March Madness

It’s not supposed to snow close to a foot in the middle of March. Even in New Hampshire. Yet here I am on a “snow day” with my power flickering on and off precariously, while wind howls and snow falls outside. That’s bad news on a number of fronts, not least of which is that the high school team I coach started practicing yesterday. After one day of relatively decent conditions in a parking lot, we’re going to be scrambling for the foreseeable future. Yes, so will our opponents, but we graduated a lot of talent and need the work more than they do, and we lack the steady access to an indoor facility that some of the better ones have. I guess we’ll try to control what we can control and see where that leads us.

My own tennis continues to be a frustrating journey which may or may not ultimately lead me back to where I’m trying to be. Last week our team dropped another close one, this time at Mountainside. Their guys were out for revenge after the 5-0 thumping at our place and they brought all their top players, while for some reason we left the available Jeff Siegel home. Chris and I went against Glenn and B in a close match which ended all too familiarly, with another supertiebreaker going into the loss column. We dropped a close first set when Chris was broken at 4-4, but the real culprit was our failure to consistently return what were not especially fast or high-kicking serves. I dropped my serve early in the second but we got off the mat and took five straight games by getting more accurate with our returns and more aggressive at the net. Then the momentum shifted yet again as they came up with some great shots in the ‘breaker while I stopped moving my feet and hit a hideous double fault (my only one of the match) into the bottom of the net. Overall, though I served better after implementing some changes made during a midweek practice session with Adam Hirshan and John Pelkey: basically, move my front foot close to the line and keep it stationary, and keep my shoulder turned longer. I didn’t describe that particularly well but as long as I don’t toss too far to the left it actually does work better than what I was doing before. The other positive from this match is that I was a good teammate and helped Chris with some advice at certain points when he was struggling. Rather than getting down on myself or my partner when things weren’t going well, I regrouped and we were able to dig in and make it a close match. Ultimately, though, a loss is a loss and I’m 3-4 this season. All those four defeats have come against strong players in supertiebreakers, but as Bill Parcells once observed, “you are what your record says you are”. Right now my record says I’m average, and I don’t like being average, but over time maybe I can change that. We struggled at some other positions too. PJ and Adam, who had played so well against Glenn and B, had more trouble with the bigger-hitting Atherley and King and lost in two close sets, the second a tie-breaker. Jeff Hannum just didn’t show up mentally (again) and lost a match he should have won against Tim Lesko, 4-6, 0-6. The last point of the match said it all as he shanked an easy forehand into the side curtain on his own side of the net. Our two singles player was a new guy from Concord, Adam Lesser, who at first sight looks to be a prototypical baseliner with heavy spin groundstrokes and an aversion to playing the net. He came through easily against Jeff Adie, a doubles player pressed into playing singles on this particular day. Todd and Paul McManus gave us a big point at third doubles, winning 4 and 4 against a decent team. Todd hit some crushing overheads while Paul played steadily and was able to hold serve at key moments. That allowed us to outscore Mountainside over the home and away legs of the competition by 7-3, a significant margin. If we can beat HH 3-2 to gain a 5-5 split, and get seven or more points against the other teams, we should make districts yet. I can only play two more times, though, since I found out that during April vacation I have to have hernia surgery. The doctor was optimistic about me returning to work and even to some types of physical activity within a week, but said I need to stay away from the twisting and turning of tennis for about six weeks. I don’t get to hit much in April and May with my coaching anyway, and at least this way I’ll be able to come back and play during the summer. Still, it will be agony if our team goes right down to the wire competing for that second spot. Maybe I can help with some strategy or moral support if nothing else.

Finally, it’s that time of year for my favorite sporting event, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Last year I tried to watch all the games and keep a running diary on my iPhone of what was happening, and it worked for three days before I actually got a life. This year I make no promises, but will post what I can. I’m not a big preview guy but for the moment I would like to highlight one matchup (or potential matchup) worth watching at each round of competition, along with my prediction for each.

First-round games (formerly “play in”): Long Island University-Brooklyn (vs James Madison). The Blackbirds play streetball at its finest, with no-look passes, tricky dribbling and almost non-stop fast breaks. This is the third consecutive Big Dance for their core group, and if the 2012 Northeast Conference Player of the Year, Julian Boyd, hadn’t torn his ACL early in the season, they would have landed a better seed and might even have had a chance to win their second- round game. A glaring lack of height, a near-total absence of defense, and an impending matchup with Indiana will keep them from coming close this time, but they’ll still be one of the most fun teams to watch, so catch them while you can.

