Changes come and coaches worry. That’s the nature of things in Arizona high school sports.
“All of us are a little leery of how things are going to work out,” Hamilton volleyball coach Sharon Vanis said. “It’s that way when you try something new.”
The “new” is the revamped division and section format that will be used in volleyball for the first time this season. Volleyball will be broken into five divisions and within each of those divisions are three sections. Pretty simple stuff on the surface, but dig deeper (as coaches like to do), and there are concerns.
First, sections are made up of 15 to 20 teams, but schools will face fewer than half of the teams in their section. For example, Basha faces just six of the 16 other teams in Division I, Section II, and the Bears play five of those teams twice. That, coupled with the fact that the top three teams in each section earn an automatic berth into the 16-team state tournament, has coaches concerned.
“How do you determine champions especially with a suspect power point system?” Horizon coach Valorie McKenzie said.
“When you use a top-3 out of a section (to earn automatic berths) and you only play half of that section, is that a true top three?” Basha coach Jim Kann said. “Our schedule is a random 14 games and those are computer driven. The reason was for proximity and limiting travel, I get that, but there is no way to really know who the top three are.”
Kann agreed that playing more teams from the section, perhaps 12, would be a better sample size for determining the top three.
“I would have a better representation,” Kann said of playing the majority of teams in his section. “We would know who the best in that section is, based on the fact that we all played.”
Another issue coaches had was the fact that only 16 teams make the state tournament. In basketball and softball, there are 24 teams advancing to state. With just seven at-large spots, coaches are worried that some quality teams will be left out of the tournament while some lesser teams, playing in weaker sections, will get in.
“You’ve got to win ballgames, I know that, but I sure hope we aren’t that 17th team that could beat a few of those other teams,” Vanis said. “I wish they would have went to the 24 teams, but, maybe this is going to work out great. Bottom line is, the best teams will come out.”
The best teams in Division I recently have been Xavier, which has won four straight 5A-I titles, and Horizon, which has won two straight titles in 5A-II. Those two will have to play extremely well to maintain their title runs.
In Division II, Sunnyslope, which has won three straight titles in 4A-I, will be the favorite while in Division III, both Seton Catholic (4A-II) and Monument Valley (3A) enter the season with three straight titles under their belts. Northwest Christian is the defending champion from 2A and will take on the role of favorite in Division IV, while Division V has the returning 1A champion Veritas Prep.
Another change this season is the venue for the Division I and Division II semifinals and finals. The semifinals will be played at Antelope Gymnasium on the campus of Grand Canyon University, while the finals will also be at the new 5,000-seat arena at GCU, which means more fans will be able to see the state’s best on the big stage.
The other three divisions will hold their semifinal and finals matches at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott.