Soccer state tournaments: New formula, new issues - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Soccer state tournaments: New formula, new issues

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Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 12:30 am | Updated: 2:16 am, Sat Jan 28, 2012.

The question posed was simple: Now that the boys and girls high school soccer state tournament brackets have been decided after two months of power point matches, did the new playoff format get it right? Are the 16 best schools (based on power point formulas derived from wins and strength of schedule) in each of the three tournaments for boys and girls, respectively?

Answers proved much more complex.

Though sympathetic toward what the new format was designed to do - Create more difficult qualifications to earn a state tournament spot as well as alleviate travel issues state-wide - a large number of East Valley coaches were widespread in their hope that tweaks to the system will be made in the future.

"I think it's terrible," Chaparral boys coach Jason Speirs said. "Tons of coaches have issues with it."

"It's a weird mish-mash and impossible to compare or contrast anyone," Higley girls coach Jessica Campbell said. "Most of us have no idea how to get ready for anyone because you can't gauge anything. It's certainly interesting."

"It's very competitive," Highland boys coach David Belfort said. "It's like every match is college football and the (Bowl Championship System), but I don't like it; too many teams for not enough playoff spots."

Several others wouldn't publicly comment, and, a few others were generally positive in their review of the first season under these widespread changes, appreciative of the efforts to help many schools struggling with finances and travel while creating a better competitive atmosphere through condensed tournaments.

Even more pressing than opinions, however, were possible solutions.

"I would say no, not a fan, but I can't complain beause I don't have a better solution," Red Mountain girls coach Andy Barber said.

A few others believe they do.

The two most popular items to reform are the schedules and, at the Division I level, expand the tournament from the current-16 schools to 24 - giving the top eight seeds (based on power points) a first-round bye.

Within scheduling, most coaches said they'd rather play only once against teams within their own section so as to either play more schools within their section, or allow schools to schedule a couple more "freedom" games to their power-point schedules.

In Division I boys, seven schools finished 8-4 or better but didn't make the top 16. It was nine schools in Division II.

In Division I girls, four schools finished 8-4 or better and missed the tournament. In Division II, six teams had at least eight wins outside the top 16.

"It's crazy to go 8-4 and you may not get in," Campbell said. "To have that good of a year not make it?"

That, by itself, is only part of the coaches' problem. The other part being automatic schedules based on proximity may indicate a team is good because of their high-win total and even high amount of victory points generated by a team's opponents, and by those opponents' opponents (both used to gauge strength of schedule). The question left behind is whether those schedules actually provide any insight as to whether that school is legitimately good, or simply played a bunch of other schools who won a lot of PP games due to their own weak schedules.

"Being locked into our schedule, I have no idea if we're any good or not," Barber said of his fifth-seeded Lions, a sentiment shared by No. 3-seed Gilbert boys coach Jeff Perry.

Conversely, however, coaches also believe the "unknowns" created with the scheduling and top-16 cutoff will make for exceptionally competitive tournaments in all three divisions.

With rare exception (Hamilton at No. 1 and Xavier at No. 2 in Div. I girls or Campo Verde at No. 2 in Div. II) nobody appeared to have a gauge as to whether each school was worthy or not or their seeding.

Hyperbole or not, nearly a dozen boys and girls coaches across the three divisions believe these tournaments could be among the most competitive and entertaining from the opening round in Arizona high school soccer history.

"I don't think any team that's not getting in was going to win a state championship," said Belfort, whose Hawks went 7-5 with two of those losses coming against undefeated Gilbert.

Regular contenders left out this year include Corona del Sol girls and Pinnacle boys. They may not agree with Belfort's sentiment, but the widespread hopes for change beginning in 2013-2014 won't be of any consolation now.

"You're going to find some growing pains, we'll call them," said Perry girls coach Gary DeGrow, whose Pumas beat No. 1 Hamilton and lost three matches to schools that went 11-1 (Hamilton once, Highland twice), but ultimately finished No. 17. "The main issue is schools legitimately played well enough and did not make it because others played a much lighter schedule and will get in.

"More than anything, the power points should speak for themselves, and I'm not sure they do."

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