Sunday, October 31, 2010

Senior Night Monday

Tomorrow Melrose recognizes the contribution of senior outside hitter Athena Ziavras, who leads the team in kills and also serves as a team Tri-Captain.
She has appeared in two Division 2 North finals and has a Divsion 2 North championship on her resume' from last season.

In addition to her volleyball achievements, she regularly appears on the Honor Roll, was a mainstay on the award-winning Melrose Red Raider Report, and is an outstanding softball player.

She has been among the state leaders in kills/game all season.

Congratulations and good luck going forward.

Melrose hosts Canton tomorrow at the completion of the JV game; the varsity game will probably start somewhere between 6:15 and 6:30.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fan and Parent Photoessay*

*A blog for Melrose volleyball fans, players, and parents.

Don Norris shares the "photographer's eye' from a recent match against Lexington. In the end, the program emphasizes people first and volleyball second.

 The fans always come. Sometimes they even watch the games.
Videographer Jeff Mate' and future Lady Raider Hall-of-Famer Kira Mate'...caught standing still.
There are fixtures and then there are fixtures.
This comes from the First Ladies of Melrose Volleyball calendar.
Tradition reigns in Melrose volleyball, especially Tootsie Pops and Moms. Inquiring minds want to know about the possibilities..."the Official Candy of Melrose Volleyball?"
More future Lady Raiders.
"She did what?"
Teagan looks more amused than Barry on this one...
Volleyball is a very social sport. "Where's my Tootsie Pop?"

For winter fans, we have a new website called Melrose Girls Basketball. Check it out.

Latest from has an inscrutable and regularly updated ranking system. It creates a format for discussion. For example, Frontier is ranked below Barnstable, but defeated them and is undefeated. They're the Boise State of

Melrose is at number 11 and Reading cracks the top 20. The contribution from strength of schedule is telling for some of the rankings.

When we zero in on Division 2, it's the same old song, with Medfield, winner of four of the past five state championships at number one, and Marlborough, which defeated Melrose is the 2003 state semifinals and went on to become state titlist at two. The 'power' of the state has come from the Central division, as you can see, with four of the top five ranked teams coming from that area.

Friday, October 29, 2010

It's All Coming Back

Melrose hosted Bedford for the first time in the regular season, showing limited hospitality in a 25-14, 25-13, and 25-11 win. The victory moved the Lady Raiders to 17-2, with one game remaining against Canton Monday.

With the score Melrose leading 8-6 in game one, Melrose erupted for a nine point run to clinch the first stanza. Jen Cain enjoyed the service run, and unofficially Jill Slahacheski had four kills, Athena Ziavras had three kills and Brooke Bell a pair.

Game two was a rout from the outset, with Bedford getting the opening point, and Melrose the next eleven. Melrose had twelve kills in the frame, with Sarah McGowan with four kills, Athena with three, Kayla Wyland with three and Sydney Doherty clinching the game with a crosscourt topspin short to the corner.

The final game saw a seesaw action early with Melrose leading 6-5. Melrose then ran off a fourteen point run, highlighted by Alyssa DiRaffaele serves, while in the game Sarah had five kills, Athena three, and Kayla another two. Melrose escaped a service error for the game.

Game Analysis: Bedford came in as a tournament qualifier, the winner of the Dual County small conference championship, and running off a five game winning streak. Bedford had several exceptionally tall players that created challenges for Melrose in their own right.

Melrose continued to build off their recent realignment with Alyssa in the back row full time, Sarah as a power hitter in the front, and Kayla adding length and blocking intimidation. With Rachel Johnson and Kayla in the front, Melrose now has a 'full-time' sophomore duo of superior "natural" blockers; that takes pressure off the back row. With fewer uncontested slams for the back row to dig, the 'first pass' has improved, leading to more and improved attacks.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Melrose - Lexington Photo essay

Don Norris shows us his photographic eye with selections from the recent match at Lexington. Lexington gave Melrose all they could handle, but Melrose managed to take home the prize.
Coach Scott Celli moves the pieces around the board as Melrose looks to improve as the post-season approaches.
Melrose's lone senior, Athena Ziavras (33) leads the team in kills with 161. It's not easy. Last year Hannah Brickley had 270, and in 2005, Paula Sen had 311 in a 25 game (including playoffs) campaign.
Sarah McGowan hammers one while Jill Slabacheski, Brooke Bell, and Alyssa DiRaffaele look on.
Alyssa lines up a serve.
Sarah (L) and Kayla Wyland (15) on the double block. Note the fingers spread and the position penetrating the airspace above the net.
Brooke skies at the net while Sarah observes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Play the Schedule*

*A blog for Melrose fans, players, and families.

