Wednesday, November 30, 2011


It's never going to look like this, but the offensive attack will continue to improve.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Making It Real

Kids are pretty sophisticated these days, far more than we were when I grew up. The communication revolution via the Internet and also the realities of political and economic divisiveness give young people a lot of information and a lot to think about.

What has this got to do with sports? Success doesn't occur in a vacuum. Achievement follows leadership, energy, integrity, and honesty. The chance to be part of something special draws people who want to be part of something bigger than themselves.

The success of the volleyball program is well-documented. If your players trust you and your message, AND that message is both genuine and durable, they will walk through fire for you. Does that guarantee indefinite and unlimited success? I don't know any recipe that does. But it does give you a great launching pad for achievement.

Conversely, if the message becomes stale, or inconsistent, or the process lacks quality, then the sustainability of the program falters and the ultimate outcome suffers.

Volleyball isn't life or death, but supporting the program and the young people involved offers ultimate benefit to the community through development of the next generation of leaders.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advanced Serving Techniques from Portland Clinic

Specific drills, mechanics, and varied types of serves.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Just Dumb Enough

You've seen the videos; here's the introduction. "I'm just dumb enough to keep trying". A great coach acknowledges his ignorance and flexibility.

When you begin as a player or evolve as a coach, you develop a philosophy and refine or change it according to your growth, success, or setbacks.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Six Skills, Blocking

By way of review, my concept of volleyball skills as a NON-EXPERT is:

  • Exchanges (serving and initial passing)
  • Offense (setting and attacking)
  • Defense (digging and blocking)
Today's video from the Art of Coaching Volleyball series (some of the elite college volleyball coaches) reviews blocking. One coach says that the least taught skills are serving and blocking. To me, Melrose's best skill through the years has been blocking. 

I watch every video to see if it seems easily understandable (setting a low bar for myself). 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Art of Coaching Series, Setting

More from the Art of Coaching series...learning about volleyball...really phenomenal the quantitative study of performance.

From a learning perspective...terrific.

Happy Thanksgiving

A site for the Melrose volleyball community. The site has no affiliation with Melrose High School, the City of Melrose, or the Melrose School Department.

The Art of Volleyball Coaching series has a lot of great information. Here's a drill from their site; obviously, absent a 'permanent' volleyball facility, developing off-season skills gets tougher.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Six Skills, Clinic, Defense

The more I watch volleyball, the more the appreciation. The Art of Volleyball Coaching series has some intriguing video vignettes.

Here are a couple of "technical" videos where leading coaches give their thoughts on footwork, handwork, and coordination of movement in digging.

The coaches emphasize both similarities and differences, and the series is designed to promote variation in coaching philosophy.

Division 2 All-State Team

The MGVCA published their Division 2 All-state team.

Local volleyball fans have seen many of these players over the past couple of years, including Brooke Bell and Sarah McGowan, Charette and Perron-Sovik of Fairhaven, Fearing and Scott of Marlborough, Murphy of Canton, Houff of Longmeadow, and Melvin and Olson of Westborough.

Faces in the Crowd

Don Norris sends over some photographs of the atmosphere at the volleyball state championship last weekend. Captions are intentionally limited.

Future Lady Raiders.

Former Lady Raider Athena Ziavras, goddess of volleyball?

Who's Crying Now?

Few local athletes ever get to compete in state sectional championships. Fewer have won them. Even fewer have won three consecutive sectional titles. And only a select few have had the chance to compete for a state championship in the past decade.

Photograph from the Melrose Free Press.

The players can wear defeat as a thorny crown or a badge of honor. But if I were an underclassman, I'd have the photograph framed and on my desk, where I'd look at it each day, reminding myself that I'm not going back for a ribbon with a silver medal on it next year. Congratulations on a great season!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Six Skills, Continued

I am NOT an expert on fact, outside of Melrose volleyball history over a decade, I'm still trying to understand the game.

But from an organizational standpoint, volleyball has three somewhat distinct phases:

Serving and receiving (exchanges)
Offense: setting and attacking (spiking, hitting)
Defense: blocking and digging

Naturally, as a team, you want to be as strong as possible in every area. The Internet may not always have much context, but it has absolutely phenomenal content.

With the long offseason, perhaps we can go on a meandering volleyball journey into the "six skills".