Second-round: Bucknell (vs Butler). Twenty-seven years ago, player-coach Dave Paulson, a senior-to-be at Williams College, led the Con-20 dorm team to the championship of the St. Paul’s ASP basketball league with wins over Brewster, Ford and my own Center Upper squad. This spring, after a long journey through the coaching ranks, his Bison claimed the Patriot League title. I’ll be rooting for him in his first tournament game against Butler. Dave may be destined for bigger things once this senior-laden team completes its season, but don’t think Bucknell is an automatic one-and-done. Mike Muscala, one of the nation’s most versatile big men, leads a fundamentally sound team that beat Arizona in last year’s NIT. This game should be in the 50s or low 60s and go right down to the wire.

Third Round (weekend games): Saint Louis (vs Oklahoma State if predicted seeds hold). Saint Louis is a terrific story. The Billikens pushed 1-seed Michigan State to the limit in last year’s third round and many observers said the coaching job done by Rick Majerus with that group was one of the best they’d ever seen. The team returned all its key players but unexpectedly lost its coach when Majerus was forced to retire during the summer for health reasons and then died early this season. This an unselfish team that plays terrific defense and finds the open man, and interim coach Jim Crews has them back in sync after an understandably slow start. Oklahoma State is a team to watch in its own right, with some great athletes and point guard Marcus Smart, a terrific all-around player and, although just a freshman, an inspiring leader too. I’ll root for whichever team emerges from this game to give top seed Louisville a run and I’m confident that they will.

Sweet Sixteen: Michigan State (vs Duke if seeds hold): All coaches care, but take one look at Tom Izzo on the sidelines and you can tell he cares with every fiber of his being. Izzo’s teams are renowned for their rebounding, toughness and ability to peak in March. If their outside shooting holds up, the Spartans have the size and physicality to take down a Duke team that has only lost once with senior forward Ryan Kelly in the lineup.

Elite Eight: Miami-FL vs Indiana (if seeds hold). Jim Larranaga, the magic man behind George Mason’s miracle run to the Final Four in 2006, is doing it again. In just his second year in Coral Gables, the relentlessly upbeat Larranaga took a senior-laden team that had never previously done much to ACC regular-season and tournament titles by stressing defensive improvement. Indiana, a terrific offensive team, has struggled with teams like Wisconsin and Butler that slow the tempo and grind out possessions. Miami fits that mold, and I think the Hurricanes, led by point guard Shane Larkin (son of Baseball Hall of Famer Barry) pull the upset here.

Final Four: Florida vs Miami (if my predicted bracket holds). Florida had the best point differential in conference play of any BCS team in the country this season and not all of that can be attributed to playing in the mediocre SEC. The Gators are my surprise pick to come out of the Midwest, where they are seeded third. Now fully healthy for one of the few times this season, Florida will edge Miami in a defensive battle as Billy Donovan, just as he did in ’06, ends a great Larranaga run.

Championship Game: Gonzaga vs Florida. Not too many people think Gonzaga can make it to this point despite the Zags’ number 1 seed in the West region, but this is a deep and talented team that does everything well. Unheralded Kelly Olynyk has had an All-American season alongside Elias Harris up front, several quality guards offer complementary strengths, and the defense has improved over the course of the year. Wisconsin will pose a major threat in the Sweet Sixteen but a miracle finish gets Gonzaga through, and they have too balanced an offense and too much interior presence for Ohio State in the next round. They win a thriller over Louisville (or perhaps Saint Louis, my Cinderella pick), to reach the final game and then use their greater depth and superior free-throw shooting to knock off Florida, 78-73. Do you believe in miracles? Yesssssssssssss!!!!!

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Down for the Count

The last couple of weeks have brought a predictable slacking to my fitness routine. I have allergy problems and post-nasal drip, and when a cold virus gets mixed in all too often it turns into bronchitis. Like last week. It was all I could do to keep the school-meeting-home carousel going full tilt, and my workout routine suffered, though I did play tennis (badly) three times. A nasal steroid and an inhaler stopped the illness before it got really, really yucky, but yesterday was the first day since I got back from CA that I truly felt normal. Unfortunately, my new normal includes an umbilical hernia, which I’ve had for over a year but finally got diagnosed as it’s starting to hurt more regularly. I’m going in for a surgical consult on Thursday and so for the time being I am reduced to hoping I don’t have to miss significant tennis/workout time, but nonetheless worrying that I most likely will.

