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Local streak ends!

Can you believe the last time a local girls volleyball team reached the state finals was 1994? That was a long time ago, even for those of us who have shot  past the "don’t trust anyone over 30" barrier, so 1994 much seem like the Ice Age to the current group of players from Liberty and St. Mary’s that will be making the trip to Mission Viejo for Saturday’s finals. I helped cover the state tournament for the Times in 1994 when Miramonte played for the Division IV title. Here’s some perspective: a mega-standout for Archbishop Mitty in the Division III state final that year was Kerri Walsh, the same Kerri Walsh who is now a beach volleyball superstar.
After years of hearing local coaches who’ve led outstanding teams tell me about how their playoff runs hit a brick wall – often at the hands of powerhouse teams from the Central Coast or Sac-Joaquin sections – it’s inspiring to see two East Bay teams land in the state championship matches.
Why do you think these teams were able to reach the state title match after so many other strong local teams did not?

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Semi-tough

The first round of the NCS playoffs had its share of laughers, but now things really get interesting. Here we go with the picks.

(6) De La Salle over Foothill: The Falcons have lost just once in their last six games but they’ll have to be near-perfect to have a chance against the Spartans. And local teams haven’t had much success being perfect against De La Salle in the last, oh, 14 years.

(5) Ygnacio Valley over Acalanes: The Warriors are 8-0 in games where they have scored first, so it’s obvious what the key to their success is: Get on top and stay on top. The Dons’ offense is one of the best YV has seen all year. But as long as the Warriors avoid giving up the big play, they’ll be moving on.

(4) Granada over Irvington: Newsflash! EBAL teams do pretty well against HAAL/MVAL teams.

(3) Monte Vista over San Leandro: See above.

(2) Dublin over Miramonte: The Matadors are playing their best football of the season right now. But the Gaels always play Miramonte tough, and this game will be no different.

(1) Las Lomas over San Ramon Valley: The Knights are seeking a little revenge after being blown out by the Wolves in the NCS 3A East Bay title game last year. And Las Lomas’ defensive front seven on defense is good enough to carry the team to a win.

(1) Salesian over Clear Lake: I’m not betting against Jahvid Best. Ever.

– Curtis Pashelka

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The hurry-up

I have to say I’m a little disappointed in us. I mean, like Curtis said in his post last week, these are the three most exciting weeks of the prep season. And here Chace and I are picking the exact same winners in the semifinals. Sure, we assigned different point values, but jeez.

Well, you know what they say: "Great minds think alike."
My mom likes to remind me, though, that so do foolish ones. Anyway, on to my double-time picks…

6) DLS over Foothill: Two of the best coaches in the area squaring off in a semifinal makes for one heck of a game. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they like to run up the middle, and that’s where the Spartans defense will be waiting for them. Suffice it to say, the Falcons will make DLS work a little harder than James Logan did last week…
5) MV over SL: This battle of unbeatens will be remarkably one-sided. The Pirates probably should have lost to Pittsburg last week. Meanwhile, the Mustangs continue to steamroll opponents. I can already feel the MV-DLS in the title game buzz starting to build.
4) Miramonte over Dublin: This one is trickier than looking at the 42-16 Mats win in Week 6. The Gaels have come a long way since then. Sadly for them, so has the Miramonte defense and quarterback Chris Vasilas. I just don’t think it’s the Gaels’ year.
3) Ygnacio Valley over Acalanes: Blink and you might miss it. Both of these teams love to run the ball. But the Warriors have the horses this year, and I can see a defensive struggle between YV and Miramonte for the 2A East Bay title brewing.
2) Granada over Irvington: I said before the playoffs started that a No. 7 vs. No. 8 showdown for the NCS 3A East Bay title was not out of the question. In fact, I predicted that SRV would avenge a 17-14 regular-season loss to Granada and claim its second straight 3A title. I’m sticking with that, especially since Irvington narrowly escaped a loss to Alameda last week.
1) SRV over LL: I shoulda known better than to pick against a Doug-Longero-led team in the first round, and the Knights made me pay for it last week with a tough win over Clayton Valley. But with the way the Wolves clicked in a dominant win over the No. 1 seed in Hayward last week, I still see the No. 8 seed as the team to beat.
1) Salesian over Clear Lake: All I know about Clear Lake is that, when I was a very young boy, we went on a family vacation to Clear Lake, and the lake was anything but clear. Like Chace said, though, a long drive to face a Chieftains squad that is playing its best football should make for an even longer drive home… If I had to guess, I’d go with Salesian vs. Justin-Siena in the final.

