Strong Serving Helps Somerville Sweep Madison Park in MIAA Girls’ Volleyball Postseason Opener

(written, shot, edited and narrated for Somerville Patch)

The Somerville Highlanders served up 24 aces Friday at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury, sweeping the Cardinals in three games in the opening round of the MIAA state tournament.

The Highlanders will travel to the top-seeded 17-1 Newton North Tigers Tuesday night for the MIAA Central-East Division 1 Quarter Finals.

With a week off between games, Somerville coach Steven Walker and the Highlanders used the extra practice time to focus on improved serving.

“We need to serve well if we want anything else to work,” Walker said. “Offense, defense, anything. Our play, our momentum starts with our serving.”

Walker said the team specifically worked on targeting and location, and the extra work paid off. The Highlanders won 25 points – one entire game – via aces or unreturned serves.

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Thank You, BUDA

I've been playing with the Boston Ultimate Disc Alliance for seven years. Thanks for all the memories, BUDA!

With the Boston Ultimate Disc Alliance Fall 2011 season ending this weekend, and with my first post-grad-school job likely taking me out of Massachusetts, my time with BUDA is at an end.

Thanks are in order (specific players’ last names abbreviated for semi-privacy).

Shire Weed: You were my very first BUDA team, way back in summer 2004. I joined to improve my throws heading into my senior year at Wesleyan. Used to the intensive atmosphere of college Ultimate, I couldn’t quite buy into a team that only saw each other for two hours once a week. Not yet ensconced in the BUDA mentality – especially the team cheers at the end, something my college team patently rejected – I don’t think I even learned many of your names. I apologize: I was young, and I didn’t yet understand what BUDA was.

Greg S: You and I have played together more often than any other BUDA player I know. Shire Weed was our first team together, and I’ve enjoyed every point I’ve played with you. You anchored every offense you played in, and I was always in awe of your hucking ability.

Josh A.: I’ve lost track of how many times you and I have captained together. Three seasons? Four? In any event, I loved captaining with you. Our contrasting skill-sets and attitudes played off each other: You kept things light and fun, while I tried to help our teams improve without sounding overbearing. And occasionally, we switched! You have a fantastic sense of humor. Anyone who gets you as a captain should count himself or herself lucky.

Kate A. and Steve W.: I always thought of you two and Josh as a trio – if I captained with Josh, it meant I got you two as well. You both brought experience, skill and enthusiasm to every one of our games. I always felt confident when you were on the field.

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Pariots Hope to Right Ship Against NFC East-Leading Giants

Eli Manning is having a fantastic 2011 season, and that's bad news for the Patriots, who have the worst pass-defense in the NFL. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

It’s been almost four years since the New York Giants’ ended the New England Patriots’ bid for an undefeated season. That’s far too long ago to call Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium a “revenge game.” Instead, this game will simply be an opportunity for the Patriots to pull their pass defense out of the gutter.

What better way to make a statement than against the streaking, 5-2 Giants?

Eli Manning’s Giant Arm Against the Patriots’ Giant Defensive Gaps

The Patriots enter Sunday’s game with the dead-worst passing defense in the league. Seriously: they allow 323.1 yards per game, ranking them 32nd in the league. And while New England’s nine interceptions are somewhat impressive, remember that two picks belong to Vince Wilfork. Beyond the defensive line, the team’s potential for turnovers is just middle-of-the road.

The Patriots’ terrible pass-defense makes Sunday’s game a potential for total disaster. The Giants have the fourth-best passing attack in the NFL, and Eli Manning is one of the best quarterbacks this season. His numbers season are almost identical to Tom Brady‘s: Brady completes 67.6 percent of his passes, Manning completes 64.8. Brady throws 2.25 touchdowns per interception, Manning throws 2.6. Brady has a 104.4 QB rating (second in the NFL), Manning has a 102.1 rating (third).

Even their protection has been similar: Brady’s been sacked 14 times, Manning 15.

Manning has been nearly as good as Brady this season, but Manning will be throwing against a far inferior Patriots secondary. If Miami’s Chad Henne can throw for 416 yards, Manning’s final numbers could border on obscene.

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No NBA… No Worries?

Whether it's because of race, geography or season-length, the public outcry from the NFL lockout just hasn't been matched during the far costlier NBA lockout. (Fern Shen/www.baltimorebrew.com)

When the NFL preseason – the most over-marketed, over-analyzed, overblown preseason in professional sport – seemed in jeopardy in August due to the ongoing NFL lockout, this country came close to rioting. Ongoing collective bargaining negotiations dotted national headlines day after day after day. Pundits endlessly debated each side’s merits.

Rather than risk a blow to the league’s image or any actual profit losses, owners and players mobilized, getting a deal done without barring fans from a single minute of games that have never, and will never, matter.

Meanwhile, actual NBA games have been officially canceled, yet this country’s furor over lost basketball isn’t anywhere close to what it was three months ago.

The NBA’s lockout is far pettier than the NFL’s: basketball team owners and the NBA haven’t spent years actively quelling allegations that a common basketball injury is secretly ruining players’ brains, leading to an incredibly bitter workforce unwilling to make further monetary concessions to the people who are profiting while they slowly kill themselves for the public’s entertainment.

But even without that angry undercurrent humanizing the people involved, the public outcry just hasn’t been there. Why is that?

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Patriots Report Card: Week 8

Andre Carter's two-sack game highlighted an A- performance from the Patriots' defensive line in Sunday's loss to the Steelers. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

I don’t know why, but football players more than any other athlete legitimately rally around negative press. So when the media almost universally gave Sunday’s New England Patriots-Pittsburgh Steelers game to the visiting Patriots, a Steelers victory became a near-guarantee. And the Steelers won in truly convincing fashion, doubling up the Patriots in both total yardage (427 vs. 213) and possession time (39:22 to 20:38). The Patriots never led and, coupled with a Bills’s shutout of the lowly Redskins, fell back into a tie atop the AFC East.

In a game this poor, did anyone play well? Here’s my report card.

Quarterback: B+

Tom Brady had to withstand a constant barrage of Pittsburgh pass-rushers while his receivers hurried to get open. That he completed over 68 percent of his passes and threw no interceptions is quite remarkable. Even more remarkable: his second-to-last drive of the game, in which Brady went 8-for-10 in a pass-exclusive offense. Brady’s high completion percentage and two touchdown passes helped him finish with his highest QB rating (101.8) since beating the Chargers in Week 2, but Patriots fans have seen far superior performances from Brady, especially at Heinz Field.

Running Backs: C

Nice to see Kevin Faulk (32 yards on the ground, 20 in the air) back, but Sunday’s game was a no-show for the Patriot running game. BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for just 9 yards; neither back made it into the end zone, and Faulk could not convert any third down in which he carried the ball. Granted, these were usually third-and-long situations, but Sunday was a huge step back for a ground game the Patriots need to keep opponents from eating Brady and his receivers alive.

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