Tennis is beginning to fall into a pattern: I’m able to beat up on the weaker 4.0 players but just can’t seem to win the close ones against the top guys. My first weekend back the senior team had a big home sweep against Mountainside, which luckily didn’t bring a terribly strong lineup. Jeff S and Rick both posted straight-set wins, though Jeff trailed deep in the first set against the improving Richard King before wearing the big guy down with his slices and lobs. Rick’s opponent, Tim Lesko, was aggressive but erratic, and except for one hot stretch where he won five straight games put up only sporadic resistance (6-0, 7-5). The big surprise was our number one doubles team of Adam and PJ Cistulli, a longtime friend who coaches with me at the high school level. PJ has a smooth all-around game and he and Adam meshed well together in a 6-4, 6-0 demolition of Glenn and B, who moved up to play number 1 doubles (Atherley did not play in this match and so King moved to singles). In B’s defense, he had lost a large portion of his left year in an accident at the lumber mill where he works and did well just to represent at this match, albeit in taped-up fashion. But the two veterans just didn’t have an answer for our guys’ crisp volleys and frequent poaching. I sniffled and sneezed through a comfortable but never totally secure 6-2 6-3 win with Chris McCallum against Scott Goodwin, recently promoted from 3.5, and Jon Mellen, recently returned to the court after missing several months with a back injury. Both guys had hard forehands and solid first serves, but we were much more aggressive to the net and that paid dividends. I also took my returns early and hit some forcing shots, while Chris got to the net so quickly it inspired me to do the same. I held all my serve games through good placement and a high first serve percentage, which was fortunate since the opposition atypically returned Chris’s lefty serve well and broke him twice. I didn’t have quite my full energy level but luckily it wasn’t a particularly long match. Our guys made it a clean sweep with a straight-sets win at third doubles by Duckless and newcomer Paul McManus, a solid player from the Manchester area whom I’d met (and liked) in my previous time at 4.0 years ago. Five points from any match is huge in our league, which uses individual courts won to determine the standings. Afterward I sat around talking strategy with Chris and Adam for quite a while. At the end Adam said that this might have the potential to be his all-time favorite team because it has so many excellent players and nice people. It could be right up there on my list too, although I once captained a team to the 4.5 nationals- mostly playing third doubles- and have a lot of great memories from that too. But there’s no doubt a big win against a strong time is all the more meaningful when you can share it with people you’re close to. I’m very lucky that at 43 years old I can still have that special feeling associated with being part of a successful team.

