Saturday, October 31, 2009

Highlights from Video Distributed on Senior Night

Photos courtesy of Terry Bleiler, Donna Larsson, and Don Norris.


Having opinions exposes authors to criticism. Sometimes opinions are wrong, too, including mine. The novelist Anatole France once said, "If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."

What comes in the long-term interest of Melrose volleyball?
  • I'd love to see the program win a state championship, the ultimate validation for the hard work of the players and coaches, and the sacrifices the parents make. Achievement today won't diminish the efforts or merit of past or future teams or their opponents. If it doesn't happen, we can live with that, too. The wanting often most intensely follows the not having.
  • A general increase in the quality of play within the Middlesex League would increase interest in volleyball, help all the teams improve, and create more enjoyable, competitive games. With success comes confidence, and with confidence, success. Nobody gets excited by big victories over weak opposition. The number one factor to achieve that is coaching...stable, effective, enthusiastic coaching. The best example of that will come from our neighbor up Franklin Street.
  • Expansion of 'rivalries' among non-league competitors helps. The Central Catholic-Melrose rivalry has turned into one of both competition and respect. Both teams have had their moments. We can only hope that Melrose can develop other rivalries that can prove mutually beneficial as the Lady Raiders seeks elite volleyball status...whatever that is. Sometimes opponents will encounter our teams at less than our best, and vice versa. Sometimes our teams will be at their best and still come up short, but we don't trade in excuses. NOBODY wins all the time.
  • Development of an off-season, locally-based, feeder program. The competition for and cost of gymnasium time makes that really unlikely. Finding coaching volunteers isn't easy, either. As a society, we are willing to throw hundreds of billions of dollars at questionable causes, while every nickel that goes for kids gets scrutinized to the nth degree. Factor in truly economic hard times and the reality of demographics, and "pipe dream" understates this.
  • Availability of a dedicated volleyball court (e.g. at Horace Mann or the Common) would be terrific. Sand would be okay. An indoor facility with even a dedicated day for volleyball would be even better. The Common has as much of a reputation for late night mischief as a gathering place for sports, but that is another story. Most communities have 'hot spots' for trouble (the head of the lake in Wakefield comes to mind) and as a community whatever we can do to minimize problems helps.

How does this impact Melrose volleyball 2009? Not at all...but it doesn't hurt to dream.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Coaches' Conundrum

The old joke goes something like this. "What's the perfect coaching job? Coaching an orphanage team."

After a recent game, Coach Scott Celli said, "you read my mind." Maybe so, because as an observer, I try to understand what the fans, coaches, and players see.

Sports coaches face innumerable hurdles, with different challenges at different levels. But the coaches overarching, first responsibility is communication, explaining to different groups (ownership/school committee/athletic director/parents/players/media) why they do what they do.

Here are just a few of the coaches' other responsibilities and obligations.

  • Do what is best for the overall interest of the team. This unifying theme inevitably creates conflicts with what is in the best interest of individuals.
  • Maximize productivity. Getting the most out of what you have.
  • Win now. Everyone loves a winner.
  • Win later. Develop a sustainable program. Although the current team has a very mature group of seniors, the team will still return experienced youth.
  • Motivating the team consistently.
  • Creating roles. Player roles are dynamic.
  • Establishing team rules. Rules are not dynamic.
  • Player development. This includes identifying present (and future) players and recruiting them to your program. Developing strengths and camouflaging/minimizing weaknesses
  • Encouraging different ways to win. In most athletic endeavors, successful teams win via knowledge of game conditions, superior skill, and improving athleticism ("the race is not always to the swiftest or the battle to the strongest but it pays to bet that way")
  • Organizational skills to develop consistent philosophies (e.g. approaches to practice and games) within the team hierarchy (minor league/junior varsity system)
  • In game coaching (exploiting the changing landscape of play during the game)
  • Overseeing player eligibility
  • Assessing player progress
  • Recognizing player health and fatigue
  • Imposing discipline when necessary.
Even within the most successful organizations, ups and downs occur...and as we head to the post-season, facing better competition, elements of health, luck, variable team performance (around a higher mean level) and even officiating come into play.

I believe it was the legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight who said, "if you listen to the fans in the stands, then pretty soon you'll be sitting up there with them."
It's not so simple as show up and win. You never know who your next contributor will be.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Melrose Hands Feehan Fifth Defeat, 3-0

12th-ranked Melrose hosted Maxpreps 18th-ranked Bishop Feehan (11-4) and came away with a Senior Night success, 25-13, 25-14, 25-15. The victory brings Melrose to 18-1 as they wrap up the regular season Monday at 9th-ranked Canton.

Senior Night festivities before the game honored the seven Melrose seniors and their families as well as the graduating Shamrocks, who each received green and gold balloons and a flower.

Feehan came in understaffed, with a pair of starters out with flu like symptoms amidst epidemic influenza in Massachusetts and nationally.

Melrose went out fast with a 6-1 lead behind strong serving by Alex Harlow (A-Low). Feehan closed to 9-7 before a 12-3 run put the game away with a 21-10 lead. Melrose served error-free in the game, and had potent hitting with eleven kills, including four from Hannah Brickley and Laura Irwin, and a trio from Athena Ziavras.

Melrose played 'doubles' in set two, leading 4-2, 8-4, and 10-5. Feehan's first five points came on Melrose service or defensive errors. Hannah was immense in the second set, with an ace and seven of Melrose's thirteen kills. Colleen Hanscom's precision setting and athletic defense both digging and blocking highlighted the game. With Melrose leading 10-7, the Lady Raiders pulled away with a 10-4 run and coasted behind diversified offense.