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FRIDAY FORECAST: Two-hour drill

Delayed by large feasts and long naps, we find ourselves up against the wall in making our Friday Forecast picks for semifinal weekend. However, we’ll be going to the no-huddle offense and attempting to submit our picks before racing off to cover our games. With just seven games remaining, we’ll be weighting all of our picks in the format of 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 1.
And here we go.

(6) De La Salle over Foothill: Like you didn’t see it coming. Please.
(5) Miramonte over Dublin: The Matadors beat the Gaels 42-16 the first time around, and that was at Dublin. With the groove that Miramonte is in now, things aren’t going to get any better for Dublin on top of the hill.
(4) Monte Vista over San Leandro: In a battle of unbeatens, I’m going with the home team. Also, the Pirates just haven’t seen an offense like the Mustangs this season.
(3) Ygnacio Valley over Acalanes: In the end, the Dons struggles to contain the rush is going to cost them. Few teams control the line of scrimmage and run the ball better than the Warriors.
(2) San Ramon Valley over Las Lomas: The Dizzy is driving this Wolves bandwagon, but I’m more than happy to ride shotgun. I like what they’ve got going, and a Dave Kravitz team with confidence is a tough team to beat.
(1) Granada over Irvington: There’s an awful good chance that the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds will meet for the 3A championship.
(1) Salesian over Clear Lake: I know little about Clear Lake, except that they’ll be making a long drive. Plus, the Chieftains are playing their best football right now.

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Forecastic!

Look, it’s been a crazy week, what with the holiday and all, so can you really blame us for being a bit tardy on the Forecast update?

I was gonna do it yesterday, but I was too doped out on all that good tryptophan from the turkey, so I took a nap instead.

Anyway, Chace won back the three points I had taken from him in Week 10, going 4-for-5 for 13 points. Curtis, too, had a good day, scoring 13 on a 4-for-5 night and hitting his swing game. I, on the other hand, picked 10 of the 14 first round playoff winners. Unfortunately, three of my misses were point games, so I only scored 10 points. Ben had another rough night, hitting on two plus his swing game for 9 points.

So, after Week 1 of the playoffs, Chace’s lead has scooted back to 6. He has 85 points. I have 79. Curtis is hanging tough at 66, and Ben is bringing up the rear at 63.

Chace should be posting his semifinal picks shortly. Enjoy.

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Destination: State Championship

Northern California Regional Playoffs are under way and only five local teams remain, all of which won their opening matches on Tuesday.

Liberty: The Lions cruised in their first round win over Yuba City. It seems as if Liberty is building up for a rematch with Neveda Union-Grass Valley, the same team that has knocked the Lions out of NorCal’s the last two seasons. The Miners are the two-time Division I state runner-ups.

Northgate: The Broncos bounced Oak Ridge, but Saturday’s Goliath isn’t going to be easy. The Broncos have their work cut out for them. Northgate coach Jim Changaris knows all about the volleyball powerhouse that is Archbishop Mitty-San Jose, the two-time defending Division II state champion. He said that a few years back, when the Broncos traveled to Mitty’s gym for a playoff match, his team was in awe with the amount of banners hanging from the walls. If Northgate wins, to call it an upset would be an understatement.

