Monday, November 29, 2010

Triple for Athena

Athena Ziavras shines on the softball diamond as well, but today she got a "triple". The Boston Herald selected the Melrose senior for their All-Scholastic team. Athena's honor complements her prior selection as Boston Globe All-Scholastic and the Massachusetts Girls Volleyball Coaches Association All-State honor.

Congratulations to Athena, her team and coaches, and family.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Props to Athena

Melrose Patch profiles graduating senior Athena Ziavras.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Realignment, Correction, and Miscellaneous*

* A weblog for Melrose players, their families, and fans. Not affiliated officially in any way with Melrose High School. All opinions contained within belong to the author. 

The Middlesex League expands to absorb the 'tons', Arlington and Wilmington. As I recall, according to Melrose sports historian Dick Collis, Melrose once had a major rivalry with Arlington. 

Here's how it will look, with Melrose playing twice against the Small Division and once against the Large schools. In some areas, Divisions are named after a prominent sports figure. One might argue for one division to be named the Bill Tighe Division. 

The structure places a huge premium on that one game with Reading, although I expect Stoneham to be very good next season with a large contingent of returnees. 

The schedule permits seven non-league games. Generally, Melrose plays Central Catholic and Arlington Catholic, so that would allow for five other games. The rivalry with Central has gained a lot of traction. Traditionally, the strength statewide has been in the South and Central, so scheduling some games there (or against D1 North power Andover or Lincoln-Sudbury) might make sense. Scott Celli does a great job with scheduling in any event. 



As for the post-season sectional tournament semifinals, it has been changed (reason unclear why) 

2011 North vs Central 
2012 North vs West

Local volleyball priorities: optimally, having a year-round volleyball court would be great. I don't know if the small area of the Marcoux would be possible, or large enough. Presuming that isn't the case, an outdoor (sand) court at the Common might be another option. A more ambitious choice would be a "field turf" outdoor court as part of the new high school field renovation. 

Volleyball Season Wrap-up

Through our individual prisms, we make choices. We can see and celebrate that which we have accomplished or wallow in the miasma of unfulfilled dreams. Choose the former, know our reality, and aspire for something greater. Every season brings triumphs and disappointments...always has and always will.

This year Melrose Volleyball stepped back to the future, winning back-to-back Division 2 North titles for the first time since 2004, with its youngest team in many years. The saying in sports says that you have to pay your dues and that young teams must learn to win. The 2010 Lady Raiders got a discount on the dues.

As far as individual game highlights go, Melrose had big wins against Reading, perennial rival Arlington Catholic, a strong Canton team, and post-season terrific wins against North Reading and Bishop Fenwick, which played sensational defense to extend Melrose to five sets. Melrose had to rally from first and fourth set defeats, and overcome one match point en route to its fifth Division 2 North championship

Team Achievements:

  • Division 2 North Championship (this team's signature win)
  • Fifth Division 2 North Championship
  • Eighth consecutive D2 North Championship appearance
  • Middlesex League Co-Championship
  • Twenty win season (21-3)
  • At times, cracked top 10 Massachusetts ranking
Individual Achievements:
  • Athena Ziavras, MGVCA All-State Division 2 selection, Boston Globe All-Scholastic, Middlesex League All-League (top 7 players)
  • Brooke Bell, Middlesex League All-League, 3rd in Massachusetts assists (532), Fewest service errors in the history of known universe 
  • Alyssa DiRaffaele, Middlesex League All-Star
  • Jill Slabacheski, Middlesex League All-Star
More than anything else, Melrose volleyball is about people and tradition. The volleyball program has tradition like pregame Tootsie Pops and a willingness to upgrade the schedule to allow the team to compete at a high level in the postseason. 

The Middlesex League is getting better, with Reading always fielding a strong and dynamic team, Stoneham improving dramatically after adding Coach Viselli, Lexington working to maintain first division status, and Winchester becoming a playoff team for the second consecutive year. 
Senior tri-captain Athena Ziavras continued the long tradition of outstanding leadership and achievement on and off the court.

Junior tri-captain Jill Slabacheski, like Athena and Brooke are in there at all times, and still smiles. 
Junior tri-captain Alyssa DiRaffaele played strong defense and her performance at the important libero position helped spark Melrose's playoff run.

Junior Setter Rachael Wolley presented a unique challenge. I had a lot of trouble finding a picture where she wasn't smiling. Martha Stewart might call that "a very good thing". 

Brittany Adelman, you might call her the "X-factor". Brittany transformed herself into a full-time volleyball player, only to suffer a freak injury before the season. As a senior next season, she will bring diverse skills to compete for a big role on the 2011 team. 
Maggie Moriarty is another Junior that will battle for time in the back row. 
Brooke Bell has been "under surveillance", anointed the "player of the future" since elementary school. She continues to add to her skill repertoire and will eventually hold all the setting records at Melrose High School and be recognized as an All-State player. You read it here first. 
Rachel Johnson proved to be a productive middle monster blocking force this season, in accordance with Coach Celli's expectations. Her pass to Brooke set up Athena's championship point against Fenwick. The sky's the limit for her as she works on her all-around game. 
Sarah McGowan, another sophomore, has outstanding all-around skills. A fearless hitter at the net, you can feel the nastiness to her game. The coaches have to like that. She has the potential to be one of the top all-around players in Melrose volleyball history. 
Kayla Wyland, another sophomore, is a lanky left-hander whose natural athleticism and length make her a great prospect. She had a big game against North Reading in the sectional semis. 
Jen Cain is "The Quiet One". I don't think I've ever heard her say a word. She does her talking on the court though and had an outstanding season (quietly) in the back row. 
Sydney Doherty is yet another of the Super Soph class that has a chance to go down as the greatest class in the history of Melrose volleyball. This class will have a legitimate shot to be the only one to win four sectional titles, and if they can raise their game and slay the last dragon, bring a State Title home. Sydney has good all-around skills and will compete for time at outside hitter.
Amanda Commito is a fierce competitor who got bit by the injury bug. The defensive specialist spent virtually the entire campaign on the injured list and has the athletic potential to be an elite defender. 
Cassidy Barbaro is one of the few freshman to make the team out of tryouts. She is a superb athlete who also has competed in gymnastics and basketball. She has a bright future ahead of her.
Rachel Ardizzoni got the post-season call up as an outside hitter. She has good timing and vertical leap, and could be another "pocket rocket" reminiscent of Lauren Howe. 

As terrific as the Lady Raiders played this season, they will likely go into next season as the underdog to repeat in the Middlesex League, banging heads with Reading. The ability of Melrose to develop the next generation of hitters will determine the outcome of Version 2011, where the North plays the West in the state semis and the Central goes up against the South, with a strong possibility of a Fairhaven-Medfield rematch. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Medfield Wins 3-0

5th state championship is six years for Medfield.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Melrose Patch: Season Recap

Melrose Patch has its season recap. I'll have my own within the next week.


Trivia. "Where is the only place that success comes before work?" Obviously, the dictionary. Melrose volleyball may need more kryptonite for next season. Where can we find it? Fans of The Last Dragon know that there's only one place to find "the master".


Notice the "core" boxes - condition, skill, and team spirit. Winning is the synthesis of combining skill, athleticism and team spirit.

*After the twins graduated, I gave our medicine ball to Hannah...good investment!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Although all Melrose shares the disappointment of the end of the volleyball season, we know the excitement that Fairhaven enjoys. We spoke with several of the Fairhaven fans and parents, and they were ecstatic in enjoying the experience and their first appearances in the state semifinals and state championship. We wish them well.

For Melrose, this season achieved so much and offers a great deal of optimism for the future.