For the incurably scientific, the physics of volleyball serving and quantitative time impact discussed. Everybody hates a know-it-all, so please don't ask me to explain the physics. The simple answer is that a higher take-off (jump serve), flatter arc, and topspin all impact the 'hang time'.

Monday, November 21, 2011

For the Girls

Congratulations on a wonderful season and a ticket to the Big Dance.

Congratulations to the departing seniors who gave so much to the program.

Congratulations to the coaches who worked tirelessly to achieve success.

You never know from where your next great players will emerge. (Don Norris photos from summer volleyball instructional camp)


Photographs courtesy Don Norris

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Self-Scouting and the Reality of Perception

Melrose has enjoyed tremendous volleyball success during the past decade with a legion of accomplishments. It is entirely fair to say that along with Central Catholic and Andover, Melrose has been one of the top three teams in the region. Within the athletic community, the volleyball program could legitimately claim to be the number one local 'brand'.

Here's the Tale of the Tape

  • 10 consecutive playoff appearances
  • 9 consecutive D2 North finals
  • 7 All-State Players
  • 6 D2 North Championships
  • 3 Consecutive D2 North Championships
  • 2 State Championship appearances
  • 1 MIAA Sportsmanship Award
  • 1 Division 2 Coach of the Year Award
All that being said, what is the perception of how Melrose plays amidst the six critical skills of volleyball: serve, dig, pass, set, attack, and block?.

Ultimately, you have to play to your personnel and the extent of offense you can generate...and a team like Marlboro had three superior hitters in Fearing, Silverman, and Scott, particularly with the versatile Fearing bringing a quality back row attack as well. 

Coach Celli has made a commitment to tough non-league games (possibly to include Bishop Fenwick, Central Catholic, Lincoln-Sudbury, and at Westborough next year) to make the team tournament ready. 

Melrose's coaching staff will work with the players to the extent permissible to improve the offense especially via self-scouting. Self-scouting allows teams to determine their tendencies (strong versus middle or weak attacks), role for back row hitting and the quick set, and so forth. Melrose returns eight players with extensive varsity playing experience and should be a favorite next year.

But as for the State Championship game, a terrific and deserving team, with great coaching, executing at critical times, clearly deserved to win. 

States Pics Group 2

From Don Norris. Click photos to enlarge.

Make no mistake about it, losing brings disappointment. But there's a huge difference between disappointment and discouragement.

States Pics First Group

Photos from Don Norris

You Haven't Seen the Last of Me

hat tip: JB

After a tough loss, you have two choices. You can feel sorry for yourselves or you come back more determined than ever.

Fortunate Son

We've been fortunate to have great coaching from the Melrose staff. Here is a cross-post from the blog on the subject of coaching.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

ESPN Boston Interviews

Click on the interview.

Giving Thanks*

*A blog for Melrose volleyball fans. Opinions contained are solely my own and not representative of Melrose High School or the Melrose volleyball program.

  • I am thankful for having the opportunity of having shared the highs and the lows of a decade of Melrose volleyball. 
  • I am thankful for us having a professional and dedicated coaching staff that has helped produce successful teams and young women. 
  • I am thankful for the hard work, dedication, commitment, and sacrifice of players and their families. 
  • I am thankful for the players who compete every day at practice, improving their team and their teammates, yet getting little recognition and limited amount of playing time. 
  • I am thankful for the fans who support the team and coaches every year, home and away. 
  • I am thankful for some special people who help me create and share this information with the community, including but not limited to Jeff Mate', Don Norris, and Dick Collis. 
  • I am thankful to all those who have supported me and my Melrose volleyball family through the years, especially my daughters Karen and Paula, and of course, one of the first ladies of Melrose volleyball, Ellen. 
  • I am thankful for the opportunity to support the Melrose volleyball program and hope for the chance to do so for many more years. 

Dreams Delayed, Not Denied...Melrose Falls to Marlboro 3-1

Dreams may come or go, but unachieved they do not disappear. The elusive state championship remains as Melrose battled hard but couldn't make enough plays and fell to Marlboro before a capacity crowd 25-22, 23-25, 13-25, and 20-25.

Melrose played its best volleyball of the year in the first set. The girls attacked and defended relentlessly, and the overconfident Marlboro Panthers seemed ripe for the taking. Melrose trailed early 2-0, only to rebound to 4-2 behind Jill Slabacheski and Sarah McGowan attacks.