Foothill: The Falcons like to make things interesting and have made a living on pulling out the tightly-contested games. Which is why it seems ironic that the only slip-up against Carlmont on Tuesday was a 26-24 loss in game three. The other games were won by the Falcons by 9, 5, and 10 points. They’ll need to bring their A game against Nevada Union-Grass Valley.

Campolindo: I bet the Cougars were happy to play any one after that classic NCS Division III final against Bishop O’Dowd. They easily dispatched Union Mine and could possibly see O’Dowd in the NorCal regional finals. Remember, the Cougars upset No.1 seeded St. Francis-Sacramento last year and the Dragons have a shot to do the same.

St. Mary’s: The Panthers dominated Golden Sierra, the team that sent them home last season. Of course, it wasn’t the exact same players, but it still must have felt good. Roles were reversed this time around as St. Mary’s holds the No. 1 seed and the Grizzlies (the Division IV state runner up in 2003 and 2004) the No. 8 seed. Next up for the Panthers is Menlo-Atherton, who partcipated in the Division state finals from 1999-2002, losing all of those matches to Marymount-Los Angeles.

Who will survive Saturday’s matches?

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Playoff fever

I love the NCS football playoffs and all of the tension and drama that comes with it. It’s kind of like ‘The Forecast’ itself. Knowing what’s at stake, Chace, Bill and I haven’t a word to each other all week.

Okay, so that last part isn’t true. Regardless, this is most exciting three weeks on the prep calendar as far as I’m concerned. So here we go with the picks.

(5) Ygnacio Valley over El Cerrito: The Warriors crushed Hercules to start the season, and the Gauchos weren’t quite as dominating in their win over the Titans a few weeks ago. Look for YV to grind out a 2-3 touchdown win.

(4) Foothill over California: Yes, Cal is the Cinderella story. But they haven’t been to the playoffs in, like, forever. Meanwhile, Foothill coach Matt Sweeney has taken his teams to playoffs almost every year the Grizzlies players have been alive. If they avoid a slow start, the Falcons will advance.

(3) Hayward over San Ramon Valley: The nickle-and-dime doesn’t get a lot of respect in the Tri-Valley area. But the Farmers played San Leandro just as tough as SRV did. It seems like I’m the only guy who actually thinks the No. 1 seed will win.

(2) San Leandro over Pitt: The Pirates have come a long way since the Week 1 debacle. I just don’t think they’ve come far enough to beat a team that allowed less than a touchdown per game in HAAL play.

(1) Las Lomas over Clayton Valley: The Knights struggled during the regular season last year as well, but pulled it together in time to make the 3A final. I think they’ll do the same this year. Clayton is on a roll, but it has only beaten one playoff team (YV) this year.

Swing for the fences: Monte Vista over Amador Valley.

Other picks — De La Salle over James Logan, Granada over Pinole Valley, Miramonte over Piedmont, Justin-Siena over St. Mary’s, Benicia over Luther Burbank, Acalanes over O’Dowd, Dublin over Encinal, Salesian over John Swett.

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FRIDAY FORECAST: Crunch time

The Forecast has reached the fourth quarter. I’m clinging to a field goal advantage and it’s time to dig deep, make plays, execute. It’s only a half hour before I head out to the Monte Vista-Amador Valley tilt, so let’s get right to it.

(5) Ygnacio Valley over El Cerrito: The Gauchos won’t know what hit them. So I’ll let them know ahead of time: Gary Graffort, Al Becerra, James Lawson, Puiake Uaisele and a host of other players on a very physical Warriors roster.
(4) Las Lomas over Clayton Valley: In a rematch of one of the best NCS championship games in recent memory, the Knights will be looking to get even for a 37-36 double-OT loss in 2002. However, more than revenge, this game will be about defense — Las Lomas has a pretty good one, and Clayton Valley’s tends to disappear from time to time.
(3) San Ramon Valley over Hayward: Compared to another night of playing in the EBAL, the Wolves are going to relish their trip to Hayward.
(2) Cal over Foothill: It’s like The Dizzy said, it’s all about home field advantage in this one. Still, most teams are lucky to beat Foothill once in a season. Twice? The Grizzlies face a daunting challenge, but they have the talent (and the coaching) to meet it.
(1) San Leandro over Pittsburg: Yet another team trying to defeat a very good program twice in one season. Still, there’s a reason San Leandro finished 10-0.