Set three saw Feehan grab the opening pair of points, before Melrose sprinted to a 12-2 run to go up eight. Feehan then had their own run to 12-9, before a 7-2 run essentially frosted the cake. Annmarie Wiesen had a strong game with good hands blocking and setting her front row teammates, and Laura fired home another five kills while Athena and Hannah each added three.

But despite the offense, the defense was the collective star, with strong blocking from senior middle blocker Siena Mamayek, and sparkling back-row play from the steady Jess Farr and underrated Alex, who had as spectacular a back row digging game as I have seen in watching over eight years of Melrose volleyball. She practically had her own personal highlight video with a handful of sprawling one-armed digs.

Game analysis: Coach Scott Celli remains extremely pleased with both the effort and the output from his team, which is peaking at the right time. In addition to getting high-octane offense, the Melrose mentor is getting both excellent individual and team defense. The Shamrocks brought good size and athleticism, but Melrose's offensive and defensive aggressiveness kept the visitors on their heels. As far as a total performance, I think Melrose exceeded the level of play they achieved against Barnstable.

Coming events. Melrose travels to Canton (16-1) Monday to battle a team that has already defeated highly-regarded Brockton. Next Wednesday afternoon, the MIAA will post the post-season pairings, and the team will scrimmage number one-ranked Central Catholic Friday at Melrose.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Senior Night Thursday

Melrose hosts the Bishop Feehan Shamrocks (11-4) Thursday in a pivotal matchup on Senior Night. The recognition of the seniors occurs at 4:45 p.m. with the game to follow at 5:30.

Bishop Feehan's record is more than deceptive, as they have lost four games (by identical 3-1 scores) to very strong Central Mass teams Medfield and Westborough, among the top handful of teams in the state. They have also defeated very strong Medway and Case squads. Coming out of Division 2 South, Feehan has a real chance to advance to the State Championship game, although the Division 2 West region has some very high enrollment schools.

Feehan was undefeated in the Eastern League, and their small league affords them an opportunity to seek out challenging and attractive non-league games to improve their team by facing good competition.Feehan, like Melrose has plenty of seniors, and a diversified offense led by Kate Hill.

Thursday's match should offer local fans a chance to celebrate the senior's last regular season game at home and to see a strong out-of-area team that plays quality volleyball in a terrific schedule.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Highlight Video: Melrose versus Barnstable

Melrose Moves to 17-1

Melrose hosted Lexington in an early game, because Lexington was being honored by the Ovarian Cancer Association for their fund-raising efforts (Volley for Molly). Kudos to the young ladies for their outstanding philanthropy.

Melrose beat the visitors 25-16, 25-14, and 25-8 to go undefeated in Middlesex League play. Lexington had a lot of height with middle hitters Emily Wiederhold and Dominique Serio, which definitely slowed down the Melrose offense.

Set one had ties at 1, 6, 8, and 10 before Melrose was able to pull away with a 8-1 run while setter Colleen Hanscom had extended service. Melrose cruised from there, outscoring Lexington 7-5 down the stretch despite outstanding play by Wiederhold. Melrose had only six kills during the game, led by Hannah Brickley and Colleen Hanscom with a pair apiece.

Set two opened similarly close with an early Melrose lead secondary to a pair of kills from Hannah and Athena Ziavras, and Lexington turned a 12-6 deficit into a 12-9 lead with strong play. Melrose then went on a 9-3 run to remove any doubt about the outcome. Strong hitting from Laura Irwin late iced the victory.

The final set saw 'doubles' action, with the Lady Raiders leading 2-1, 4-2, 6-3, 8-4, and 10-5 before Melrose expanded the margin with an 11-1 stretch. Melrose reserves got some quality time, with good work from all, especially setter Brooke Bell.

Congratulations again to the Lexington young ladies for their richly deserved recognition.

Coming events: Senior night comes Thursday, with pre-game festivities honoring the seniors at 4:45, before facing top twenty team Bishop Feehan at 5:30. Come out to the Middle School Gymnasium as we congratulate the seniors for their final regular season home game.

Perspective. We get it.Here is the volleyball universe, with the US high school volleyball contained inside the inner circle. And contained within the high school volleyball universe inner circle, we are the dot in the middle.

  • We haven't won a state championship in any division.
  • We haven't had any Massachusetts players of the year.
  • We haven't had any division I college volleyball players.
  • has ranked the local entry at 710. Maybe that's too high.
  • We had 929 students enrolled at Melrose High School in 2008-2009.
  • We don't have an all-season volleyball program.
  • We don't have a dedicated volleyball facility, or even a dedicated volleyball court.
  • Do I have to mention the weather?
That's alright. Because we have a community that is passionate about our volleyball team, that supports them at the games, and takes pride in what they have achieved as student-athletes with high academic achievement and regular success on the court. We celebrate what the young ladies have achieved, not worrying about what they have not.

There is always another mountain to be climbed.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Movin' on Up

Click chart to out with new rankings. How do they do it? Hard to know, but some combination of winning percentage, strength of schedule, and probably winning percentage and schedule quality of teams played.

Worth noting: Brockton swept Barnstable, and the Boxers have three losses, Lincoln-Sudbury, uber-strong New Bedford, and Canton. Melrose faces Canton next week in a big non-league match. Yardsticks? Central beat Westborough 3-1 to hand them their first loss...although Westborough lost 2-1 to Medfield in the Medfield Tournament that doesn't count in the standings. The D2 North champion will face the Central winner in the State semifinals.

Just a reminder, Tuesday's game against Lexington is at 3:15 p.m.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Coach Celli has asked me to post a time change for Tuesday's contest against Lexington. The varsity game will start at 3:15 followed by the junior varsity game.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Winning Performance

A volleyball season passes quickly, but the memories linger. Four years of an athletic career fly by; for the fortunate...videos, a scrapbook, maybe a banner, or photographs of a dusty trophy. Other times sports leave indelible scars, usually around the knees but more often a trick ankle or quirky back. But competitors can embrace the aches, take pride in achieving, and accept the mediocre when it comes. You can only control your preparation, attitude, and effort on the court or the field.

Somebody greeted me recently, and wondered if I had any mixed feelings about the success of this year's team, compared with those when my daughters played. Not for a second. Why?

Every season, every player, and every play create unique chemistry and experience. The vicissitudes of sport have an inconstant ebb and flow, impacted upon by schedules, injury, officiating, luck, and sometimes a simple bounce off the net. The success of the present builds upon the past, like a tree trunk with expanding concentric rings. The new growth depends not only current conditions but previous as well.
Who will carry the standard in the future? We can't know.

By any standard, this season has been and will be a success. Those of us associated with the volleyball program want the hardworking players and coaches to grab the brass ring in Hudson, just as a big victory over Barnstable this season validates past successes. Dare to be great.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sweet Sixteen, Melrose 3 Winchester 0

Melrose rode into Winchester and gunned down their hosts in straight sets, 25-18, 25-7, 25-13. The victory moved Melrose to 13-0 in the Middlesex League, 16-1 overall, clinching the league title outright.

After the hosts took the first pair of points, the teams traded pairs for Winchester to lead 4-2. A 13-5 Melrose run put the game out of reach, with good Sachem defense allowing the Melrose to go on an offensive killing spree, with sixteen first game tallies. Hannah Brickley had six kills and Athena Ziavras four in the opening frame. Jill Slabacheski had a pair of aces during the game, and Colleen Hanscom provided her usual setting expertise.

Set two was no set to...with Melrose running off a Dunkin Dozen, 12-0 lead before Winchester got off the schneid. Five Alex Harlow aces spurred the run. The hosts were never really in the game, but Melrose was able to crank out nine kills including three apiece for Laura Irwin and Hannah.

Set three bore more similarity to the first than the second, with ties at 1, 2, 4, 5, and 7. Under the aegis of Jill's serves, Melrose frosted the cupcake going up 14-7, and the Lady Raiders gradually built their cushion into the finale. Hannah had five of Melrose's twelve kills and senior middle hitter Siena Mamayek added three. Melrose's biggest negative was three service errors in the set and seven overall.

Coming events. Melrose hosts Lexington and their Massachusetts Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame inductee Jane Bergin Tuesday. South contender Bishop Feehan arrives Thursday for Senior Night. Melrose's seven seniors deserve commendation as outstanding student-athletes and community representatives.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Maxpreps Ratings Are Up

Melrose travels to Winchester tomorrow to face the surprising 10-5 Sachems, an expansion team with a winning record. Local volleyball fans look forward to the day where generalized improvement in the Middlesex League provides more than a handful of competitive matches.

Melrose moves up nine spots in this week's rankings...whatever that means. Melrose gave number one ranked Central all they could handle, swept number six Barnstable, and Andover already lost twice to Central. Additionally, Melrose easily defeated Frontier in preseason scrimmaging.

The volleyball season flies by with several attractive contests, including a pair of home games next week with Lexington and Bishop Feehan, and a road trip to number fifteen Canton. Higher level competition should sharpen up the team for the playoffs.

Coach Scott Celli and Assistant Steve Wall have created a sustainable winning program, with talent coming up through the ranks to replace graduating seniors who will be honored next week at Senior Night. Next year Melrose will return hitter Athena Ziavras, Sophomore regulars Jill Slabacheski and Allysa Diraffaele, and have returning veterans in freshman defensive specialist Amanda Commito, freshman setter Brooke Bell, and sophomore Brittany Adelman. Coach Celli also has the option of promoting a couple of promising JV players for the postseason.

The window of opportunity to compete at a high level hasn't closed for the past eight years, and plenty of talent flows through the pipeline.

Net news. Winchester qualifies for post-season play.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Anatomy of a Volleyball Kill

Here are a series of stills showing Laura Irwin with a down-the-line smash from the "weak" side literally taking down the defender in Melrose's recent match against Barnstable. Game one, Melrose leads 5-2 when Laura goes into action.

That's the kind of power volleyball necessary to get deep in the playoffs.

Call the Ball: So You Want to Be a Volleyball Official?

Click photos to ENLARGE.

In the recent Melrose-Barnstable game in the third set, multiple controversial calls affected the game. I've broken down the DVD for you, and you can make the call...maybe and yes.

First, Melrose trailing 23-21, set 3, Athena Ziavras sends a topspin lob to the corner. Ball called out.Unfortunately, the "motion" analysis captures the ball just after the bounce. Even with replay, it's a very tough call. Having run it back and forth ten times, I'd say there WAS NOT indisputable evidence to overturn the call. That is the standard. Point Barnstable.
With the score Barnstable 25-Melrose 24, Melrose outside hitter Laura Irwin cranks an overhead smash, which the lead official calls OUT and the floor official calls good, leading to a repeat point. The "distant replay" (enhanced) shows the ball in with plenty to spare. Melrose wins the repeat point, and goes on to defeat Barnstable 27-25, for a 25-13, 25-17, 27-25 sweep.