Gradually, Melrose extended the lead, with aggressive blocking from Rachel Johnson and power offense from Sarah, as Melrose extended its leads to 9-5, 16-9, and 21-14. But Marlboro gathered steam behind the outstanding libero play of Vanessa Pascal and Taylor Fearing's brilliant setting to draw within 21-19, only to have a service error. Melrose finally clinched the first set as Marlboro errors proved costly.

Melrose amassed fourteen kills in the set, including six for Sarah, four for Jen Cain, and a trio from Rachel. It was on like Donkey Kong.

The second set was a back and forth contest, with ties at 1, 2, 3, and four before Melrose went up 9-5. But Alexa Fearing started to hammer away, and because of Melrose's blocking impact, Marlboro went to a back row attack style, which gave Melrose problems, and Marlboro a big run to go up 14-10. The Lady Raiders chipped away, but struggled to score, relying more on defense waiting for Marlboro errors. With Melrose trailing 21-19, a net serve proved costly, particularly when Melrose then rallied to go up 23-22 on Slabacheski and Johnson kills. But when crunch time came, Melrose couldn't make plays and the Panthers won the final three points of the set. Marlboro recovered from being dazed and confused and basically won the match there, surviving being punched out and on the ropes.

Melrose had just eight kills unofficially for the set, three for Rachel a pair for Sarah, and one each from setter Brooke Bell, Jen, and Jill.

Set three was all Marlboro, with attacks from Melissa Scott, Laura Silverman, and Fearing, while Pascal swallowed up everything in the back row like "Jaws".
Melrose trailed 6-3 after going out to a 3-1 advantage, and then fell behind 12-4, and 16-6 before the Lady Raiders were able to stop the bleeding. Overall, Melrose simply couldn't generate offense, and the team couldn't sustain the defense against Marlboro attacks. Melrose never got closer than 21-13 and it looked grim.

Melrose got nine kills for the set, including four from Jill and a pair from Sarah, but it was the worst set of the season for Melrose.

Literally playing for the season, the team regrouped and went ahead 3-1, only to see ties at 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 before Marlboro ran up to 21-18. Melrose got a pretty Bell push kill to the deep left corner, and a McGowan kill brought it to 22-20, only to have a Marlboro attack bring the Panthers within two points of victory at 23-20. On the ensuing play, Melrose was called for a phantom double hit, with the ball not spinning a whit. The game ended quietly for Melrose as Panther fans swarmed onto the court, preventing the traditional post game handshakes from occurring for minutes.

Melrose had thirteen kills during the comeback effort, including five more for Sarah, three for Rachel, and a pair apiece for Brooke and Jen.

Game analysis: Melrose won the first set with outstanding defense and aggressive offense. To say the defense was spectacular would be an understatement. Everyone was effective, but Jen Cain was exceptional. But Marlboro found adjustments (back row attacking) that opened up the defense and limited the impact of blocks from Rachel Johnson and Kayla Wyland in particular, and Melrose couldn't finish set two. The Lady Raiders battled valiantly in the final set, but couldn't catch a break when it counted as Marlboro simply made a few more plays when it mattered, although Marlboro departs knowing that Melrose earned their respect. Melrose did a lot of good things, but that isn't enough when competing for a state title.

Melrose will return their seven juniors and sophomore defensive specialist Jill MacInnes. A healthy taste of success only increases the appetite for the prize.

Story Time

Every generation has its artists, some use a guitar, a block of wood or stone, watercolors or oil, or even a computer.

Today, the Melrose Lady Raiders use the 18 by 9 meter hardwood canvas and 10 ounce volleyball as paintbrush to write their narrative. For some, volleyball is their 'second' sport passion; others were born to play, groomed for their role, their destiny since they first picked up a ball in elementary school. They perfected their craft in gyms near and far, with stops in the weight room and the training room.

No doubt that today's match will bring tears of joy or defeat, as every championship validates the winners and leaves an emptiness for a time in the vanquished.

Two hundred seventy-two teams began the season with aspirations of playing today, including seventy-five in Division 2. Six remain. Melrose has defeated three of the top ten teams in Massachusetts and two of the top five in Division 1.

Latest Division 1 rankings.

I believe. Why not!

