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HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL: Teams face a tougher road to playoffs
Area high school volleyball teams have had to adjust to drastic changes brought on by the Virginia High School League’s realignment, which takes effect this fall.
Many coaches are still sorting out what the new landscape will mean for their teams. Some are still trying to explain the changes to their players.
“We’ve talked about it a little bit, but they’re still a little bit confused,” Colonial Forge coach Keith Mesa said.
In a nutshell, there are now six state classifications, as opposed to three last season (Group A was split into two divisions). Teams will still play in districts—most of which remain the same as last year—but district play will not decide seeding for the region playoffs.
This week, The Free Lance–Star is previewing the fall high school sports season. Here is the schedule:
Thursday: Cross country
Saturday: Field hockey
The football preview edition will be published next Thursday. Golf previews ran earlier this month.
Teams are now arranged in conferences (48 total, four per region) that are different from the districts. The top two from each conference tournament advance to region play, and the top two from each region advance to the state playoffs.
There are only two regions per classification, so only four teams advance to the state playoffs, as opposed to eight per classification last season.
OK, now that we’ve explained the changes, what does this mean for area teams? In short, quite a bit.
The area’s two main districts, Commonwealth and Battlefield, have essentially been split up for playoff purposes. So while, for example, Courtland will play Spotsylvania twice in the regular season, and they’ll both be considered district rivals, their games will not have the same impact as they did in previous years.
The Cougars and Knights are now competing for championships in different conferences, regions and state classifications. Courtland, Chancellor, King George and Eastern View will play in Conference 22 in the North Region of the 4A classification, while Spotsylvania, James Monroe and Culpeper will play in Conference 27 of the East Region of the 3A classification.
The Commonwealth District will also be split up among two conferences, with Colonial Forge, Riverbend and Stafford competing in Conference 4 (6A-South) and North Stafford, Brooke Point, Massaponax and Mountain View competing in Conference 15 (5A-North).
Former Commonwealth District power Albemarle has switched to the Jefferson District and will play in Conference 16 (5A-North), which also includes Orange, Halifax County and Patrick Henry (Ashland).
That’ll ease the travel schedule for the Patriots—not to mention eliminating a trip to Charlottesville for most area Commonwealth District teams—but also end the rivalry between Albemarle and Colonial Forge.
“The rivalry Albemarle built with Colonial Forge was really an intense one and it was really good,” Patriots coach Mark Ragland said. “We always looked forward to that, and always marked that on our calendars for the district, so we’ll miss that from a competitive standpoint for sure.”
But realignment could kick-start new rivalries, especially with teams up north.
“It’s exciting. It’ll give us a chance to start some new rivalries,” Massaponax coach Joe Cox said. “I think that’s good for all the athletes throughout Virginia.”
It should come as no surprise, however, that there are some flaws to realignment. For example:
With teams still required to play district rivals twice and also conference teams, there are fewer opportunities for some to schedule non-district games.
“I don’t like the way this new conferencing system is being handled with regards to still having district affiliations, so we still have to play all the teams in our district twice in addition to the two new teams [Fauquier and Liberty–Bealeton] in the conference,” Courtland coach Bob Hott said. “That takes away openings where we could have scheduled say Riverbend, which has been a regular rival or ours.”
Many coaches are thrilled more teams will have an opportunity to win championships, but some feel the new system dilutes the competition and diminishes the significance of winning it all.
“I think if you’ve won a state championship in the past, now that you’ve got a double number of state championships, it does make you feel like you’re kind of getting robbed a little bit with the work and effort that you put in to win the state championship,” said Ragland, who led the Patriots to a Group AAA championship in 2008. “It takes a little bit away from that.”
The VHSL tried to be diplomatic in formulating conferences and regions, but some teams will certainly have easier roads to the region and state playoffs than others.
Floyd E. Kellam and Deep Run, winners of six of the last eight Group AAA state titles, will play in the 5A-South Region this year, and Loudoun County, the winner of five of the last six Group AA state titles, was placed in the 4A-North Region.
Fortunately for Fredericksburg-area teams, none of them will have to play Kellam, Deep Run or Loudoun County until at least the state playoffs. But that doesn’t mean the path to the region or state playoffs is any easier for local teams.
“I don’t think it’s easier for us,” Mesa said. “Now, is the percentage chance that you win a state championship greater? Yes. There’s less teams. The less teams you have to deal with the better, but by no means do I feel like, ‘Oh, well this has really opened things up.’ There’s just too many good teams out there and volleyball keeps getting better in the state.”
Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442
Handicapping the conferences:
CONFERENCE 4 (6A–South)
Teams: Colonial Forge, Riverbend, Stafford, Gar-Field, C.D. Hylton, Forest Park, Woodbridge
Playoff picture: Colonial Forge, Forest Park and Woodbridge, all region playoff teams last year, are early candidates to win the conference crown.
CONFERENCE 15 (5A–North)
Teams: North Stafford, Brooke Point, Massaponax, Mountain View, Freedom (Prince William), Potomac
Playoff picture: Brooke Point is a team on the rise, and Massaponax is looking to make a return trip to the region playoffs. Freedom and Potomac both hope to bounce back from mediocre seasons.
CONFERENCE 16 (5A–North)
Teams: Orange, Albemarle, Patrick Henry (Ashland), Halifax County
Playoff picture: Albemarle should have no problem continuing its yearly playoff run. The question is, who gets the second region playoff berth from this conference?
CONFERENCE 22 (4A–North)
Teams: Chancellor, Courtland, King George, Eastern View, Fauquier, Liberty (Bealeton)
Playoff picture: Courtland and Chancellor have been consistent winners over the years. Fauquier and Liberty were both middle-of-the-pack teams last season.
CONFERENCE 20 (4A–South)
Teams: Caroline, Hanover, Dinwiddie, J.R. Tucker, Midlothian, Monacan, Glen Allen.
Playoff picture: It should be a competitive mix. None of these teams reached the region playoffs last year. Midlothian, Hanover and Glen Allen all reached district semifinal matches last year.
CONFERENCE 23 (4A–North)
Teams: Charlottesville, Fluvanna, Louisa, Amherst, Harrisonburg, Handley
Playoff picture: Handley and Fluvanna had strong seasons last year. Louisa tries to bounce back from a sub-par 2012 season.
CONFERENCE 27 (3A–East)
Teams: James Monroe, Spotsylvania, Culpeper, Kettle Run, Manassas Park, Brentsville District
Playoff picture: Kettle Run and Spotsylvania both made the region playoffs last year. JM and Culpeper look to turn things around this season.
CONFERENCE 43 (1A–East)
Teams: Colonial Beach, Essex, Washington & Lee, Rappahannock County, Lancaster, Northumberland, Rappahannock.
Playoff picture: Rappahannock County, a middle-of-the-road team in the Bull Run District last season, joins six Northern Neck teams. Rappahannock (Division I) and Northumberland (Division II) were state playoff teams last year.