In case it wasn’t difficult enough to navigate through three months of games, tournaments and a double-elimination state tournament, it is now.
Thanks to a realignment which has reduced seven divisions down to four, the already-competitive divisions — especially Div. I and Div. II — just became better.
A cluster of previous 5A Division I and 5A-II perennial contenders are now lumped together, top 5A-II programs like Desert Mountain, Horizon, Chaparral, Pinnacle and Glendale Deer Valley (5A-II champions) are infused into Division I, which means defending-champion Red Mountain (5A-I), runners-up Basha, Gilbert, Highland, Corona del Sol. Even Vail Cienega moved up two notches after being in the 4A-I title game for two consecutive seasons.
Now, it’s one team out of 58 who’ll win the big-school crown.
Division II has Tucson Canyon del Oro and Tucson Sahuarita, which won the 4A-I and 4A-II champions, respectively, last year. Those two, plus Peoria Sunrise Mountain, Notre Dame, Tucson Salpointe Catholic, Queen Creek, Saguaro and Tucson Sahuaro, will be among a bushel of contenders that’ll make Div. II similar in depth to Div. I. Div. III and IV are further spread out geographically, but no less competitive.
Coaches - at least a vast majority in the East Valley - have little problem with the new alignments, further uptick in competition and the Div. I and II state tournaments now being single elimination until the final eight teams are determined (then it goes to double elimination). But similar to most other sports, the computer-generated schedules, however, are another issue.
Still, the best ultimately rise in May, so before we get there, here’s a look at an East Valley softball landscape which has already taken shape and will repeatedly re-shape in the next six weeks.
•Tournament upheaval: With seven divisions now reduced to four, state tournament formats have been altered as well. 24 teams will qualify in each of the four divisions, with Nos. 1 through 8 seeds earning a first-round bye in their respective tournaments. The top four teams in each section (based on power points) automatically qualify for the state tournament, with the next 12 at-large spots will be decided (along with seeding) based on power points. In Division I and II, the first two rounds will be single elimination, followed by double-elimination with the final eight teams. For Division III and IV, the tournaments remain single elimination.
•Coaching changes: Lots of upheaval in the East Valley coaching ranks from last spring. After a wild state tournament run amid swirling rumors, and an even wilder offseason at Mountain View, the Toros finally found a semi-permanent coach in Joseph Goodman. Highland coach Jamie Waldron welcomed her first child in December and was going to take spring semester off from teaching, but Gilbert school district policy doesn’t allow teachers to only coach, so Waldron can’t coach this season. Assistant Glen LaBoissiere takes over the Hawks, though he said Waldron plans to return next season. Perry hired Kevin Chapin to replace the popular Allison Robinson, who returned to her native California. Jim Faul left Skyline and was hired at Dobson after Wayne Hill took the Mesa Community College job, and Scott Howard is the new coach at Skyline. Chaparral hired Stefanie Ewing, a former Desert Mountain H.S. and Oregon State standout, to replace Lindsay Pelsnik.
March 10, 12-14: Marcos de Niza/McClintock Spring Break tournament
March 20-24: Desert Mountain tournament (at Coronado H.S., Desert Mountain H.S. and Horizon Park)
March 27, April 24: Basha at Gilbert; Gilbert at Basha
March 27: Perry at Highland
March 30: Notre Dame at Saguaro
March 30, April 12: Chandler at Hamilton; Hamilton at Chandler
April 2, April 12: Corona del Sol at Mesquite; Mesquite at Corona del Sol
April 3: Red Mountain at Gilbert
April 13: Mountain View at Red Mountain; Mountain Pointe at Desert Vista
April 5, April 23: Horizon Honors at Valley Christian; Valley Christian at Horizon Honors
April 23: Queen Creek at Seton Catholic
April 24: Desert Mountain at Horizon
April 28-May 14: State tournaments
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.