Melrose is known for traveling well to road venues.
The Lady Raiders were up against it, as Kara Charette blasted home 34 kills in the semis. Charette brings size, power, and skill to the front row and solid defense to the back row. She may be the best player Melrose has ever faced.
Jen Cain will bring her solid defense back next year.
You have to give the devil his due.
More Charette with her skills and athleticism.
Alyssa DiRaffaele with the first pass toward Brooke Bell.
Athena attacks into the big block, with teammates at the ready.
Kay Mullen, another tall and talented Fairhaven middle brought size to the defense. Jill blocks her here.
Mullen and Charette combined for over 500 kills this season. Rachel blocks.
I've heard Rachel Johnson described as a "happy kid", as well as a terrific student and volleyball player. Here there are some light-hearted moments amidst the tension.
Coach Scott Celli did his best job in the nine years I've watched Melrose volleyball, molding a young team into a sectional champion.
Athena on the middle attack.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Division 2 North Championship Highlights

Cameraman and producer extraordinaire Jeff Mate' (Videojam Productions) puts the magic together.

Breaking News: Ziavras Named Globe All-Scholastic

According to reliable sources, The Boston Globe named Athena Ziavras All-Scholastic in volleyball for the 2010 fall sports season.

Previous Melrose volleyballers named Globe All-Scholastics include:
  • Marianne Foley 
  • Karen Sen
  • Paula Sen
  • Hannah Brickley
Congratulations to Melrose's lone senior who had a terrific career and played exceptional volleyball throughout the regular season and the post-season. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dreams Deferred, Fairhaven Gets 1st Trip to Finals, 3-1

Melrose went to the state semifinals for the fifth time in eight years, and came away empty-handed thanks to a monstrous effort by Fairhaven junior middle hitter Kara Charette, who should be a candidate for Division 2 Player of the Year. Charette must have had 30 kills, en route to a 25-18, 25-22, 21-25, 25-20 win at Newton South. The victory propels the Blue Devils into the State Championship game for the first time.

Melrose finishes a splendid season 21-3, with seven of its top eight players returning, injured players Amanda Commito and Brittany Adelman returning to full strength, and Athena Ziavras finishes a magnificent career.

Melrose got off to a characteristically slow start in game one, trailing 3-0 before the Lady Raiders responded with a pair of points. Fairhaven took the offensive behind a cluster of smashes from Charette. Melrose struggled under the burden of playing defense and scuffled at returning the jump serves of numerous Fairhaven servers. After closing to 9-7, Melrose never got closer than four, and could (unofficially) muster only five kills, four from Athena.

Set two proved to be opportunity lost, as Melrose controlled most of the game. After trailing 3-2, the Lady Raiders blew open the set with 10-4, 12-5, and 17-8 leads. But with the game at 19-11, the South champions got Charette back to the front and they made a stirring comeback to tie the game and 20 and 21. With the score tied at 21, a Fairhaven serve appeared to land several inches long, but it was called good giving Fairhaven the lead. Then with the score 23-21 Devils, a rotation error gave Melrose a comeback shot, but Fairhaven closed it out 25-22. Melrose had more offense, but still managed only half a dozen kills, led the three for Rachel Johnson.

Melrose could have gone quietly into the night after the disheartening collapse in set two. But the young Lady Raiders battled back, giving the Devils a headache behind a flurry of late kills. The game was tied at 1, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, and 17, before Melrose pulled away with three Jill Slabacheski kills forcing the action to win 25-21. Melrose had double digit kills for the stanza, with three apiece for Athena, Jill, and Sarah McGowan, who through games three and four played her best volleyball of the season.

Fairhaven controlled the action for much of the fourth game, leading 2-1, 5-2, 11-5, and 16-8. Melrose responded to 18-13, but a costly service error put the Devils within 6 points of the finals. Melrose again rallied, closing to 20-16 and 22-20, with three Ziavras kills, and five by McGowan, with Slabacheski wiping the double block on the strong side. But Fairhaven simply had too much power, and appropriately, a Charette kill ended Melrose's season.

Game Analysis: Fairhaven may have come in with four losses, but they parlayed the power of Charette, with solid contributions from Kelsey Perron-Sovik and Kayli Moniz in particular to consistent and powerful offense. Melrose actually blocked fairly well, led by Rachel and Sarah, but the South champions had more powerful serves, better overall defense, and generally controlled Melrose at the net. Melrose couldn't carry aggressive play often enough because the Devils kept them on their heels with both the topspin jump serves and power from the middle.

Melrose's quest to return to the state championship gets deferred, not denied...with the team full of young players who will compete for the opportunity to represent Melrose next season.

