Big Introduction to Big Data

February 26, 2014 Columns, Sustainable Planet Comments Off on Big Introduction to Big Data

“The extraction of actionable knowledge from the vast amounts of available digital information seems to be the natural next step in the ongoing evolution from the Information Age to the Knowledge Age.” –Martin Hilbert Big Data for Dev.; pre-published version, Jan. 2013.

“But the number of meaningful relationships in the data – those that speak to causality rather than correlation and testify to how the world really works – is orders of magnitude smaller. Nor is it likely to be increasing at nearly so fast a rate as the information itself; there isn’t any more truth in the world than there was before the Internet or the printing press. Most of the data is just noise, as most of the universe is filled with empty space.” – Nat Silver “The Signal and the Noise” p250

In the following discussion we will use the same notation one uses in an Excel spreadsheet. The asterisk or “*” means “times” or multiplication and the up arrow or caret “^” means “raised to the power of”.

A few weeks ago I posed the question whether Homo sapiens (all of us, you, me, Americans and everybody) are sufficiently scientifically literate to survive the technological world we’ve created. The National Science Foundation had developed a test for scientific literacy but the answers to their questions should have been acquired in elementary school. I speculated that the NSF questions do not test for what I called “sufficient” science literacy.

Figure 1 is a plot of the energy flow through the human economy during the last two thousand years as well as the world GDP during the same period of human history. That they align is no coincidence. Growth of an individual, an ecosystem or an economy requires energy flow and this growth is fundamentally constrained by any physical limits on this rate of flow.

Figure 1, Energy flow through the human economy during the last two millennia (red curve) and human accumulation of wealth (blue curve)

This figure introduces some scientific tools which we all need to understand but which we as individuals and collectively seem not to have assimilated. The exponential function itself is poorly understood. It is impossible for humans to continue to increase energy flow exponentially indefinitely. This trend will end. Wealth cannot therefore continue to grow exponentially either. This is what energy economists and ecologists mean when they point out that continued economic growth is unsustainable. It is simply an acknowledgment of the finiteness of our world being only 12,742 km in diameter living off an energy gradient between the 5778 degrees Kelvin temperature at the surface of the sun (our energy source) and the 3 degrees Kelvin temperature of deep space (our energy sink). The importance of this discussion is that many economists believe our economy is entering an information age or knowledge age whereby we can continue economic growth independent of real physical resources by simply growing “information” and selling it back and forth to each other. We will discuss this in a future article.

The second thing to note is the use of scientific notation. We live in a world of large numbers growing larger and small numbers getting smaller. The NSA’s new data center will be able to process several Yotta Bytes ( or YB or 10^24 Bytes) worth of data every year and nanotechnology is the latest economic and technological fad measured in nanometers (nm or 10^-9 meters) a very small size. The amount of money wrapped up in derivatives and the net present value of the economic destruction of climate change must be expressed in Peta dollars (P$ or 10^15 dollars or thousands of trillions of dollars or millions of billions of dollars) an extremely large amount of money. Speaking of genetically modified organisms, the mass of a one copy of one genome is measured in fractions of a pico gram (pg or 10^-12 grams).

In order to comprehend the expanse of the data on which our science-based economic enterprise depends, we need to understand scientific notation. While the concept of scientific notation is easy to grasp by any person in a matter of minutes, it takes some experience to get used to scientific notation so that it becomes second nature. Familiarity and ease of use takes time, effort and practice.

In discussing energy, economy or big data or the human condition, there is no other way to express the information than by using scientific notation. I postulate that two necessary (but not sufficient) requirements for sufficient scientific literacy are the understanding of the exponential function and the familiarity with scientific notation.

To appreciate how this applies to big data consider figure 2. The inset figure was published in the Economist based on data provided by Martin Hilbert [1]. If we step back a bit we see that information growth is the over achiever of all exponential curves. Both information and information storage are growing hyper exponentially, as is the capacity of our networks to communicate information which is not shown. Secondly, we have to use Exabytes or EB or 10^18 to express the phenomenal amount of information. Note that information creation has surpassed information storage. We have to throw the stuff away.