Melrose hosted Watertown today, which hasn't won a game, let alone a match, all season. "Facts are such stubborn things." Despite active coaching and plenty of enthusiasm, Melrose completed their Middlesex League schedule with a 25-6, 25-2, 25-11 win, moving to 16-2.

Should we be endlessly 'politically correct', give everyone a trophy, and say "good job"? Is that honest or hypocritical? "You did a great job; sorry we gave you a beat down. Have a nice day."

Having played, officiated, and coached sports for about fifty years, I have strong opinions about sportsmanship. Some people talk a good game, and then act entirely differently. You don't steal bases up 10 runs in the ninth inning, or take three pointers and full court press up twenty in the final minute. Blown calls in blowouts don't warrant tar and feathers, if they don't impact player safety.

Today, Coach Celli substituted liberally (starters played less than half the game), and had his shortest player, Cassidy Barbaro, in the front row during the final game. Aside from banning spiking, he couldn't have done more to limit the carnage. Ultimately, if you want to get respect, you must earn it.

Melrose held 12-3 and 24-5 leads in the process of the first set rout. Unofficially, Melrose had only six kills, with the visitors struggling with serve receive and defense. Melrose provided three points of the Watertown five with service errors.

Melrose scored the first fifteen points of set two. It wasn't through brilliant play, as Melrose had three kills during that span. Watertown got their first point of the set on a Melrose attack error, and their second and last on a Melrose service error.

Game three saw Melrose's younger players scuffle to a 10-11 deficit on sluggish play with a lot of attack errors. A Celli timeout at 10 apiece was followed by a 15-1 closeout

Game analysis: Play the schedule. Today's victory sealed a co-championship of the Middlesex League for Melrose and Reading. Congratulations to both.

Massachusetts high school volleyball may have the greatest disparity between the top and lower tier teams of any sport. That might exclude high school hockey where recruiting and the Super 8 format effectively create artificial and partial separation (literally) of church and state. All players are not created equal in height, athleticism, skill, experience and coaching. Good coaching, effort, and enthusiasm are not synonymous with results. And that showed today.

Brittany Adelman got her longest outing of the year coming off injury...and Amanda Commito got a huge ovation as she returned from surgery to make her first appearance of the year.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Last Obstacle Hurdled: Melrose 3-0 at Lexington

Melrose effectively clinched a share of the Middlesex League title with a hard-fought 3-0 victory at Lexington. The hosts gave the Lady Raiders all they could handle, 25-19, 25-22, and 26-24.

Set one saw back and forth action with ties at 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 11, and 12 before a seven point run turned the gold and blue go black and blue. Lexington was able to get back to within 22-18, but a costly service error swung the momentum back to Melrose, which closed it out with a Sarah McGowan kill. She had three kills for the set, abetted by a pair from Jill Slabacheski. Melrose played well defensively in the game, which was the key.

Set two had its share of ties as well, at 1, 5, 6, 7, and 11, with the hosts leading 12-11. Melrose went up 16-12, with some scoring controversy, as highlighted by our statistical guru Dick Collis. Lexington got as close as 20-19 and 22-21, but Athena Ziavras' five kills proved too much. Even the enthusiastic support of Lexington from a group of ML co-champion Reading players proved insufficient.

Set three saw several momentum shifts, with Melrose going out fast 12-4, only to see Lexington run off seven consecutive points to bring the game to 12-11. Melrose then extended the lead to 16-11, only to see Lexington come within a point at 16-15. The scored was knotted at 17 and 18, with Melrose then going ahead 21-18, 23-21, and 24-22, but Lexington even it at 24. With Melrose leading 25-24, a final McGowan kill iced it for Melrose. Unofficially, Jill Slabacheski, Athena, and Sarah each had a trio of kills in the frame.

Game analysis*: Historically, Middlesex League volleyball over the past decade has been about the haves and the have-nots. Melrose and Reading have been at the top of the standings, with Lexington and Stoneham in the upper half, and the remaining teams usually struggling. Although parity hasn't arrived, maybe it lurks over the horizon. Stoneham has improved with its youth and Coach Andrew Viselli, and Winchester has put a competitive defense on the floor. Today Lexington threw up a challenge and Melrose was able to respond to remain undefeated on the road. Playing well away from the Middle School will be a key if the team hopes to advance deep in the playoffs without benefit of a top seeding.

*Statistics and some observations courtesy of Dick Collis.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Season Winding Down

As the regular season winds down, the Lady Raiders look to improve for the post-season. Melrose stands at 14-2, tied for first in the Middlesex League with Reading.

In the latest ratings, Melrose moved up two slots. Reading has moved up to 23, and will meet North Reading in the regular season finale.

Melrose travels to Lexington tomorrow in its final regular season road tilt, and hosts Watertown (Wednesday) and Bedford (Friday), before finishing out the schedule hosting Canton.