The Kids Are Alright

The Lady Raiders (21-2) travel to Newton South tonight for a 7 P.M. semifinal match with Fairhaven. Melrose has its youngest team in recent memory, with one senior, five juniors, seven sophomores, and two freshmen. Don't hesitate to come and support your team...the kids are alright.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Photos courtesy of Don Norris. Always click to see the whole frame.
Senior tri-captain Athena Ziavras stands during player introductions.
Although Coach of the Year last season, Scott Celli has outdone himself.
Girls can jump, as Sarah McGowan (13) shows.
Rachel Johnson goes high to attack.
Athena shows her classic attack from the strong side.
Sarah on the smash.
It's an easy game, right?
The celebration continues.
Your 2010 Division 2 North Champions.
Sister act. Samantha and Teagan congratulate sophomore sister Brooke.
Lady Raider Captains Jill Slabacheski, Athena Ziavras, and Alyssa DiRaffaele.
Fans and teammates in other sports share the moment.
Three amigos....Rachel, Kayla Wyland, and Sydney Doherty pose with the hardware.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Season Analysis: Top Ten

Nothing succeeds like success. The volleyball season flies by and we're into the final week.

10) Babies on board. The roster is young, with one senior, five juniors, seven sophomores, and two freshmen
Six of the top nine players (don't underestimate Sydney Doherty) are sophomores. This is the youngest championship team in Melrose volleyball history, by far. The sophomore class could develop into the best class ever at Melrose.

9) Two players expected to contribute heavily this season (Amanda and Brittany) missed virtually the whole season with injuries.

8) The team has 'peaked' at the right time, the post-season.

7) Never underestimate the role of Assistant Coach Steve Wall, another instructor and a tall force in practice scrimmages.

6) Infrastructure...the youth developmental program has never been better.

5) Steady as she goes. Brooke Bell has been steady, day in, day out.

4) Senior leadership counts, and Athena Ziavras has done the job.

3) Key lineup realignments produced more strength in both the front row and the back.

2) Coach Scott Celli has never done a better job. They game-planned against North Reading, and never quit against Bishop Fenwick when they could have packed their tent.

1) Knowing how to win. Tradition never graduates.

Why We Play

We've discussed the benefits of participating in sports before. They include physical, academic, and social. Recently I discussed "nonlinear" thinking, specifically discussing Melrose's remarkable volleyball run.

Athletes, friends and family, and fans experience unique emotion not available day-to-day with rare exception.

Sometimes the events involve your favorite professional teams...but they're not 'personal'.

No matter our means, we can't buy or store the euphoria of victory, the intersection of adrenaline and serotonin that effortlessly appear. How many non-athletic events can produce the same experience intensity? The birth of a child, a special relationship, or a unique achievement or award might do it, but how often do truly special memories happen?

Image for MaxPreps Video.

Melrose volleyball has given us so many of these moments...just to name a few:

  • 2002 Overtime comeback 5 set playoff win against Dracut
  • 2003 D2 North title against undefeated AC that had not lost an individual game
  • 2004 D2 North title against Dracut
  • 2005 5 set victory against D1 state champion runner-up Andover
  • 2005 D2 North title run and state championship appearance
  • 2008 comeback victory against North Reading
  • 2009 victory against undefeated Barnstable
  • 2009 D2 North 5 set win against North Reading 
  • 2010 D2 North 5 set win against Bishop Fenwick 
How many of us can quickly name the last five Presidents or governors? But if someone asks us our favorite grammar school or high school teacher or coach, would we have no answer?

I've been fortunate to be a small part of a special environment, as a volleyball parent (2002-2005) and a  peripheral reporter since. I've been lucky to share the thrill of victory, the indelible memories, and am old enough not to take them for granted. Hold on to your dreams...and make some more memories. 

Patch with Championship Point

The Melrose Patch brings you the championship point. Jill Slabacheski serves and Fenwick sends a 'free ball' back. Rachel Johnson delivers a perfect pass to Brooke Bell, who sets Athena Ziavras from the outside attack, who wipes the block and seals the victory.

Frankly, this brief video will never get old.