Some questions we want to explore in this series include whether or not we can base an economy on information decoupled from resources as economists assume. What is the difference between information and knowledge; and between knowledge and wisdom? Is there any benefit to trolling vast data bases such as Google’s to determine important trends? How long can these exponential growth trajectories be maintained? Where is all this leading us?

To answer these questions and more we need to feel comfortable with very large and incredible small numbers spanning tens of orders of magnitude. I suggest searching Wikipedia for “orders of magnitude”, and the “International System of Units (SI)”.

Here are some interesting examples of the use of scientific notation applied to energy from Wikipedia:

2*10^-33 Joules is the average kinetic energy of translational motion of a molecule at the lowest temperature reached as of 2003, 100 picokelvins (100*10^-12).

4.1 zJ or 4.1*10-21 Joules is the common rough approximation for the total thermal energy of each molecule in a system at 25 degrees C or 77 degrees F and 2.856 zJ is by Landauer’s principle, the minimum amount of energy required at the same temperature to change one bit of information.

20 nJ or 20 nano Joules or 20*10^-9 is the mass-energy of the particle believed to be the Higgs Boson (125.3 GeV, Giga electron Volts billions of electron Volts) announced on March 14, 2013. By the way, the Large Hadron Collider generates 5*10^20 Bytes per day of data but only 0.001% are recorded or 5 Peta Bytes each day. This is 0.2% of all generated human data when it is turned on.

1 Joule is approximately the kinetic energy produced as an extra small apple (100 grams) falls 1 meter against Earth’s gravity. Scientists and Engineers express 1 as 10^0 or in fact any number to the power of 0 is identically 1.

1.361 kJ or kilo Joules or 1.361*10^3 Joules is the total solar radiation received from the Sun by 1 square meter at the altitude of Earth’s orbit above the Sun’s surface per second. This is called the solar constant though over geologic time of course it isn’t a constant. This is the solar energy the Earth intercepts at the top of the atmosphere before any of it is reflected back out into space.

88 TJ or TeraJoules was the yield of the Fat Man atomic bomb dropped on the city of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 and 32 TJ was the yield of Little Boy dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

100 PJ or PetaJoules is the total energy from the Sun that strikes the face of the Earth each second.

500 EJ or 500 ExaJoules is the total world annual energy consumption in 2010.

500 ZettaJoules or 500 ZJ is the approximate energy released in the formation of the Chicxulub Crater in the Yucatan Peninsula by collision with a 6 mile in diameter asteroid at a speed of 45,000 miles per hour 65 million years ago. This impact caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and every animal larger than a cat.

While all of these numbers are interesting and many are useful some are very important to know and it is not possible to comprehend them without the use of scientific notation. More next time.

Figure 2, Cumulative human information creation (dark blue curve and dotted curve) and cumulative information storage capability (light blue curve and solid curve).

[1] Figure 2 is adapted from “Special Report: Data, data everywhere”, The Economist February 27, 2010. Data source: Martin Hilbert and Priscila López, The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information, Science 332, 60 (2011); DOI: 10.1126/science.1200970

Our Youth Hunger Dilemma

February 26, 2014 Business, News 1 comment

It’s getting late in the afternoon and you have an uneasy or painful sensation in your stomach caused by hunger. Most of us have withstood that sensation for an hour or two but imagine if there was no food in the house to alleviate your hunger. For many in our Loudoun community, this unfortunately is not an uncommon occurrence.