"Curiosity killed the cat; information brought him back."

Title Clinched, Spartans Thwarted 3-0

The Melrose Lady Raiders clinched at least a tie for the Middlesex League volleyball title, stopping Stoneham 25-12, 25-9, 25-15. Melrose moves to 15-1 with the win and clinches at least a tie for the Middlesex League title.

The reality of Massachusetts volleyball is "relativity". Each season a handful of stronger teams compete for the brass ring, and a broad majority of mediocre and weak teams provide sustenance to the higher ups on the athletic food chain.

The action today was sloppy and inconsistent, manifested by several campfires (volleyball parlance for falling balls) and ten service errors. In other words, as so often happens in sports, from Little League to professional sports, the superior team played to the level of its competition. It was no different in previous sectional championship seasons, and will happen again.

Melrose went out slowly in set one, and allowed Stoneham back in for ties at 4 and 5. Melrose then went on a 8-2 run to create breathing room. Melrose had only six kills and four service errors reflected the action.

Set two showed slightly better action, after a Stoneham 3-0 lead. Melrose then went on an 11-2 rampage including a pair of kills by Hannah Brickley and Athena Ziavras en route to the rout. Setter Colleen Hanscom did double duty, leading in both assists and kills (3) for the game.

Set three was reminiscent of the first, with ties at 4, 6, 7, and 8, before Melrose restored order with a five point run. No new sheriff was coming to the Middle School Gym. The lead blossomed to 17-9, and the reserves closed out the suspenseless action.

Game analysis: Melrose's talent superiority, even playing well below their best, simply overwhelmed second division opposition. Even the intense, historically loud Coach Viselli seemed calm during the rout. If any players deserved special mention for their performance today, I would single out Jess Farr and Colleen Hanscom.

The Big Picture. According to reliable sources, one of Melrose's biggest obstacles, Medfield, won their "Open Date" tournament last weekend. The Warriors defeated fellow Central Mass rival Westborough 2-1 to claim the trophy. I was told that Barnstable was 3-3 in the tournament, that featured some of Massachusett's best teams.

Observations from Elsewhere

Belmont's view.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stoneham Preview

Melrose puts their 14-1 record on the line Wednesday hosting the Stoneham Spartans, led by their coach Andrew Viselli. Coach Viselli previously led Reading to multiple Middlesex League titles and coached the St. John's Prep Eagles boys to the volleyball state championship.

We can be sure that Stoneham will have improved from its early season defeat.

Melrose has a few tasks as it prepares for the post-season.
  • Maximize attack volleyball, including its back row attack
  • Continue to emphasize fast starts
  • Be prepared defensively to handle the quick set. Top teams in the playoffs will employ the "short ball" to defeat blockers. Maximize communication defensively.
  • Minimize service errors. Establish a goal of going 'service error free' tomorrow.
  • Stay healthy.
A victory tomorrow officially clinches a tie for the Middlesex League title.

Here's the remaining regular season schedule for the Lady Raiders (click to enlarge). Come out and support this outstanding group of young student-athletes.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Road Warriors, Melrose Captures the Flag 3-0

Melrose traveled to Reading and effectively returned with the Middlesex League title, handing Reading its second league loss, 25-16, 25-16, 25-20. The victory gives the Lady Raiders a 14-1 slate, including 11-0 in the league. Reading falls to 9-2 in the ML.

Set one was back and forth, with ties at 4, 5, 6, and 8 before Melrose began to pull away. Four service errors helped keep the Lady Rockets in the game, but Melrose's offense (15 kills) saved the day. Laura "Spike" Irwin fired up six kills, Hannah Brickley four, and Siena Mamayek and Athena Ziavras each added a pair.

Melrose benefited from three Reading service errors, including two early ones, in going out to an early 8-4 lead in set two. Reading proved stubborn opposition closing the lead to 13-10 before Melrose exerted its will, going on a 7-2 run en route to the 25-16 win. Laura had another big game with five kills, with a pair for Hannah and Athena, while setter Colleen Hanscom piled up the assists.

Set three showed similarity to the opening frame, with ties at 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10, and 11. Another three service errors narrowed the margin. With the score knotted at 11, Melrose went on a 8-1 gravity and drag inducing run for the Rockets, to go up 19-12. Laura did some of the damage with a service run, and Laura and Hannah each contributed four kills in the set, including a Brickley block/kill combo to clinch the victory.

Rank and file. Despite last week's big Barnstable breakthrough, the Lady Raiders gained no ground in the Boston Herald poll, still trailing Medfield and Westboro who rank 1-2 in both the Herald and rankings. Westborough has loaded up with some tough opponents, including beating Bishop Feehan twice, Marlborough, Milford twice, and faces Marlborough, Central Catholic, Medway, and Barnstable down the stretch.Melrose has a Massachusetts ranking of 23, despite a narrow defeat to Central (3) and sweep of Barnstable (6). Evidently, the strength of schedule component of the Maxpreps 'system' is holding Melrose back. Of course, the weighing system of the State Tournament will eclipse the voters.

Colleen Hanscom ranks 7th in assists/set at 7.5 according to the statistics. In limited action, freshman Brooke Bell is 27th at 4.0 assists/set. Hannah Brickley is 6th in kills/game and Laura Irwin is 17th. A limited subset of coaches submit data to

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Notable Quotables

“Life is precious and time is a key element. Let's make every moment count and help those who have a greater need than our own.” - Harmon Killebrew, baseball Hall of Famer

"Nothing great is ever accomplished without enthusiasm."

