state titles between 1980-1995.

Even with the departure of Winsor, the golf team is as strong as ever under head coach Tui Selvaratnam, who served as co-head coach with Winsor since 2011. The Gators are defending champs under Selvaratnam, but the future glory of the program can be traced to Winsor’s roots.

“She’s just amazing,” Selvaratnam said. “She has built such a rich history over the years that girls will keep coming year after year to be part of the tradition. She has made Xavier the place to be for golf.”

With tremendous success comes high expectations. The golf program has seemingly become married to success and, in a unique way, it is the fuel the players use to keep this marriage intact.

“The notion has become that the girls want to avoid being the team that doesn’t win it all,” Selvaratnam said. “At the same time, they know it’s about being part of a team and creating a sisterhood.”

While the golf program may be the house that Winsor built, she has also helped pave the way for other programs’ success throughout her current 47-year tenure as athletic director, a title she added to her resume three years after becoming the golf coach. To commemorate her legacy as both an athletic director and a coach, Winsor was inducted into the 2021 National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Hall of Fame and the 2023 National High School Hall of Fame.

Even though golf is the staple point of Xavier College Prep athletics, the dominance runs throughout numerous sports. The swim and dive (28), beach volleyball (8) and soccer (13) teams hold the most state championship victories in Arizona for their respective sport, while both tennis (19), volleyball (13), and cross country (10) sit in the top five among the state’s high schools.

The most recent state championship trophies for the indoor and beach volleyball teams sit together and represent two of a combined 21 titles. (Photo by Brett Lapinski/Cronkite News)

The Gators have chomped through the competition over multiple decades, but the early 2010s saw a state championship barrage like no other. The Gators brought home the top trophies in at least five different sports during each of the 2011-2012, 2012-2013, and 2013-2014 school years.

Selvaratnam – who also serves as an associate athletic director – believes the underlying cause of the school’s overall success is a “testament to the leadership of the coaches and the players’ hard work and willingness to learn.” However, she also notes one distinct factor as to why Xavier is so decorated

“We don’t recruit at all,” Selvaratnam said. “It is our history and what prior girls have done. Parents tell other parents what their child’s experience has been like here. That’s what helps us build our programs since we are getting more players every year who want to join this rich tradition.”

Tradition starts at the top, and Xavier has had a plethora of coaches who helped carry on that tradition over the years.

Gerry and Jeff Seaquist made a huge splash from 1985-2006, winning 10 swim and dive state championships each. Nancy Meyer served up six badminton titles, including a 54-0 three-peat from 2013-2015. As Meyer dominated the inside courts, Laurie Martin aced the outdoor ones. Martin brought home four straight tennis titles during an insane 74-0 run between 2012 and 2015 before grabbing her fifth in 2019.

From the present-day side of things, cross country coach Dave Van Sickle is officially hanging up the running shoes after this year, but he brings along an astounding 35-year legacy with his retirement. It’s a legacy that started a bit shaky.

“It was a process where I had to kind of build a culture from scratch,” Van Sickle said. “The first couple of years were a little rough trying to get girls to buy into running, but once they kept coming to practice and running more, they got hooked.”

The Gators won all 10 of their cross-country state championships under Van Sickle, with the first coming in 1995. However, the most notable one was Van Sickle’s latest in 2018, which came with a National Girls Cross Country Coach of the Year award.

Van Sickle praised the athletes’ hard work and leadership as the fundamentals for the program’s triumphs, but his abstract thinking played a huge role as well.

“We don’t have any feeder programs like some of our competition, so there never was any freshman that would come in as a superstar,” Van Sickle said. “Thus, when I was a P.E. teacher, I would bring all my classes out by the canal and time their mile every Friday. It ended up bringing in some more runners and gave me the idea to start my own running club with sixth graders. That’s when we started becoming ranked nationally.”

Shifting to the soccer pitch, coach Barb Chura has scored eight state championships for the Gators and currently holds a three-year title streak. Success blossoms from various methods, and Chura has one that may come as a surprise.

“I love practice,” Chura said. “I like practice better than games. If I’m able to just train everybody and help them get better, that’s what I like to see. I want them to be able to grow as a player.”

Xavier College Prep’s soccer team is defending a three-year state championship streak in hopes of extending its run during the 6A conference playoffs. (Photo by Brett Lapinski/Cronkite News)

Even with the immense success that the Gators have accomplished under Chura, she feels that she has the school’s prowess to thank for it.

“Before I even got here, this was a really good program,” Chura said. “After I leave, it will still be a really good program. I’ve said this before – this school is a magnet for people who want to have success.”

Out of all the memorable coaches, beach volleyball coach Tim McHale might have one of the more unique success stories, bringing home hardware for the Gators in two different sports.

Before his tenure as the beach volleyball coach, McHale had an illustrious run as the indoor volleyball coach, tallying six state championships before stepping down in 2012 and transitioning to a first-year beach volleyball program. McHale wasted no time bringing his coaching success to the sand as the Gators won the first beach volleyball state championship, setting the tone early that the Gators would be at the top of the food chain in yet another sport.

“After that first year, our goal became to create a beach volleyball program for other schools to look up to as an example of how to do it right,” McHale said.

The beach volleyball team’s goal has since become a reality as the Gators have added seven more state titles, leaving other coaches to wonder about Xavier’s secret.

“We had coach David Mietzner from Saguaro (High School) visit us as he was just taking over,” McHale said. “I took three of our girls and asked them to tell him the one thing they hope never changes about Xavier beach volleyball. They all said the community.”

Not only has Xavier established itself as a home to legendary coaches, but it’s also a breeding ground for Division I athletes and has produced multiple professional athletes. Some of the most notable names include Heather Farr and Khalia Lanier. Farr – a former LPGA tour member – was instrumental in making a name for Winsor and Xavier as a whole during the early 1980s. As for Lanier, she is currently on the USA Women’s National team for volleyball and plays professionally overseas in Italy.

Even though Xavier oozes success, the school’s values stretch far beyond simply trying to win. Senior beach volleyball player Abby Gliss has experienced the magic of Xavier for four years and has a message for anyone willing to be a part of the culture.

The softball program looks to build a dynasty of its own with its most recent state titles won in 2020 and 2021. (Photo by Brett Lapinski/Cronkite News)

“I think that Xavier helps anyone with any skill set,” Gliss said. “Looking back at my time here, I feel that I have become a better player and person through the bonds I’ve made, and the coaching I’ve received. There are just so many facets in which Xavier can help you succeed.”

In addition to the aforementioned powerhouse programs, some new dynasties may be in the cards for the Gators. The softball team recently won its first two titles (2021, 2022), and the basketball team is knocking on the door under Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Jennifer Gillom.

The flag football team just played its first fall season and already produced a playoff appearance with no plans of slowing down.

“We played very well,” coach Michael Patterson said. “We just made the quarterfinals, and the girls kept getting better and better throughout the season. I truly believe the sky’s the limit for them.”

In the meantime, however, the ongoing beach volleyball and tennis dynasties look to capture titles nine and 20 respectively this upcoming spring season while the soccer team aims to add a fourth straight title Saturday afternoon in a 6A state championship showdown versus Hamilton.

“Sometimes, it feels easy to take the championships for granted,” Selvaratnam said. “It’s gotten to the point where winning seems normal, even though it’s not. Other teams are fighting to win state championships just as much as us, so as long as we work hard and stay true to our culture, the success will continue.”

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