Loudoun County has a child food insecurity rate of one in 10 children. Over 9200 children cannot count on their next meal. 28 percent of these kids qualify for US govt. free/reduced price school lunch programs (ie.1 meal /day). Another 72 percent are assisted by charitable organizations like churches and food banks. These numbers are startling and troubling. … Continue Reading

Rocco Print of Civil War Event to be presented at St. Paul’s Church

February 26, 2014 Events, Lifestyle Comments Off on Rocco Print of Civil War Event to be presented at St. Paul’s Church

150 years ago, John S. Mosby’s Rangers stopped near midnight at St. Paul’s Church, in the tiny community of Neersville, before riding the last three miles to attack Cole’s Calvary in the Civil War Battle of Loudoun Heights. This bit of history is depicted in a Keith Rocco painting of St. Paul’s Church with Mosby’s Rangers and their horses in the foreground, snow covering the ground, and stars shinning in the night sky.

On Sunday, March 9, Jim Kehoe of Antietam Gallery, Sharpsburg, will make a presentation of the Rocco print to the church where this event occurred in January 1864. Jim’s cousin, Roland England, is the pastor of the church, now known as Christian Community Church at St. Paul’s. … Continue Reading

Governor McAuliffe Announces Administration Appointments

February 19, 2014 Government, News Comments Off on Governor McAuliffe Announces Administration Appointments

Governor Terry McAuliffe announced additional appointments to his administration. The appointees will join McAuliffe’s administration focused on finding common ground with members of both parties on issues that will grow Virginia’s economy and create more jobs across the Commonwealth.

Secretariat of Commerce and Trade

Kelly Spraker, Confidential Assistant to the Secretary of Commerce and Trade
Kelly Spraker has been appointed by Governor McAuliffe to serve as the Confidential Assistant to the Secretary of Commerce and Trade. Prior to her appointment to the Administration, Kelly worked for CarLotz, Inc., a local car consignment business. She previously served as Special Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff and Commissioner at the Virginia Department of Social Services during the administration of Governor Mark Warner. Kelly received a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from James Madison University. … Continue Reading

Into the Denier Den

February 18, 2014 Columns, Sustainable Planet Comments Off on Into the Denier Den

“If you have ever walked barefoot through a seaside mudflat, you’ve felt the mud squishing up through your toes, and perhaps saw bubbles forming as your feet sank into the mud. The bubbles are methane.” – Donald Canfield, Oxygen, a four billion year history, Princeton, 2014.

A friend asked if I was familiar with an ecologist named Daniel Botkin and his book The Moon in the Nautilus Shell. It was a book club selection and my friend was curious why Botkin was agnostic about human-caused climate change (anthropogenic global warming, AGW); was Botkin a denier, a skeptic or correct about the science? I replied that if he had evidence he was a skeptic and if he didn’t he was in denial. … Continue Reading

LCSO Releases Composite Sketch of Suspect in Possible Armed Robbery Series

February 17, 2014 News, Public Safety Comments Off on LCSO Releases Composite Sketch of Suspect in Possible Armed Robbery Series

Detectives with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office have released a composite sketch of a suspect believed to be involved in four armed robberies in the Sterling area.

Deputies responded to the area of Stanford Square on February 14 where a female reported she was walking back to her apartment when an unknown subject approached her and brandished a firearm. The suspect demanded her wallet and
told her to remove her jacket. The victim screamed and the suspect fled the area. The victim went to her apartment and later contacted authorities. … Continue Reading

Equine Affair on February 22

February 10, 2014 Equestrian, Lifestyle Comments Off on Equine Affair on February 22

The Lovettsville Game Club will be the site for the 2014 Equine Affair on February 22. The event is presented by the Tri-State Riding Club from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the club at 16 S. Berlin Turnpike in Lovettsville. It includes a sale and swap of gently used tack, equestrian clothing, horsey collectibles and other horsey related items. Food will be available, and there will be door prizes and speakers through the day. To rent space or for more information, contact Patty Tracy at 540-882-4883 or e-mail

Another Vote To Overrule Purcellville’s Board of Architectural Review

February 10, 2014 Dear Editor, Opinion Comments Off on Another Vote To Overrule Purcellville’s Board of Architectural Review

The Purcellville Town Council, foolishly, in the view of many and perhaps most, has overruled its Board of Architectural Review and approved Mark Nelis’s and John Chapman’s plans for the destruction of old town Purcellville.

Now that Mr. Nelis and Mr. Chapman have been given the whip hand to go ahead with their plans without compromising with their fellow citizens, it would behoove them to think twice before they do. They should remember how often and how recently, in government and law, we have seen those who have power force their views, without compromise, down the throats of large numbers of people, sometimes even majorities, opposed to them. They should consider that, by refusing to compromise on a matter solely concerning their financial interest rather than any moral or even legal principle, they contribute further to the ugly winner-take-all attitude too prevalent in our politics and society. … Continue Reading

Open Burning Restrictions Set

February 10, 2014 News, Public Safety Comments Off on Open Burning Restrictions Set

The Loudoun County Fire Marshal’s Office is reminding citizens that open burning is restricted in Loudoun County between February 15 and April 30. The regulations, which prohibit open air fires between the hours of midnight and 4:00 p.m., are enforced by the Virginia Department of Forestry and the Loudoun County Fire Marshal. Known as the “4:00 p.m. law,” these restrictions are in place due to the potential for rapid fire spread across woodland and grassland areas that is the result of dry outdoor fuels, high winds and temperature increases that are normally present in the late winter and early spring season. … Continue Reading

LINK Update

February 10, 2014 Faith, Lifestyle Comments Off on LINK Update

By Mark Gunderman

During 2013 Holiday programs in November and December, LINK was able to provide groceries for three – five days to more than 7,400 individuals (110,000 pounds of canned, boxed and frozen food) turning Christ the Redeemer Catholic and Trinity Presbyterian Churches into makeshift supermarkets. Attached photo is courtesy/ Matt Harmon.

During the entire 2013 year, LINK served in excess of 4,515 families (21,220 individuals), distributed more than 350,000 pounds of food and provided $89,944 in financial assistance and grocery gift cards. LINK is about Christians helping their neighbors. As in the story of the Good Samaritan, LINK assists those in need, regardless of race, religion or creed. … Continue Reading

Lady Vikings Give Back

February 10, 2014 Sports Comments Off on Lady Vikings Give Back

The Loudoun Valley Girls basketball team held an event on Friday, February 7 at LVHS. The Lady Vikings celebrated “Pink Night” by honoring those who are battling breast cancer or have been affected by breast cancer. The event was held in conjunction with an event held at Woodgrove earlier this season. One Community, One Cause. The Lady Vikings beat the Wolverines 48-42.

Photo: Lady Vikings and their honorees.

The Party of Lincoln (Conclusion)

February 10, 2014 Columns, Sustainable Planet Comments Off on The Party of Lincoln (Conclusion)

“Increasingly intense droughts in California, all of the Southwest, and even into the Midwest have everything to do with human-made climate change.” James Hansen [i-1]

California’s Central Valley—prime agricultural land—is being hit the hardest by the state-wide drought which could cause catastrophic losses to crops and food supply.

Tony Noerpel

I began this series four weeks ago and this is the fifth and final segment.

The Party of Lincoln

Environmental destruction is the great moral issue of our time, just as slavery was in 1860. The Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln, was established in the 1850’s specifically to prevent the expansion of slavery to the United States’ Western territories [21]. … Continue Reading

Nominations Sought for Loudoun’s Outstanding Volunteers

February 9, 2014 Business, News Comments Off on Nominations Sought for Loudoun’s Outstanding Volunteers

Volunteer Loudoun is seeking nominations for the 2014 Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Awards. The annual program honors individuals and organized groups in the county whose volunteer service has directly benefited the Loudoun community. Volunteer projects resulting in exceptional community change are also recognized.

Categories include outstanding adult volunteer, adult public safety, youth public safety, adult team, youth team, club or organization, corporate team, older adult, older adult team, volunteer project, project leader and family. Additional categories may be considered by the awards selection committee. … Continue Reading








The Holocene Climate


(Public Input Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, 7 March, 2017) Figure 1 shows the climate variation over the last million years. The low points on the curve correspond to ice ages when glaciers up to a mile thick covered New …

Choosing To Forgive


By Samuel Moore-Sobel “Truly forgiving is the ability to say, ‘Thank you for giving me that experience.’” James Arthur Ray vaulted into fame on the Oprah Winfrey Show back in the mid-2000’s. Stunned hearing these words while watching The Rise and …

Five Key Retirement Questions


Beyond asking yourself where you see yourself and even what your lifelong goal are, effective retirement and longevity planning begs some very big questions. Review the points below and consider how housing, transportation and health considerations all play a role …

Work Woes


By Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D. Dr. Mike, I’m a manager at a large tech company and my boss has directed me to fire someone on my team, but as a Christian, I just can’t do it. It’s true that the employee …

Joy or Suffering

Lunde new

By Mary Rose Lunde No one likes to suffer. When given the chance, many people would choose to laugh rather than cry, to sit in silence with their friends rather than talk through their feelings, because not even their friends …

Wage Radio


I will always remember – very fondly – the first time I ever set foot on the property at 711 Wage Drive Southwest in Leesburg, Virginia. It was a warm, sunny July morning in 1997, and I’d driven all the …

Speaking Truth to Power


“With public sentiment nothing can fail. Without it nothing can succeed.” Abraham Lincoln On Thursday evening, February 23, I requested the Board of Supervisors pass a proclamation resolving to support the March for Science on Earth Day, April 22 [1]. …

Student News

Congratulations, Class of 2016

6 Jul 2016


Woodgrove High School’s Class Of 2016 Graduation – By Amanda Clark On June 16, Woodgrove’s Class of 2016 was the 5th graduating class to walk the stage and accept their diploma. The ceremony was filled with anticipation as the chorus, …

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Buckland Earns Degree In Medicine

6 Jul 2016


Molly Buckland, D.O., graduated from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine with a degree of Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine on May 28. While at WVSOM, Dr. Buckland received the Dr. Roland P. Sharp President’s Award and the James R. …

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Adams Promoted To Lieutenant

6 Jul 2016


Lt. James Adams, from Sterling and a Potomac Falls Halls Graduate, earned the promotion to the rank of Lieutenant. Adams is a Navy Week and Executive Outreach Planner for the Navy Office of Community Outreach in Millington, Tennessee. U.S. Navy …

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March 2017
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
February 27, 2017 February 28, 2017 March 1, 2017 March 2, 2017 March 3, 2017


March 4, 2017

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event
March 5, 2017
March 6, 2017 March 7, 2017 March 8, 2017 March 9, 2017 March 10, 2017 March 11, 2017 March 12, 2017
March 13, 2017 March 14, 2017 March 15, 2017 March 16, 2017 March 17, 2017 March 18, 2017

Wine & Chili Weekend

Wine & Chili Weekend
March 19, 2017

Joshua Carr River Safety Foundation Rummage Sale

Joshua Carr River Safety Foundation Rummage Sale
March 20, 2017 March 21, 2017 March 22, 2017 March 23, 2017 March 24, 2017

March Fourth Friday

March Fourth Friday
March 25, 2017 March 26, 2017

Spring Brunch

Spring Brunch

Spring Brunch

Spring Brunch
March 27, 2017 March 28, 2017 March 29, 2017 March 30, 2017 March 31, 2017 April 1, 2017

”Homage to Mother Earth”

”Homage to Mother Earth”

Nebbiolo Vertical Tasting

Nebbiolo Vertical Tasting

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event
April 2, 2017

”Homage to Mother Earth”

”Homage to Mother Earth”

GALLERY COFFEEHOUSE: Readers Theater, “One Slight Hitch”

GALLERY COFFEEHOUSE: Readers Theater, “One Slight Hitch”
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Steady and NoBull


Loudoun Workforce Resource Center Presents STEM Career Fair March 28

16 Mar 2017

Illustration of STEM education word typography design in orange theme with icon ornament elements