"Sports doesn't build character, it reveals character." - John Wooden

"It's amazing how much can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit."

"Champions keep playing until they get it right." - Billy Jean King

"My Dad always taught me these two words: care and share." - Tiger Woods

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." - Michael Jordan

And my personal favorite, "Do or do not, there is no try." - Yoda in "The Empire Strikes Back"

Middlesex League Volleyball News

Compiled from the Internet.

Lexington Coach Jane Bergin to be inducted into Massachusetts Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame.

Earlier this season Lexington hosted a fund-raiser for a former player with cancer in their "Volley for Molly" event.

Objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear. Melrose faces Reading (9-1 in Middlesex League) Monday.

Winchester has had remarkable success achieving a .500 record as an expansion team.

Watertown Coach Pat Bemis says her team is on the right track.

Last night, the City of Melrose and local businesses sponsored an evening of magic at Memorial Hall to commemorate the great local magician Anna Eva Fay, and raise money for the Melrose Emergency Relief Fund. An enthusiastic crowd turned out for a very worthy charity. A number of local volleyball players earned community service hours by assisting in various ways.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

There's Got to Be a Morning After: Melrose-Barnstable Wrap

An athletic season, for both individuals and teams, comes down to improving and achieving. Each team builds a legacy, a resume' comprised of its body of work.

Melrose's 2009 edition rolls out version 1.1 next week, following the Lady Raiders stunning sweep of Barnstable. The locals travel to arch-rival Reading on Monday and host Stoneham Wednesday, seeking to gain momentum as the team steamrolls to the post-season.

Melrose volleyball gains another measure of respect, looking to build on its six consecutive appearances in the Division II North finals, including the 'three-peat' title run from 2003-2005. This year's team blends a veteran core of seniors with promising younger players. The big difference yesterday? We expect really high levels of play from the duo of Hannah Brickley and Colleen Hanscom, who hold the Melrose career records for kills and assists. What emerged was the full coming out party for the front court duo of Laura Irwin and Siena Mamayek who combined for sixteen kills and superlative defense at the net...the diversified offense of hitters Athena Ziavras and Jill Slabacheski (both underclassmen)...and the steady back row play from All-League libero Jess Farr, Alex Harlow, and presence of first-year starter sophomore Alyssa DiRaffaele.

The wheels go round and round...until they come off.

Noticeable yesterday was the relocation of the volleyball banners to the main gymnasium, the legacy of teams past and inspiration to future Lady Raiders. Few fans probably know about the commitment these athletes make to their sports, personal training, the running and weight lifting, off-season camps and Junior Olympics. Melrose has reason to be proud of what our young ladies have accomplished through the years and how they represent themselves both on and off the court, and most importantly, in the classroom.

Fight on!

Lady Raider Notes: A scout from Central Catholic reported to me their enthusiasm for the Central-Melrose rivalry that has evolved over the years. Melrose held the advantage a few years ago and Central has had the upper hand recently. Reportedly, Coach Gannon Paris looks forward to an annual meeting with the Lady Raiders.

Local Coverage from the Boston Globe

Volleyball wrap-up.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ain't No Mountain High Enough. Melrose 3, Barnstable 0

Perennial state champion. National Coach of the Year. Roster always sprinkled with all-state players. A tradition unmatched in Massachusetts volleyball. The brand name in Massachusetts volleyball. Barnstable. Yet, the Melrose Lady Raiders vanquished the visitors at the Middle School Gymnasium tonight, 25-13, 25-17, and 27-25.

A huge throng came out to see the visitors and their guru, Coach Tom Turco, whose team had won 100 consecutive games in years past. The keys to the game included playing attack volleyball, avoiding unforced errors, and steady back row defense. What Melrose got was premium attack volleyball from Hannah Brickley and Laura Irwin in particular, spectacular defense from Siena Mamayek in her best game ever, and complementary brilliance from Colleen Hanscom setting and near flawless play from the remaining cast.

Melrose Coach Scott Celli remarked that he implored his team to 'start fast' and they did, with two of the first three points coming on Brickley smashes. Melrose went up 5-1, 8-2, 13-3, and 18-5 as Barnstable struggled to get anything going. Game one ended with fourteen Melrose kills, four blocks, and a lone service error. Siena and Laura both had four opening game kills.

The second game started as a seesaw battle, knotted at three and four. Melrose went up 10-7 and Barnstable needed a time out to try to slow the momentum. They pulled within 14-13, and tied the game at fifteen, and with the game 18-17, Melrose ran off the final eight points to close the game. Hannah Brickley was immense, with eight of the fifteen Melrose kills, including two of the final four. She hit around triple blocks, and dinked over them. Colleen's sets crosscourt, to the back row, and for slide attacks keyed the Melrose offense.

If you want to be king, you have to kill the king, and Barnstable wasn't about to go away lightly. Barnstable went out quickly leading 3-0, 5-3, and 10-4 and Melrose needed the time out. Whatever medicine the coaching staff had resulted in a five point run to narrow the gap to one, highlighted by a pair of Siena kills. The visitors extended the lead to 18-14 and 20-15, before Melrose put on a final assault, a four point run to narrow the game to 20-19. Barnstable got the game to 24-22 led by Kaylee Deluga, but Melrose got a key point off an illegal attack (a Barnstable back row player hitting in front of the attack line), and had more crafty play at the net from Siena and Hannah. With Melrose leading 26-25, Laura got her final kill down the line from the strong side.