A look ahead at some possible Melrose opponents in the post-season include:

  • North Reading (0 losses)
  • Boston English (0 losses in a lower competitive league)
  • Bishop Fenwick (1 loss, to Melrose, early season)
  • Greater Lowell (3 losses)
  • Dracut (3 losses)
  • Masconomet (4 losses)
  • Tewksbury (5 losses)
  • North Andover (7 losses)

The tournament draw can make a critically difference in the road to the Sectional championship, but at the end of the day, better competition creates better preparation.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"The Truth"

From Coach Godwin: There comes a point in life when its no longer about your Skill. It is then when you realize its about your Belief and Will.

Be sure to click the photos for the whole picture...especially the last one. 

Rachael (L) and Cassidy
Alyssa wears the libero shirt now, the latest in the long line of liberos, including some terrific players like Kerry Dillon, Laura Dillon, and Jess Farr.
Jill with another kill.
"You can see a lot by just watching." - Yogi Berra.   Sarah McGowan can block, too. Brooke appears astonished to learn this...

And the "JV" Song Was On

If there's any group of athletes who get less attention than the Junior Varsity, it's hard to find them. They do many of the same drills, take the same classes, training their bodies and minds, play the games, and simply don't get recognition. For the most part, we don't know the players or the families as well, yet we know the effort and the importance of their contribution and dream of being part of something special.

Such is their lot. Until today...
As always, credit goes to Don Norris for his photo wizardry...and all the others who do so much for Melrose volleyball, especially the coaches and the parents.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Home Away from Home

Melrose traveled to Stoneham and with a large contingent of fans in support, outpointed the Spartans 25-12, 22-25, 25-11, and 25-16.

I recently spoke with a Division I college basketball official about the 'zero tolerance' policy toward complaints to officials. His reply, "you go to Syracuse and give Jim Boeheim a technical foul, and you're never coming back again." I remarked, "In other words, you're cutting your own throat." He answered, "exactly". More later.
Alyssa DiRaffaele (30) and Athena Ziavras are feeling good about the season.

Melrose blasted out of the gate with a 10-0 run. A combination of Jill Slabacheski aces, front row blocking by Rachel Johnson, and good passing gave them the edge. Stoneham's formidable Andrew Viselli took a time out and the Spartans rallied, taking three of four points, then taking away the momentum. Melrose won the opener 25-12 with only only six kills and one service error.

Set two was mostly Stoneham, as they tied the game at 2, 4, and 5 and took the lead permanently at six. Melrose went ice cold defensively with a series of defensive errors and the Senior Night revelers when up 14-7 and 20-12. As the game wound down, Stoneham seemed to tighten up, as their hits often found the net or out of bounds, as their young outside hitters' inconsistency showed. With the score 24-16, Melrose ran off six consecutive points to narrow it to 24-22. Stoneham then closed it out. Melrose had a pair of points taken away by the officials on very questionable judgments, but Stoneham deserved to win the game. Melrose had only seven kills.

Melrose had seized the initiative and energy for game 3. Melrose trailed 2-1, but rallied to 4-1, JNJ style, with Johnson & Johnson kills by Rachel (above). They went on a 11-1 rampage with good attacking offense, three kills for Sarah McGowan and one apiece for Athena Ziavras and improving Kayla Wyland who blocked very well up front. Stoneham struck back for four consecutive points, but then Melrose went on another seven point run to go up 21-8 into put away mode. Melrose had a dozen kills in the stanza, a lone service error, and five kills for Sarah and three for Rachel.

The Lady Raiders removed all doubt with an opening 8-1 salvo in game four. Game three appeared to take the air out of the Stoneham bubble, but the hosts rallied back to trail 11-7, as Melrose's offense went cold. But Melrose then ran out another 7-2 run to take a doubling 18-9 advantage. Down the stretch, it was more Rachel as she had four kills and an equal number of blocks in the final seven points.

Game analysis: This Tennyson quote comes to mind, "that which we are, we are, and if we are to be any better, now is the time to begin."

I will use a mathematical baseball analogy. Historically, the mean average of hitters is about .260, with a standard deviation varying. To have a .400 hitter, then you needed a seven standard deviation performance if one SD is twenty, which is highly difficult. As a system (e.g. volleyball teaching) improves, the standard deviation falls, making outlier performance less variable. As the broader level of play eventually improves, the difference between teams narrows. In other words, if you could continually improve all teams (in a system), then the differences among them would narrow.

If we were to break volleyball into component 'competencies', then we could list strengths and weaknesses.