OTHER LOCALS

De La Salle over James Logan: Fortunately for the Colts, it will be overly quickly.
Monte Vista over Amador Valley: The game is in Danville this time, and that’s bad news for AV.
Pinole Valley over Granada: It’s hard to go against an EBAL team, but Pinole Valley is at home and has the playoff experience.
Alameda over Irvington: Regardless of records or seeds, I would not want to play an Alameda team in the first round. I would, however, like to play an Irvington team.
Miramonte over Piedmont: The Matadors might be the best team nobody is talking about.
Acalanes over Bishop O’Dowd: The Dons felt snubbed by the seeding committee, and will look to purge their frustration on the team which knocked them out of the playoffs a season ago.
Dublin over Encinal: This one could get ugly.
Justin-Siena over St. Mary’s: This one will be ugly.
Salesian over John Swett: The Indians have heart, but not the firepower to beat Salesian.

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Vball championships a go, sort of

Everything is going just the way I predicted! Actually, the top two seeds in Division I-III have advanced, so I guess everyone figured it would play out this way…(Note: No. 1 St. Mary’s still has to win tonight)

Here are the championship games:

Div. I: Foothill travels to Liberty. These two teams haven’t seen each other this season. Both have major talent. However, the Falcons lean on their middleblockers Betsy Sedlak and Felicia Willoughby, while the Lions have enough big bodies up front to potentially stablize that attack. That could be the difference.

Div. II Northgate vs. Maria Carillo. The rematch. The last time these two teams met, Maria Carillo bounced the Broncos from the Gold division of their own tournament. A chance for redemption? A chance for pay back? Who wrote this script?

Div. III: Bishop O’Dowd tries to stay perfect against Campolindo. Not gonna happen. There’s a reason why the seeding committee and coaches awarded the top seed to Campolindo despite the Dragons having gone undefeated on the season. The Cougars have three losses, all coming at the Durango Tournament against some of the nation’s elite teams. Plus, this is a rematch of last season’s Div. III championship match, which the Cougars won.

Div. IV: Who didn’t pay their light bill in Berkeley and Albany? Because of the poweroutage last night, St. Mary’s will try to advance tonight agaisnt St. Joseph’s. This is more of a formality. No. 2 Justin Siena awaits the winner.

Div. V: I have no idea about any of these teams, other than that a No. 12 seed knocked off a No. 1 seed. Go figure? Urban (19-13) elimiated Anderson Valley (34-2) in three games in the semifinals. And judging by the scores(25-14, 25-9, 25-22), those were three dominant games. Go figure some more. No. 2 Crystal Springs is probably shaking in their sneakers. They host Urban on Saturday.

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Second-season suspicions

After an unscheduled hiatus in Week 10, the Friday Forecast is back in action, just in time for the playoffs.
We took a week off unexpectedly, thanks largely to the fact that most of our games were switched to Thursday, and we couldn’t think of a catchy name for a Thursday predictions entry.
You’d think we could plan far enough in advance to be prepared for that sort of thing. But you’d be wrong.
Hey, we’re journalists, not schedule makers.
When last we met, The Dizzy had cut Chace’s 6-point lead clean in half by scoring 15 points to his 12. Chace now leads 72-69. Ben and Curtis played even in Week 9, both scoring 11 points and now stand at 54 and 53 points, respectively, entering the playoffs.
So, without further ado, let’s get on with the Forecast.