Game analysis: Melrose prevailed using superior offense with brilliant team offense keeping Barnstable pinned down for much of the game. Barnstable's back row brilliance with Melanie Appleman and Maribeth Martin kept the game as close as it was. Kaylee Deluga showed why she has future player of the year potential up front. But in the end, the setting of Colleen Hanscom and senior experience of Brickley, Irwin, Mamayek, and Jess Farr at libero made the difference. Junior Athena Ziavras and Sophomores Jill Slabacheski and Alyssa DiRaffaele also stepped up in the bright lights. As usual, unsung hero Alex Harlow served consistently and defended well.

For a program still seeking respect, this victory ranks among the finest, the first D2 North win over undefeated AC in 2003, the conquest of D1 Andover at Dunn Gymnasium in 2005, and today's spectacular home victory before a huge crowd.

Melrose played some psychological warfare before the game, substituting "London Bridge", Enya, and "Wheels on the Bus" for the usual high energy anthology. And they backed up their belief in themselves with quality volleyball, the best game seen in the Middle School Gym.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Barnstable Eve

Barnstable takes the long ride from the Cape tomorrow, with Melrose (12-1) dreaming of making it a longer ride home. Barnstable, even with a young team, reloads not rebuilds, coming in undefeated.

The Red Raiders bring great tradition, great coaching, and an undefeated record to the Middle School Gymnasium, where Melrose is undefeated this season. Barnstable also prepares for the Medfield tournament the following day.

Melrose brings senior experience including an encounter in Barnstable last season, a variety of offensive options with more quality hitting depth, and the home underdog role. The keys to tomorrow's game:
  • Take the offensive.
  • Back row defense. Big players step up in the big moments.
  • Minimize mistakes, specifically service errors.
Melrose, the second smallest city in the state, looks to step up big tomorrow. Just a reminder, the varsity contest follows the JV match (starting time 4 P.M.) by fifteen minutes, so the estimated start-time will likely be circa 5 P.M.

Melrose looks forward to your support.

Time Alert: Barnstable at Melrose

Barnstable faces Melrose Friday, with the JV match beginning at 4 PM and the varsity match to begin 15 minutes after the completion of the JV game. In other words, the start time could be earlier than the listed 5:30 start.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Melrose Rolls Over Burlington

Melrose (12-1) traveled to Burlington and treated their hosts harshly 25-9, 25-5, and 25-17.

Burlington took a quick 4-2 lead before a Melrose 17-2 run restored order. Hannah Brickley had five service aces in the game. Colleen Hanscom distributed the sets all around, with three kills for Athena Ziavras, a pair for Siena Mamayek, two for herself and one apiece for Laura Irwin, Jill Slabacheski, and Hannah. Alyssa DiRaffaele started in the back row defensive slot along side libero Jess Farr.

Game 2 was a rout with the Lady Raiders leading 10-0 and 18-1. Laura took charge with eight kills, ably assisted by Hannah with three of Melrose's fourteen.

Wholesale changes occurred in game three including both freshmen, Amanda Commito at defensive specialist and Brooke Bell at setter. Melrose and Burlington jockeyed for position early, knotted at 3, 8, 10, and 12 before Melrose took control, behind a series of aces from Alyssa. Melrose would score 13 of the next 18 points to ice the contest. The game also marked the first varsity appearance for Brittany Adelman, who would also notch her first kill. Siena led the 'hit' parade with a trio of kills.

Coming attractions. Three days to volleyball Armageddon. Local fans look forward to a visit from the mighty Barnstable Red Raiders Friday. This contest puts the perennial state champ on display, and gives Melrose a chance to step up against superior competition hefore the playoffs. Kaylee Deluga and Nicole Horvath lead the Red Raiders in kills, Devon Bentivegna in service aces, and Melanie Appleman is their 'dig' leader. The top teams always have superior defense, superior passing, and depth.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Herald Poll

Herald coaches poll ranks Melrose third in D2, behind Medfield and Westboro, ahead of North Reading and Bishop Feehan.

One of the coaches polled is Medfield coach Jack Hastings.

Barnstable and Central are ranked one-two in D1.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Melrose-Belmont Summary

Melrose defeated Belmont Friday 3-0 behind a balanced offensive and defensive effort, 25-9, 25-10, and 25-15... Belmont showed improvement in the back row and has a defensive stopper in 6'5" Katie Christensen.

Melrose took quick 4-1 and 9-2 leads behind its most consistent offense of the season, garnering eight kills in the first ten points. Setter Colleen Hanscom spread the opportunities around with Athena Ziavras notching six kills, Hannah Brickley four, and Siena Mamayek four, including some good down hits. Melrose had eighteen overall in game one. Melrose had a pair of service errors in the game.

Game two was close early, with Melrose leading 8-6 and 10-7 before pulling away with a 6-0 run. Belmont errors limited the Melrose opportunities but Hannah and Siena each added a pair of kills and Melrose had nine service aces including four from the crafty lefty, Alex Harlow.

Game three provided lots of opportunity for reserves, including an entire stanza for freshman setter Brooke Bell. Coach Scott Celli substituted liberally, and even the back row players got into the hitting act. Melrose had another sixteen kills, with seven for Hannah, and three apiece for Jill Slabacheski and Athena. Jill's serve was really on during the entire match.