Championship Saturday

The Chinese character for "crisis" blends signs for "danger" and "opportunity". For the 23-1 Lady Raiders, today's volleyball state championship presents only opportunity. The 2009 team graduated seven seniors, meaning the following campaigns could present wholesale rebuilding. But with a firm infrastructure and committed players, Coach Scott Celli and his staff have advanced to their second chance at a title with a team of "young veterans".

Senior Tri-captain Jill Slabacheski will set the Melrose volleyball record for participation in post-season play today with her SIXTEENTH appearance, eclipsing that of Paula and Karen Sen from 2002-2005. The junior class, seven strong on the 2011 version, enters for their thirteenth postseason contest.

Melrose brings a full wagon, loaded with a pair of Division 2 All-State players, Brooke Bell and Sarah McGowan, the Middlesex League co-MVP Alyssa DiRaffaele, ML All-Star "Swiss Army knife" Jen Cain, and less recognized but very talented juniors Rachel Johnson, Amanda Commito, Kayla Wyland, and Sydney Dohery, and 'the rookie', sophomore Jill MacInnes.

McGowan is the kills leader among players still in the tournament (fifth overall in Massachusetts) and Johnson is just outside the top fifty overall in kills, despite missing several games with illness. Bell is fifth in assists (596) and will eclipse six hundred today.

Why not!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Got To Be There

Will you be watching the state championship tomorrow? Check in on Facebook and support the team.

Why Not?

More than Meets the Eye

Don Norris, in addition to his photojournalism expertise, has a breadth of volleyball experience. In early October, he forecast great success for Melrose.

Maybe the Central banners make a prediction of their own.

Hall of Fame Matchup

It's not as though every coach in Massachusetts is in the MGVCA Hall of Fame. But tomorrow's match features Marlboro's Peter Lepore (inducted 2009) and Melrose's Scott Celli (inducted 2011).

Here is a link to the MGVCA Hall of Fame page and their criteria.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why Not...a Theme from the 1989 Orioles

Why not, we can win this thing...

R-E-S-P-E-C-T has its newest rankings out.

Melrose faces number 2 Marlboro Saturday. Melrose lost to #6 Westboro, but beat #3 Central, # 7 Lincoln-Sudbury, and #9 Longmeadow.

One Game

One game.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why Not?


I'm not an expert on volleyball, but I've seen or called most of the Melrose postseason games over the past decade. Comparing one team with another or one player with another accomplishes little, but every player and team establishes its legacy. Memories linger because of great or small performances, and the magnitude of achievement within the moment.

Everyone contributed mightily but here are my observations.

  1. A come-from-behind victory against a terrific team that propels a team into the state championship moves to the top spot of signature games in Melrose volleyball history. 
  2. Coach Scott Celli may not get another Division 2 Coach of the Year Award this season, but he might have earned it last evening with patience when the team struggled, and flexibility to substitute to go offense-defense in crunch time. 
  3. With Longmeadow blocking well, Brooke Bell backed the sets off the net that confounded the blockers.
  4. Establish the pass with the run. Sarah McGowan coped with some blocks early, but her willingness to hit demanded blockers' attention, leading to opportunities for the short game later. 
  5. The serve can be a potent weapon, as both teams proved last night. Alyssa DiRaffaele's service run to begin the fifth provided a critical edge. 
  6. Gut check (Part I). The team rallied from behind in set four, trailing two sets to one and played more aggressively to get back into the match. 
  7. Gut check (Part II). In a long match, the athletic Melrose team showed a lot of stamina. Particularly noteworthy is Rachel Johnson, who returned from significant illness to go the distance. 
  8. Seventh player award goes to the Melrose crowd, which represented at least two-thirds in attendance and made the extended trip on a school night to support the team. 
  9. Melrose kept the 'four E's'. They had energy, energized each other, had the edge (discipline) when the going got tough, and executed in the big moments. 
  10. Unsung heroines? Kayla Wyland and Sydney Doherty split the award by bringing extra attack wins from the opposite position, although Sydney got the point of the game from the strong side. 

On Like Donkey Kong

"It's On Like Donkey Kong"

its on like donkey kong386 up117 down
A phrase to denote that it's time to throw down or compete at a high level; something is about to go down. The use of the comical video game character Donkey Kong provides comic relief but the phrase itself has greater or more significance than simply its on

J-Mac digs it.
Alyssa gets after it.
Block that.
Coach Steve Wall with words of wisdom.

This veteran team is ironically still young.

Photos from Don Norris.