5) Ygnacio Valley over El Cerrito — I’ve been accused of disrespecting teams from the West side of the hills, and I can’t really argue with that. I wouldn’t really call it a lack of respect, however. I tend to think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what’s going on in the high school football world, and the fact of the matter is, this year, the ACCAL and the BSAL weren’t exactly at their best. Meanwhile, the EBAL was unbelievable (six out of seven teams made the playoffs, 24-4 overall record vs. nonleague opponents). The BVAL was pretty good, too, and YV’s only losses were to teams in higher classifications (Clayton Valley, Pitt, DLS).
None of which is going to make the Gauchos feel any better after the top-seeded Warriors rack up 300+ punishing rushing yards in a first round win.

4) San Ramon Valley over Hayward — Here we go again with the Central County bias. I know the Farmers are the No. 1 seed, and the Wolves are 5-5, the No. 8 seed, and were the last at-large team to earn a berth in the NCS 3A East Bay bracket. But let’s remember that SRV lost three of its games by 7 or fewer points, and that the other two were to 4A teams that went undefeated (Monte Vista and San Leandro). Let’s also remember that the Wolves lost to SL by 20 points (34-14), and the Farmers lost by 14 (26-12). In my book, that’s about a push.
I just think the Wolves, by virtue of having played a grossly more competitive season in the EBAL, have essentially been playing playoff games for the last seven weeks. They’re battle-tested.

3) Clayton Valley over Las Lomas — I always have trouble picking against the Knights and Doug Longero, but you have to give the edge to the red-hot Eagles, who roll into the playoffs on a 5-game winning streak after starting the season 1-4. Las Lomas, on the other hand, sorta sputtered down the stretch, missing a shot at an outright DFAL crown by losing to Dublin in Week 10 while Miramonte topped Alhambra to grab a share.
This might end up being another barn-burner, though, like the 2003 3A EB title game…

2) Pitt over San Leandro — What can I say? I like the underdog. But with the way Romont Taylor is running the ball for Pitt, I’m not sure they’re that much of an underdog. I don’t know if speedy San Leandro has been forced to match up with this kind of team speed yet this season. We’ll see how SL fares against its mirror image.

1) California over Foothill — This is the classic home-team-wins-it game. Despite a lopsided regular-season win, I don’t think the Griz are really that much better than the Falcons, per se. I’d be stunned if Cal can out-rush Foothill 251-21 like it did during the first meeting, and I’m guessing the score will be closer than the 35-21 win Cal put up in EBAL play. Sweeney’s had five weeks to make adjustments since that loss, and it will show on the field. I do think the Grizzlies will end up gutting it out, though.

SWING TIME: Miramonte over Piedmont — The Mats are playing scary-good defense right now, and quarterback Chris Vasilas is hitting on all cylinders. It’d be a surprise if the Highlanders got anything going against them, even though, as a league champ, they earned the home field in the first round.

OTHER LOCALS: These picks don’t count for points, but they could help mitigate the shame I may have to endure should I, the football writer, end up trailing Chace in the standings when all is said and done. (And yeah, I will be keeping track of these, too. Just because I can.)

DLS over James Logan Romp city.
Monte Vista over Amador Valley — Just like in the regular season: close but no cigar for the Dons.
Acalanes over Bishop O’Dowd — The Dons are still steaming over a perceived snub by the seeding committee. Here’s guessing they take it out on the defending champs.
Dublin over Encinal — The Gaels are clicking right now. Watch for a big game from Plimmer.
Granada over Pinole Valley — That’s right. I picked the bottom half of every first-round matchup in the 3A East Bay bracket. Deal with it.
Alameda over Irvington — Get ready to take a ride on the Jonathan Ve’e express…
Justin-Siena over St. Mary’s — The Braves just keep rolling in Class A.
Salesian over John Swett — With the emergence of WR Andre Wells and QB David Singleton and the continued good play of RB Jahvid Best, the Chieftains are too multi-faceted on offense for the Indians to handle.