Lady Raider Notes: Annemarie Wiesen remained out for the second consecutive game with an injury. The countdown to "Red Raider Friday" is five, as only five days remain until the Barnstable Red Raiders invade the Middle School gymnasium in Melrose's second chance at the perennial state titlists. Barnstable ranks second in Massachusetts behind Central power Medfield. Although Barnstable brings in a young team, they have great coaching in Tom Turco and a great tradition of excellence.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Melrose Cruises 3-0 Over Watertown

Melrose rebounded following Monday's lone defeat, traveling to Watertown to capture a Middlesex League contest 3-0.

Game one resulted in a simple rout against the improved hosts, including thirteen kills led by three apiece by Laura Irwin, Athena Ziavras, and Hannah Brickley. Colleen Hanscom provided her usual setting excellence. The game was closest at 7-4 and Melrose ran off an 18-2 spree to win 25-6. The Lady Raiders had no service errors.

The remaining action saw liberal substitution and combination experimentation. Athena had a season high six kills in the second game, and Laura added five as Melrose piled up another dozen kills en route to a 25-16 win. Melrose had three service errors in the frame.

The final game saw lots of play for reserve setter Brooke Bell, and three kills for Alyssa DiRaffaele and two for Brooke. A 10-6 Melrose lead grew into a 25-12 victory.

Melrose remains undefeated in Middlesex League play and hosts Belmont Friday as they continue the Middlesex League schedule.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Central Nips Lady Raiders, 3-2

"The battle is not always to the strongest or the race to the swiftest, but it pays to bet that way."

Melrose traveled to unbeaten Central Catholic as the distinct underdog, losing a heartbreaker to the third ranked team ( in Massachusetts, 3-2.

Central's superb setter, Carolyn Eddy and towering front line (Katie Zenevich, Lindsay Phenix, et al.) proved too much for Melrose, providing valuable experience as the season moves on.

Central raced out to a quick 8-3 game one lead, only to have Melrose strike back with a 9-3 run to assume a 12-11 advantage. Hannah Brickley had a pair of her six first game kills during the run. Central moved ahead 13-12 before Melrose went on another run to lead 16-13. From there, it was a seesaw battle with the game tied at 21 and 22 before Central went up 24-22. From there Hannah and setter Colleen Hanscom took over, with a pair of assists to Hannah from Colleen, and Colleen closing out a 26-24 win with an ace. Melrose had fourteen kills in the game including three from Laura Irwin, but had a costly four service errors.

Game 2 saw a reversal with Central showing off its power game, with an 11-2 run after the game opened with a six all tie. Hannah added another six kills and Laura another pain as the Melrose offense in a 25-12 domination. Central fans, and BC hoop fans, skipped a heartbeat as Katie Zenevich went out with an injury, later returning.

Melrose may have played its best volleyball in Game 3, going ahead 14-6, with a run including 9 kills in twelve points. A diversified offense saw four Hannah kills, three from Siena Mamayek, and a pair apiece for Athena Ziavras and Jill Slabacheski. The back row defense led by outstanding play by Jess Farr more than held its own.

Needing to win game four to stay alive, Central took an early 16-9 lead, with Melrose countering with an eight point run including four Brickley spikes. But Central struck back to score nine of the final ten points to send the game to a decisive fifth stanza. Hannah had five of Melrose's eight kills in the game, and cut the service errors to only one.

Fifth games have not always been kind to Melrose. In 2002, Melrose beat Dracut in a fifth game overtime match, in 2005 Melrose beat Central in the post-season in five, last year Melrose topped North Reading in five, but in 2003, 2004, and 2005 Melrose came out on the short end in fifth games in the state semis against Marlborough, Case, and Medfield (state championship).

Tonight's fifth game was a downer, as Central's powerful offense simply wore out Melrose, as the hosts captured the game 15-4, leading 5-2 and 11-2.

Melrose's valiant defeat at the hands of Central should give them confidence to compete with the other big challenges on the schedule. Today's action also provides valuable experience for the younger players who haven't seen as much action under the bright lights. The key is to use the experience to build for the post-season, where the team fights for the championship. In only one of the three Division II North title seasons was the team undefeated in the regular season, and the tempering contest of the season was a 3-2 victory at Andover over the future Division I state championship runner-ups.

Looking ahead. The Lady Raiders move into the second half of the schedule, with three softer contests ahead of the rematch with THE brand name in Massachusetts volleyball, Barnstable.

The team will continue to develop all aspects of their game, blending experience and youth with the need to develop relentless offense and indomitable back row defense.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

"Central" Theme: David Versus Goliath

Melrose travels to Central Catholic tomorrow for its first game with a top fifteen team, with Central returning the core of a team that went 22-1 and lost to Medfield in the state finals.

Central presents a variety of obstacles for Melrose tomorrow.
  • Central has won the last two meetings of the team in the Division II North finals. Central has moved up to Division I this year and can challenge Barnstable for state supremacy in the highest division.
  • Central has a major height advantage. They have a pair of all-league hitters in Maggie Hillman and 6' 2" Katie Zenevich and another tall blocker in 6' 2" Kendall Desrosiers. Katie Z already sits on a hoop scholarship to Boston College. Lindsay Phenix also hurt Melrose in last season's action.
  • Central has faced a stronger schedule, meaning Melrose will have to come out fast to avoid the 'catch up' syndrome
  • Carolyn Eddy. Eddy is an all-state setter, brilliant defender, and crafty artisan of the dink. The blockers have to be ready for Eddy at all times, expecting the dink before preparing for the double block.
Melrose has its own strengths, including senior experience, the best offensive balance since its 2005 state finals run, top setting from Colleen Hanson, and playing its best overall team defense in years. The keys for tomorrow include:

  • Aggressiveness out of the box. Passive volleyball with early dinks and free balls simply spells doom. Go hard or go home.
  • Balance. Last season Hannah Brickley put up a superhuman effort in the D2 North finals, but the hitting overall lacked consistency, with Laura Irwin out with injury. The combined performance of Laura, junior Athena Ziavras, and sophomore Jill Slabachesky will determine whether Melrose takes home the 'W'.
  • Service consistency. Melrose cannot afford service errors.
  • Can the back row hold up under the Central hitters? Great teams keeping digging the spikes, keeping the ball in play.
Melrose's program aspires each season to compete for a return to the state title game. The Lady Raiders will get plenty of opportunities, starting tomorrow, to define their legacy.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

More Than a Game

...almost live blogging from the Melrose Permanent Scholarship Fund breakfast at the Masonic classroomA large contingent of Lady Raider V-ballers turned out for the annual scholarship breakfast, hosted this year by the Masons and sponsored in large part by Johnnie's Foodmaster.

I had only a couple of words for the girls about Monday's contest at Central, "have fun, everything else takes care of itself."

Not every team enjoys a winning season, a league championship, or deep playoff runs. But every player on every team can share the benefits of team sports. The Womens' Sports Foundation summarizes them.

In addition to physical and mental health benefits, consider the following:

Sport is where boys have traditionally learned about teamwork, goal-setting, the pursuit of excellence in performance and other achievement-oriented behaviors—critical skills necessary for success in the workplace. In an economic environment where the quality of our children's lives will be dependent on two-income families, our daughters cannot be less prepared for the highly competitive workplace than our sons. It is no accident that 80% of the female executives at Fortune 500 companies identified themselves as former "tomboys"—having played sports.

And furthermore:

"I will" equals "I can."
Boys playing sports are taught that being "good at a position" is a function of the will to achieve and working on the basic skills required for that position. They also learn that you need to play the position in order to become adept at that position. Thus, boys grow up thinking that they can achieve anything they commit themselves to achieving. It is not an inflated ego or an accident that men apply for jobs for which we may think them underqualified. It is simply that they have been trained to believe that they "can" meet a new challenge of a new position and can learn by doing. Women, on the other hand, believe that advancing to a new position requires certification, classroom training, degrees or something tangible that says "I am qualified," in addition to being confident that they can meet the demands of a new position. If they haven't played sports, they haven't had as much experience with the trial-and-error method of learning new skills and positions and are less likely to be as confident as their male counterparts about trying something new.

Our young women scholar-athletes have earned the respect and esteem from the community not only for their success but for the way they represent themselves and our community. The girls volleyball team helps put Melrose, the second smallest city in Massachusetts, on the map. They're winners every time they step out on the court.

Battleground States

Melrose moves into the 'iron' of its schedule beginning next week but the big dog between the Lady Raiders and championship aspirations is Medfield. The Warriors have won three of the last four state championships, beat Barnstable last season, and rank first in Massachusetts this season.

Medfield has won with the Barrett sisters and won without them, and relies on tremendous defense which held down Melrose 3-2 in the State Championship in 2005. In addition to player of the year Molly Barrett in 2005, Medfield's back row repelled slam after slam from Melrose in that contest. Wickedlocal profiles the Warriors.

Within the North region, Melrose's principal competitors include North Reading. The Hornets and Lady Raiders had an epic battle last season with Melrose narrowly the victor. North Reading faced their toughest opponent yesterday (Andover) and suffered a 3-1 defeat.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Lexington Conquered, 3-0

Melrose completed the first circuit of the Middlesex League campaign, defeating Lexington 25-13, 25-12, and 25-17. Melrose moves to 9-0 headed into Monday's D2 North title rematch against Central.

Melrose went out fast 6-0 before Lexington stormed back to within 8-7. Melrose then went on an 11-4 run to put game one out of reach. Melrose managed eight kills including a quartet by Laura Irwin and a pair apiece for Siena Mamayek and Hannah Brickley. Lexington showed good digs from the back, denying the Melrose hitters.

Game two showed a lot of twofers, with Melrose leading 2-1, 8-4, 10-5, 12-6, 14-7, 16-8, and 24-12. Colleen Hanscom set up another ten kills including five from Hannah and three from Athen Ziavras.

The final frame saw Lexington on top early 6-4 and 10-5, as Jane Bergin's team showed no quit. But talent won out as Melrose exploded for a 12-2 run behind Laura's frozen milk serve and Hannah's jump service. Lexington got as close as 21-17 with good defense, but Melrose sealed the deal. Hannah had four more kills, Siena's defense excelled, and the Lady Raiders continued their unbeaten string.

Lexington's defense helps to prepare Melrose for the Monday showdown with the Merrimack Valley Conference leader Central, ranked third in Massachusetts behind Medfield and Barnstable. Melrose will need consistency and aggressiveness against the taller and talented host that now plays in Division I.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

MaxPreps Ratings Update

Click chart to ENLARGE.

Obviously we don't know the inner workings of the MaxPreps rating system, but presumably it relates in large part to strength of schedule. Melrose dropped to 20th, despite a pair of wins. Winchester, conversely, came in at 194th despite their 8-2 slate.

Is the system 'perfect'? Clearly not, as Medfield was ranked 2nd in the country, which despite their achievements and talent, is not realistic in the national context. As I discussed recently, players in California who cannot even make their high school teams at elite schools are getting Division I scholarship looks on the east coast.

Melrose will have its chance to prove itself over the next couple of weeks at Central Monday and Barnstable the 16th.