Yeah, We Get It

Volleyball on the left coast...

Different game...6'4" hitters

Breaking News: Athena Ziavras Named to All-State Team

Congratulations are in order!

Athena Ziavras was named to the Division 2 All-State Team by the MGVCA (Massachusetts Girls Volleyball Coaches Association).

Athena joins an ever-expanding list of Melrose volleyballers who have achieved such recognition (Beginning in 2005, honors were broken down by division)

2005  Karen Sen, Paula Sen
2007  Hannah Brickley
2008  Hannah Brickley
2009  Hannah Brickley, Colleen Hanscom
2010  Athena Ziavras

If it's Melrose volleyball news, you almost always get it here first.

Inquiring Minds

Some sports lend themselves to statistical analysis, milestones, and machinations. People remember 714 (Babe Ruth home runs) or 755 (Hank Aaron home runs), or 20,000 points in basketball and so forth. Still, at the end of the day, winning is the only statistic that matters.

Coach Celli has updated the statistics at and yesterday's game had some fascinating ones.
  • Athena Ziavras had 22 kills yesterday
  • Brooke Bell added an astonishing career high 44 assists yesterday, going over 500 for the season (last season Colleen Hanscom had 513) 
  • Brooke now has 320/322 successful serves for the season, which is certainly among the leaders in the known universe
  • Athena is tied for tenth in total kills in Massachusetts in the rankings
  • Brooke is second in Massachusetts in assists and tenth in assists per game
  • Inquiring minds asked how Melrose could replace the 450 kills from Hannah Brickley and Laura Irwin. Athena, Rachel Johnson (138), and Jill Slabacheski have put up 489 with at least one game to go.
  • For the season, Melrose has successfully served 94.5 percent; by comparison, two top ranked Division I teams, Andover and Barnstable check in a 92.9 and 88 percent per Maxpreps, although with more service aces. Higher risk usually equals differential reward.
Melrose's next opponent, Fairhaven, checks in with a 19-4 record. Their losses came twice to Case (Division 3, South semifinalist) and New Bedford (lost to Division I, South semifinalist Barnstable). They also defeated Bourne, a perennially competitive team twice.  Like Melrose, they have a younger team, with only two seniors.

Fairhaven's big guns are Kara Charette (333 kills) and Kay Mullen (167 kills), and they appear to use a two setter offense, as their setters have 352 and 195 assists respectively.

Fairhaven is excited to go to the semifinals and face Bishop Melrose, they lost game one in their sectional, won the next two, lost the fourth, and won the final. Charette had 29 kills in the win, and Melrose will need to control her, just as they kept All-State middle hitter Kirsten Morrison somewhat limited against North Reading.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Melrose Survives Fenwick in 5, Captures Sectional Title

Winning a sectional title never comes easily. Winning after graduating a senior core including a pair of All-State players (Hannah Brickley and Colleen Hanscom) makes it harder still. Winning with a new core of six sophomores, a pair of juniors, and one senior requires great chemistry. But special players and championship teams rise up in the big moments, and Melrose did so today, staving off one match point and defeating Bishop Fenwick 3-2. Coaches Scott Celli, Steve Wall, and Amanda Basteri transformed a young team into champions.

After processing to the "Olympic Theme", Melrose and Bishop Fenwick went toe-to-toe in Andover's Dunn Gymnasium, a facility with great sight lines, but an unacceptably low ceiling that altered far too many balls overall.

The Crusaders came out strong in set one, scoring the first two points. Melrose seemed intimidated by the low overhead, and never got closer than 2-1 and 9-7. Fenwick remained in control for the entire game, stretching the lead to 18-10. Melrose rallied to within 18-15, but couldn't generate much offense as Fenwick blocked effectively and Melrose played a lot of "free balls". Melrose could generate only six kills for the entire game, and struggled with very low attack percentages as its big hitters couldn't get untracked, with attacks soaring long. Fenwick took the set 25-19, and no Lady Raider had more than one kill.