Anyone interested in a career in the rapidly growing field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is encouraged to attend an upcoming STEM Career Fair in Loudoun. The Loudoun Workforce Resource Center, in partnership with Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC)’s Loudoun campus and NOVA SySTEMic Solutions, is holding a STEM Career Fair Tuesday, March 28, from 1:00 to 4:00 …

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Keep Loudoun Beautiful—Greater Lovettsville Area Volunteers Needed

16 Mar 2017

Lovettsville Boat Launch 7-26-09

The Keep Loudoun Beautiful spring clean-up takes place the entire month of April and greater Lovettsville needs volunteers. Bags, vests, gloves and grabbers are available at the Lovettsville Community Center during normal business hours, Monday-Friday. This is a great group or individual activity that can be scheduled around your availability. E-mail Lovettsville Area Leader, Laura Lieberman, for details and to …

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National Awkward Moments Day

8 Mar 2017


?Laughing at Yourself Is the Best Medicine No one knows who invented National Awkward Moments Day, Saturday, March 18. That’s no surprise, since it probably came about as the result of one stunningly awkward moment that the owner of that moment was hoping to forget. We surveyed our readers and friends to ask them about their most awkward moments, sharing …

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Priscilla Nabs Plum Planning Commission Post

Loudoun County Seal Color

Appointment Shocks Many On January 3 Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) nominated Tom Priscilla for the Loudoun County Planning Commission to represent the Blue Ridge District. Priscilla was …


Opinion: Terrorism, Debt, and China: Oh My!


– By Nick Reid world can be a very dangerous place sometimes, especially for a nation state such as the United States. Although danger is always present, the number and …

Metro Money Mess Pushing West


– By Delegate Dave LaRock (R-33rd) A local paper recently quoted Loudoun Board Chair Phyllis Randall as saying that in her observation “some of the concerns raised by the people …

Dear Editor

Why Williams Gap Road Should Not Be Paved


Today, most residents of Loudoun County know nothing about Williams Gap, even those living on Williams Gap Road (Route 711). Knowing who “Williams” was, why a gap in the Blue …

Vote No To the Minor Special Exception


We are a group of Loudoun County citizens who will be adversely affected if the board grants a special exception for the Catesby Farm property at your upcoming meeting. You …

View From the Ridge

Broken Promises, Hidden by a Six-Foot Berm


By Andrea Gaines On August 9, 1825 at the age of 69, French military officer the Marquis de Lafayette was honored in Leesburg by former President James Monroe. The French-born …

Around Virginia

Protecting Free Speech


By Dave LaRock (R-33) As elected officials and members of the legislature, our most fundamental responsibility is to protect God-given constitutionally protected rights. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the government, including governmental public colleges and universities, from infringing on free speech and the free exercise of …


Walbridge To Run for State Delegate in the 33rd District

Tia walbridge

Tia Walbridge announces her run for the District 33 seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. Walbridge is a wife and mother of two daughters and an active member of the Round Hill community. “Like many people in our district, my family has found its prosperity in a Virginia-based small …

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Office Building on Capitol Square To Be Named After Civil Rights Pioneer Barbara Johns


Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that the newly renovated state building located at 202 N. 9th Street on Capitol Square in Richmond (currently known as the 9th Street Office Building) will bear the name of civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns. The building, which reopened last year, houses the Virginia Attorney General’s …

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Vikings Runner-Up at the State Championship 

8 Mar 2017


The Loudoun Valley Vikings are the boy’s runner-up at the VHSL 4A State Indoor Track and Field Championships at Roanoke College.  During the 2015-2016 school year, the Loudoun County School Board approved Indoor Track and Field as a Tier 2 (self-funded) sport.  The seven boys competing scored 48 points, second …

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WLVBC U14 Boys Finish 3rd at VA Beach Event

23 Feb 2017


The Western Loudoun Volleyball Club’s U14 Boys Team garnered 3rd place in their first travel tournament of 2017, the Virginia Beach Invitational. This event was held Feb. 18-19 and featured more than 24 teams from the U14 to U18 age group. The team was second on their net on day …

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