Beginning this week, a new wrinkle in the high school sports postseason picture will unfold for the first time, and it'll be met with, predictably, unpredictability.
The unveiling of sectional tournaments in girls basketball begins Tuesday (boys basketball sectionals begin Wednesday). Since schools that finished in the top eight of its respective sections automatically qualify for these tournaments, the top four teams in each section automatically make the state tournament and these games will count toward power points, there's a lot at stake for many schools.
Because of the power point factor, it's even possible that a school which didn't qualify for its section tournament could still conceivably make the state tournament. While not expected to be a common occurrence, it still drew head scratches among coaches.
"The power points counting make it interesting," Desert Vista girls coach Rachel Proudfoot said. "You can really improve your spot with a couple wins. I can see the (lower seeds) looking it as a chance to make their season, kind of like a small school in March Madness."
For others, there isn't much beyond the chance to play more good competition in a state tournament-esque atmosphere, and have a chance to hang a banner. That begs the question as to whether schools who feel confident they'll be in the tournament regardless of section tournament outcome (St. Mary's, Chandler, Mountain View, Valley Christian, for example) whether they will make changes to playing time or substitutions to try and keep kids fresh and healthy.
Even though sections are much bigger than regions were, many coaches view it as a chip off the old region tournament block.
"Everyone's complaining about not having regions or winning a region title, but you can win a sectional title," Dobson coach Tyler Dumas said. "Not the same, but isn't it similar? You're playing for something and playing to enter the state tournament or earn a higher seed, and that's something in and of itself.
"They were packed house and a good atmosphere and they were great venues to prepare for the state tournament. We didn't have that happen much during regular season games. I like that atmosphere."
Many others from across the East Valley echoed Dumas' sentiment. In addition to not liking the idea a team not good enough to make its own sectional tournament can still earn a final state tournament spot while resting for 7-10 days, there's confusion as to how much of an impact sectional tournament games will impact the power points.
In Division I, Section II, for example, a first-round sectional game could pit Hamilton against Highland as No. 3 or 4 seeds, a matchup of two top teams. A Section III first-round matchup could put Mountain View against a Horizon or Desert Mountain, where the Huskies and Wolves are, respectively, fighting for a final spot in the sectional and state tournaments. Campo Verde was fighting the same battle to get in to the Division II, Section III tournament entering Friday night's regular season finale.
"You're saying the whole season doesn't really matter as much as one game in a sectional tournament might," Highland coach Miner Webster said. "You played 18 games and fought like crazy to get where you are, and now it could come down to one sectional tournament game. I don't know if it'll be drastic changes (to power points or postseason seeding) but I can't figure out how much it's going to be.
"It's all just bizarre to me, but I don't have a better way. I really don't."
The idea of a state tournament team could play in the sectional tournament has many concerned, but coaches admitted it's hard to pin point exactly which schools will encounter that possibility, or, more directly, exactly what has to happen in wins and losses for that to take place.
Teams could play each other for a second or third time this season (and possibly fourth or fifth time if certain schools meet in the state tournament), but Dumas noted he'd rather play Highland three times for the competition, than to play another school where Dobson would likely win by 30 points.
"They assured us playing vs. not playing in Section will not be an advantage or disadvantage," Seton Catholic coach Karen Self said. "It's not going to be the same everyone. Everyone in the state tournament should play in sectional, or none play in it."
The pros and cons of secitonal tournaments was pretty evenly split among coaches surveyed, and while power points and sectional vs. state tournament jostling will be interesting to watch, most are fans of having a chance to hang a banner in a gym by having to (eventually) beat at least a couple high-quality teams.
That, they say, has the making of a pretty good dress rehearsal for the following week.
"They were packed house and a good atmosphere and they were great venues to prepare for the state tournament," Dumas said. "We didn't have that happen much during regular season games. I like that atmosphere."
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.