Last Saturday we were a somewhat less successful team as we lost (2-3) an early-season showdown for first place with what looks to be our toughest challenger, Hampshire Hills of Milford. You’re almost tempted to bring ice skates when playing at HH because of the slick surface, but this year I had heard they had slowed down their legendary fast courts somewhat (as a finesse player this was music to my ears). Unfortunately the rumor proved unfounded: HH had had the courts cleaned and that had temporarily made them slower. By the time of our match, the surface was obviously good and dirty again, because it was as treacherous as ever. Jeff took a close straight-sets win over HH’s stud player, Mike Auger, while Adam shifted to the singles and went aggressively to the net to claim a supertiebreaker win against Dan Protzmann, who brought some sketchy calls to the table but ultimately not enough game. Doubles, though, was a different story. Duckless and McManus got blown off the court in the first set, then made the second close but ended up falling short. Chris M and Todd (back from vacation) served for the first set but couldn’t run it out and lost the second badly against a solid pair. That left it up to yours truly, playing with PJ against Dave Freel, a quick player with a heavy topspin forehand who had been temporarily bumped to 4.5 before coming back down, and my old nemesis Tom Nieva. Hampshire Hills seems to grow Tom Nieva-like players with disturbing frequency: a big-serving lefty with a monster overhead who knows how to take advantage of the fast courts to win quick points. He’s not terribly effective off the ground, but he doesn’t have to be: he’s all over the net and he ends most points before you can really get them started. And, it must be said, he takes virtually all of the close calls on his side of the net. That certainly doesn’t make him unique, and he’s less annoying about it than most of his breed, but when you combine it with his HH-friendly game you’re facing a lethal Schwarzenegger-like cyborg opponent. He didn’t break me, but he did get the better of us, just like he did four years ago when he beat Gary Roberts and me in an 11-9 supertiebreaker on that same court which kept our team out of the districts. I still remember an easy backhand volley at match point in our favor which I failed to put away. That, thankfully, would not be repeated, but we did start well, winning the first set 6-4. Both Dave and I struggled with our serves, but since he started the set for his team we were able to break him twice while I lost my delivery only once. I was happy because in my previous losses I had always lost the first set, but unfortunately I seem to find new and unexpected ways to lose quite regularly now. This week, to give credit where it’s due, our opponents raised their level. We lost a couple of long deuce games early in the set and couldn’t get our mojo back, while they painted the lines with regularity in a 6-0 drubbing. I didn’t go into the supertiebreaker that followed expecting to lose this time; in fact, I thought our chances were better there than in a full set given the beat-down we had just absorbed and my still-under-the-weather condition. But our opponents continued their hot streak through the early part of the ‘breaker and went up 4-1. I played a couple of strong service points to draw us closer, but then Dave hit a monster overhead off of what I thought was a good lob, and we never could get back even after that, losing 6-10. Looking back on this match now, I probably lobbed too much. Yes, it’s my bread and butter, but even a mediocre overhead is almost impossible to return on that court, and those guys weren’t anything special as volleyers. I have to get more aggressive with my groundstrokes versus net players and I have to gain more confidence in my serve. I’m even thinking about taking a serve lesson at some point, that’s how desperate I am. Just by improving those two areas I could definitely be a top-flight 4.0 or low-end 4.5 again, but I’m not there yet and it’s frustrating to see another winnable match slip away. This coming weekend we go to Mountainside, so it’s conceivable things could be, in the immortal words of Chevy Chase, “deja vu all over again” unless I find a way to break out of this Groundhog-Day like pattern. For the moment, I’m still trying to prove I have what it takes.

Not my kind of place

My celebrity crush

My celebrity crush

Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

Hooray for Hollywood (note sign in distance)

Hooray for Hollywood (note sign in distance)

If I ever get to meet Sandra Bullock, I’m absolutely certain it will be love at first sight for at least one of us. For the moment, however, I have to content myself with a couple of postcards (fully clothed, I might add) of the world’s most beautiful woman courtesy of what has to be the world’s largest Hollywood memorabilia shop. Unfortunately, that may well have been the highlight of my day among the stars. The traffic there is just brutal, which I know is typical of big cities, but some of the LA freeways take “brutal” to heretofore unseen levels. I can’t imagine driving in this regularly: merely riding in a car as a passenger is a draining experience. Once you get to the Mecca itself, there are some impressive shops and theatres (Grauman’s Chinese Theater, which was hosting the premiere of Jack and the Beanstalk the next day, was perhaps the most impressive) but tons of tourist traps as well. If you aren’t being approached to take a picture with a transvestite in a police uniform, you’re fending off wanna-be rappers trying to foist their latest CDs upon you “for just a small donation”. Numerous tour companies compete for business on their buses to the stars’ homes, while souvenir shops compete to see who can sell the most junk at the highest prices. It’s a great place to visit (kind of) but I certainly wouldn’t want to live there. Well, unless I had Sandra to go home to…

The Magic of Disney

Matterhorn Bobsled ride from afar

Matterhorn Bobsled ride from afar

Space Mountain

Space Mountain

Main Street USA

Main Street USA

"I'm going to Disneyland!"

“I’m going to Disneyland!”