  • Serving:  percentage in, service aces
  • Serve receive (assess passing into zones, free balls)
  • Blocking 
  • Digging
  • Setting
  • Passing
  • Attacking (attack efficiency, attack errors)
  • Team coordination 
We could additionally break them down by not only 'strength', including maximal performance, efficiency, and consistency. That's what coaches do, but in a more 'gestalt' fashion, as they try to reposition their players' skills along the distribution...understanding that skills are non-Gaussian. 
Melrose needed more "aggressive attacks", better first passes, and more consistent blocking. Better first passes occurred with Alyssa's full-time defense at libero. Sarah McGowan (above) provides more 'conscience-free' attacking and Kayla Wyland brings length and basketball-translated aggressiveness to the front row. 

Overall, Melrose continued the 'trajectory' of improvement needed to enhance success short, intermediate, and long-term. There's still plenty of room for gains, but unquestionably, the overall play has moved along the continuum.

Brooke Bell made the highlight play of the season today, sprawling to dig a tip, and simultaneously tipping it to Sarah who finished the play at the net.

Seldom is volleyball officiating a decider of the game, let alone noticeable. The officiating DID NOT affect the outcome of the match in any way, but was the worst of any volleyball game I have seen all year as far as the number of "easy" calls missed. Missed calls impact not only the score but in-game momentum, that can be critical. Watch the tape on MMTV next week. Maybe the speed of the game outpaced the officials' vision.

Rachael Wolley listens intently to coaching instructions.

Brittany Adelman (L) made her return Wednesday against Winchester, while Sydney Doherty looks on.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Instant Karma

Successful teams and successful players make adjustments. Melrose had issues last week with serve-receive and generating enough offense. Perhaps the team had simply gotten 'stale', which can happen.

Coach Scott Celli realigned the rotation, moving Alyssa DiRaffaele to libero, as she has excelled in the back row. He transferred Sarah McGowan to the front row, where she has the athleticism and temperament to "hit out". And he transferred Sophomore Kayla Wyland to the front row opposite, where her length provides additional blocking.

The results? Melrose generated more attacks and looked more 'comfortable' against visiting Winchester, leading to a 25-11, 25-7, 25-6 victory. Highlights? There were plenty, including McGowan's double digit kills, solid defense from libero Alyssa, and only one service error for the match.

Melrose took awhile to get comfortable in set one, trailing 6-4, as Winchester's Sam Mangano had a few early successful attacks. But from there on, it was all Melrose, with 16 kills and a 21-5 run to close the game. Athena Ziavras and Jill Slabacheski each had four kills, and Sarah and setter Brooke Bell each added a trio.

Melrose went out 10-1 in game two and never looked back. They had another nine kills and with Sarah with five, Athena 3, and Kayla a pretty topspin attack.

The third stanza proved equally lopsided, as Melrose ran off twelve points to begin, and led 18-1 en route to the 25-6 differential. Brittany Adelman got a huge ovation for her first appearance of the season as she returned from injury, and chipped in with solid back row defense. Melrose had another thirteen kills, and the team walked off with a win and some renewed confidence and a little extra spring in their step.

Game Analysis: Winchester's program has advanced quickly, built on competent defense, while they groom some young attackers. Melrose never stopped hitting as Coach Celli's challenge to his attackers to step up their game went fulfilled today. Sarah McGowan's eleven kills and solid attack percentage made a difference offensively, and focusing Alyssa on the defensive side improved the first pass, and that facilitated a big day for Brooke on the assist side. Melrose may not have had its 'A' game, but the performance created something to build upon going into the final quarter of the regular season.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Theory and Practice

"In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is." - Yogi Berra

I don't coach volleyball, but often coach basketball. My favorite part of coaching? Practice. Practice allows the introduction and review of fundamentals and concepts, as well as the teaching of the philosophy of 'how we play'. Coaches want a team on the floor that reflects their unique approach. The three games a week, short volleyball season means not nearly enough practice time for positive reinforcement.

Although we can't look into Coach Scott Celli's mind, let's imagine that he welcomed the practice time since Friday's lesson. I expect a hungrier, enthusiastic Melrose team to take the floor tomorrow against Winchester.

Melrose has a chance to generate some momentum headed into the playoffs, as well as heal up some of the inevitable nicks that accompany a season.

A large and enthusiastic crowd never hurts.
Note how the defense has pushed forward as Athena hits against Winchester.
Melrose's two-headed monster, Sarah McGowan and Rachel Johnson.
Athena and her mates look to get a new winning streak established tomorrow at the Middle Veterans Memorial School Gymnasium.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

More Pictures

See what's possible.

Rachel going up for a block.
Assistant Coach Steve Wall always has some helpful advice.

Sarah McGowan passing to setter Brooke Bell (11)
Coach Scott Celli has always found ways to help Melrose become more successful
Brooke (11) isn't tall, but she has good blocking technique.
Play with joy.
This picture leaves me a bit baffled. Out call?
Double block at the net.
Developing junior varsity players has always been important.
Hand-eye coordination from Casey McVicar.
Athena Ziavras returned Friday against Reading after missing time with injury.
Part of Friday's big crowd against Reading.