Melrose emerged in the second set energized and scored the first five points including a pair of kills from Senior Athena Ziavras and one from Rachel Johnson. Melrose extended the lead to 14-7 and 19-14, but Fenwick kept coming back evening the set at 22. But Melrose responded with a Sarah McGowan winner and a crafty hit by Sophomore All-league setter Brooke Bell to even the match, winning 25-23. Melrose added eleven kills in the frame, including five from Athena, and a pair from Sarah and Jill Slabacheski.

The Lady Raiders played even better in the third stanza, although the set was even at 1,3,4,5, and 7 before Melrose started to pull away. The hitters had their mojo in tow, as Melrose delivered fifteen kills, most on Bell assists. Athena had six more scores, Sarah three, and Rachel and Jill each delivered two. Melrose had leads of 17-11 and 20-14, but the Crusaders kept hanging around with effective digging and blocking. Melrose went up 22-19 and inexplicably got a rotation error called by the floor official. I don't recall seeing a Melrose rotation error in years. But after a pair of monstrous Athena kills, everyone in the gym expected Brooke to set her on the outside, and she crossed up the defense with a dink to win 25-22.

As successful was set three, set four proved an unmitigated disaster. After Melrose led early 3-2, Fenwick climbed on top 6-3 and 11-6. After a Melrose rally to 13-12, Fenwick ran off a dozen of the last thirteen points to kick the Lady Raiders to the curb and threaten their championship dreams. Athena had three kills and Brooke two among Melrose's seven. The large contingent of Melrose fans exhorted the Lady Raiders to come back.

During the break, Coach Steve Wall was seen giving the players about the most animated pep talk imaginable, maybe in the Good Cop/Bad Cop tradition.

But whatever the coaches said, the ladies came out playing their hearts out. Fenwick still took the first two, before Melrose went up 5-2, then got derailed by a service error. From a 6-3 advantage, Melrose surrendered four consecutive points, then tied it at 7 on a Kayla Wyland winner at the net. Fenwick scored the next point leading at the change of ends.

Melrose benefited from a BF service error at eight, leading to a mini-run including another K(ayla)-Kill to go up 11-8, and after Fenwick got a winner at nine, they committed yet another service error to trail 12-9 in the game to 15. From a 13-9 lead, Melrose yielded five consecutive points to face elimination at 13-14. In the ensuing rally, a Bell soft ball was mishandled and Melrose stayed alive. Rachel Johnson had a monster point at 15 with a deep push down the sidelines to give Melrose its own match point, but BF found the range and tied the score. In extra points, Fenwick committed the ultimate mortal sin with its fourth service error of the set, and Melrose had match point again. Melrose handled the return of service, and Bell set Ziavras outside, who wiped the block for the 17-15 win and the celebration began. The steady senior, Athena had three huge kills in the set, ably assisted by sophomores Wyland and Johnson who each delivered a pair.

Game Analysis: Melrose survived and advanced by regrouping to reverse the catastrophic fourth game, just as they had overcome flat play in the first game. Fenwick deserved lots of credit for innovative defensive strategy, excellent blocking, and strong digging in the back row.

A player who gets little credit statistically, Jen Cain had a particularly steady game defensively. Middlesex All-League players Athena and Brooke excelled, both with dominant efforts down the stretch, and Jill and Sarah both pounded the ball offensively while Alyssa DiRaffaele held the fort in the back.

Unofficially, Athena had 18 kills. At times, Melrose's youth showed, but in the end, even the young 'uns had the heart to close it out. Four final set service errors doomed the Crusaders, with miscues leading 8-7, trailing 11-9, and tied at 15. Melrose did enough to win, and as much as anything, refused to lose, taking advantage of what was available.

Melrose faces south winner Fairhaven, which defeated Bishop Feehan (3-2), Tuesday at 7 PM at Newton South in the state semifinals.

One for the Thumb, Melrose Wins 5th D2 North Title 3-2

Full report to follow.

The Lady Raiders celebrate their fifth Division 2 North title in eight years, and a repeat of last year's title with a mostly new cast of characters.

A hard-fought victory for the Lady Raiders and their superb coaching staff.

Captains courageous, Jill Slabacheski (8), Athena Ziavras (33), and Alyssa DiRaffaele savor the spoils of victory. All three were major contributors to the title last season and today.