I’ve never won a Super Bowl (not even on Madden…) but on Tuesday I got to say the magic words nonetheless: “I’m going to Disneyland!”.  And even a cynic like me, who has seen a little too much of the negative side of life, must admit the place really is magic, to the point that the $82 admission fee somehow seemed like a bargain.  My friend Shannon and I went to the main park (as opposed to the adjacent California Adventure) and soon felt like two little kids again as we went on ride after ride. The next day, we felt like two fortysomethings again, but that’s what Advil is for. Commercialized and at times hokey as it may be, Disneyland remains the kind of place where kids can see their dreams come true and adults can recapture, however briefly, the feeling of what it was like to be young, innocent and carefree. I’m not much into shopping, which is a huge part of the Disney experience, but I do like rides. Here are my top five (this doesn’t include Splash Mountain, because I didn’t bring a change of clothes, or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, because it was undergoing repairs):

1) Space Mountain (Tomorrowland): Ok, so ranking Space Mountain first isn’t particularly original, but that doesn’t mean it’s undeserved. The line was very reasonable (under half an hour, shorter than several other rides) and the onboard experience nothing short of dazzling. You first shoot upward through a tunnel with dazzling graphics all around giving you the sense that you’re about to break the speed of sound (or is it the speed of light?). Then you plunge into a vast darkened space lit only by “stars” and “planets”, among which you careen at a breakneck speed. The genius of this ride is that you can’t see the track under you, at least unless you’re much sharper-eyed than I am. You really do feel like you’re flying.

2) Star Tours (Tomorrowland): Any fan of the Mos Eisley cantina scene in the original Star Wars movie (yes, I’m one…) will love this ride. You line up at a futuristic spaceport, ready to embark on an interplanetary flight during the Star Wars era. What begins as a simple journey in your craft (basically a people mover that doesn’t move) with 3D glasses to view the passing scenery through a small-scale movie screen suddenly gets much more complicated. You and your shipmates end up racing for your lives through some galactic hotspots with R2D2 and C3PO as your guides. To call Star Tours jarringly realistic doesn’t do it justice, but it’s as close as I can come.

3) Indiana Jones Adventure (Adventureland): What I liked best about Indy was its vehicle of choice, a six-seat Jeep. Then again, I got to sit at the steering wheel- very cool (while it didn’t actually steer, it wasn’t for lack of trying on my part)! The Jeeps go up, down and sideways over some rough underground terrain where Indy-type adventurers are interspersed with a handful of fairly scary monsters (the cobra still gives me the creeps, but then again, I hate snakes too). One of the most realistic rides in the park as well as one of the most exciting.

4) Matterhorn Bobsleds (Fantasyland): Here you ride in narrow bobsled cars (one person per seat) down a hollowed-out “mountain”, which thankfully is much more fun than it sounds. Matterhorn is sort of a cross between a bobsled run, a waterslide and a roller coaster. In keeping with the mountain theme, there are lots of twists and turns and a few wet spots, but not very many steep drops. The eleven-year-old behind me ran off at the end, ready to get right back in line. The eleven-year-old inside me was tempted to do likewise.

5) Pirates of the Caribbean (New Orleans Square): Pirates doesn’t have the speed and thrills of the other rides listed, but it’s perhaps the best value in the park- lots of riding time with a minimal wait. You traverse Captain Jack Sparrow’s domain and witness him and his henchmen both at work and at play. Once you even find yourself caught in the crossfire as his ship battles the garrison of an enemy port city. All ages and temperaments will enjoy this ride.

In God’s Country

I’m out in Southern CA this week on winter vacation and trying to get as good a sense of the place as I can in just four full days.  On Monday, like any good U2 fan, I went to Joshua Tree National Park in Eastern CA.  Joshua Tree covers 8,000+ acres in what is known as the High Desert.  I had never been in a desert before and what I expected was basically lots and lots of sand dunes.  That proved to be an ignorant assumption, for in fact the desert is alive with many different kinds of species and a variety of vegetation too.  Imagine a cross between the landscape of an old Lone Ranger show and that of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings movies, and you’ve got the basic idea.   Two plants that are especially common close to the ground are a small black scrub plant called blackbrush and a larger, squarish plant with spiky yellow leaves called a yucca.  The Joshua Trees themselves are generally between 10-20 feet tall with a number of twisty, stunted-looking limbs capped by greenish, banana-shaped leaves.  While they look benign, they pack a punch, as I discovered when I foolishly tried to touch the leaves on a low-hanging tree.  A gentle, hesitant touch was enough to draw blood!  I later learned that some birds who nest in the tree impale their prey on those leaves.  Happy to be only pricked rather than impaled, I was more cautious thereafter.  Some of the more interesting sites were the Hidden Valley Trail (narrow defiles lead onto a broad plain which you can explore via a mile-long circular hiking trail) and the Keys View lookout point (you can see nearby Palm Springs along with snow-covered Mount Gorgonia, the tallest point in southern California, and Signal Mountain, south near the Mexican border).  The desert experiences many temperature extremes (hot during the day and cold at night), and I gained respect for anything that can survive in such a harsh environment.  On the way out, I bought a DVD of all the National Parks, and I hope someday to see many more.  But you have to start somewhere and that’s what I did today.

 

 

 

A much-needed win

Here’s proof that miracles do happen: I won a supertiebreaker!  More importantly, it gave my 40s team a 3-2 season-opening win at Great Bay.  Yes, it came it third doubles, but why rain on an all-too-infrequent parade?

 

The team match started off as a cakewalk, as Adam and Mark Guerringue (his longtime partner from the North Country) obliterated a couple of bumped-up 3.5s in less time than it will take me to write this post.  As GB had come in last in their 18 and over 4.0 flight, we began to expect a similar lack of resistance on the other courts.  That was a near-fatal mistake.  The remaining four matches were played simultaneously and the hosts took both singles decisively in straight sets.  Jeff Hannum couldn’t shake a case of the flu which threw him off his game, and Rick just no answers for a big-hitting net rusher.  Chris Mc and Jeff Siegel cruised at first doubles, so that left it up to me and the recently promoted John Duckless on court 3.  We should have known something was afoot prior to the match when we overheard the GB captain telling a young, athletic-looking guy: “We’re going to use you on court three just for today”, which is classic stack-speak.  Once we started playing, it quickly became clear that this guy, whose name was Dan Witham, was GBs best doubles player, hitting two-handed bullets off both sides and covering vast stretches of court behind his older partner.  John hits big first and second serves, is fearless at the net and competes extremely hard, so even though he has some major weaknesses in the rest of his game, we hung in to take the first set 6-4.  I was playing pretty well and hit two spectacular shots, the first a back-to-the net lob to counter a great opposition lob where my momentum carried my into the back fence (we ended up losing the point, alas).  The second came on set point (0-40, to be fair) with Dan serving.  After a long crosscourt exchange of hard shots with Dan, I came in to return a low, angled slice and pushed a running slice backhand around the net post and past the opposing net man, Don, before he could react.  We were pumped, but unfortunately we lost a 40-0 lead on my serve in the next game and our opponents got back into the match.  Dan’s serve was weaker than the rest of his game, but his returns were on a par with Ian Hastings’s two-handers.  Don got his first serve in, lobbed effectively over John and called anything close to the lines out.  John held serve consistently but bricked several easy volleys and missed far too many returns.  And I was playing well but couldn’t close out a few service games from ahead and when returning went mano-a-mano with Dan a few too many times rather than change the direction of the ball to find his partner.  All that added up to a very even set, but I was broken in a long game at 4-4 and then Dan held (his only hold of the day) to force a supertiebreaker.

These guys’ serves were even weaker than mine, so I was a bit more optimistic than I might otherwise have been.  But given my supertiebreak record of late, that’s not saying much.  Luckily we started well and, at 2-0, caught a major break when Don’s “out” call on a ball that hit the sideline was overruled by a GB singles player standing close to the line on the adjacent court to watch after finishing his own match.  From there we stayed ahead thanks to some inspired net play from John and finally claimed a 10-5 win.

I felt my performance went up a notch both physically and mentally from previous 4.0 matches.  I hit the ball cleanly and accurately most of the time and communicated often with John during the points, which minimized the gaps that we left unguarded.  I still need to swallow my pride and stay back on my serve on occasion if a returner gets hot against me, especially if my net man and/or the receiver’s partner is shaky.  And I have to stay positive with my partner.  I did that for the most part here but did throw my racket once after he missed three easy volleys and I dropped my serve from 40-0.  So obviously there’s still room for improvement.  Luckily John is a resilient and competitive guy who played his best under pressure, and I stayed positive and built some much-needed tiebreaker confidence.  Our team got a needed win but we’ve got to get a few more reinforcements in order to make it into the top two of our tough six-team league (currently after round 1 of 10, Hampshire Hills has 5 points, we have 3 as do Mountainside, and Executive and GB have 2).   The fact that we struggled to beat what will most likely be one of the weaker teams shows just how little margin for error we have.