A loser-out season football opener. Seeding meetings. And lots of pigtails.
All are part of Aberdeen’s route to postseason play for the next two years.
The Bobcats are leaving the Evergreen 2A Conference next fall to join newly minted Class 2A school Rochester and six 1A schools (including Hoquiam, Montesano and Elma) in a combined 2A/1A league for at least the next two years.
That necessitated a series of meetings with Southwest Washington 2A schools to determine a formula that would enable Aberdeen and Rochester teams to qualify for playoff competition.
Although representatives of the remaining Evergreen 2A Conference schools (thanks to other defections, that circuit will consist of only four members — Tumwater, Black Hills, Centralia and Chehalis) reportedly took a hard-line approach initially, the end product was considered equitable by Aberdeen representatives.
“It was a long, drawn-out process,” outgoing Aberdeen athletic director Ken Ashlock said. “They compromised on some things and held firm on some things. Our administration here is totally satisfied with the path we have to get to the postseason.”
The one constant is that there will be no direct entry for Aberdeen and Rochester (technically considered 2A independent schools) into district tournaments for team sports, regardless of their records. Those teams must travel to the home of the lowest-seeded Evergreen 2A Conference club for district-qualifying — or pigtail — contests.
The qualifying requirement is stricter in football than in other team sports.
To advance to the pigtail game, the Bobcats or Warriors must attain no worse than a .750 percentage in games against 1A schools, schedule non-league contests exclusively against 2A or higher classification teams and go unbeaten in their non-leaguers.
That means that the Bobcats could be eliminated from postseason contention if they lose their season opener to River Ridge on Sept. 5.
“Football is the hardest (criteria) by far,” Ashlock acknowledged. “They felt that if we didn’t go 3-0 against 2A or 3A schools, we shouldn’t go to the postseason.”
In other team sports such as basketball, soccer, volleyball, baseball and softball, the formula is more generous to the 2A independents.
Those teams must reach a .750 percentage in match-ups with 1A foes, play 25 percent of their games against 2A or higher-classification opponents and at least equal, in non-league play, the victory percentage of the lowest-seeded team in the Evergreen 2A Conference.
If, for example, a Black Hills basketball team finishes last in the Evergreen 2A Conference by winning only 25 percent of its league games, Aberdeen would need to go at least 9-3 in league games against 1A teams and 2-3 in match-ups with 2A schools to qualify for postseason. If Aberdeen and Rochester both meet that requirement, incidentally, some sort of criteria (probably head-to-head play) would be used to determine the pigtail qualifier.
While those standards seem easily attainable, some critics have contended they encourage the Bobcats and Warriors to pursue a relatively soft non-league schedule.
“So I just look to schedule four teams that are 2A or 3A but not very good?,” Aberdeen boys soccer coach Larry Fleming asked. “That is a very strange way to plan who we are going to play.”
To help counteract that criticism, district officials have added an “exceptional record” clause in the qualification standards.
If a Bobcat or Warrior team compiles an exceptional record — both within the league and in non-leaguers against high-caliber opponents — they would be considered for a higher district seed following the pigtail game. The quality of the non-league schedule would be a primary factor in that decision.
“If you’re 16-0 and you’ve played teams that are not very good, that’s not exceptional,” said Chehalis athletic director Scott Chamberlain, one of the architects of the qualifying formula. “If you’re 16-0 and have beaten some teams that are really good, we’d say these guys are legitimate. We don’t want to be a bracket-breaker, we want to put them in the right spot.”
Even with that caveat, the prevailing wisdom is that the independent schools would be granted no higher than a third seed in district play. Chamberlain indicated, however, that a truly powerful Aberdeen or Rochester team could be awarded a first or second seed.
That would create an improbable scenario in which a Bobcat soccer team, for example, would go on the road for a pigtail game, then be allowed to host a succession of district contests as a No. 1 seed. So improbable, in fact, that Ashlock believes it will never materialize.
“We would never be higher than a No. 3, because they wouldn’t allow us to host (district games),” the AHS athletic director said. “That was a big deal for them.”
For such individual sports as wrestling, track, swimming, tennis and golf, the district-qualifying procedure will differ little from the status quo. The subregional wrestling draw will hammered out in seeding meetings, while times and other marks will be the primary method of determining postseason berths in track and swimming.
The original wrestling formula created controversy, since it would have limited Aberdeen and Rochester to only one competitor per weight, as the lowest possible seeds. That plan was scrapped after concerns were voiced that potential state champions from the independent schools could be matched against the top-seeded Evergreen Conference wrestlers in the opening round.
“That’s a seeded tournament and to bring somebody (exceptional) in and have him take the eighth spot, that’s not the best for all kids,” Chamberlain said.
For all the potential complications, Ashlock believes that Aberdeen’s postseason access is reasonable.
“I think the majority of our coaches are comfortable with it,” he said.
One who isn’t is Fleming, whose boys soccer program has traditionally been among the school’s most successful.
Fleming dislikes many facets of the combined 1A/2A league, from the lower quality of competition to the scarcity of turf fields. The low district seeding and potential elimination of home playoff games, however, represent perhaps his biggest gripe.
“Unless we made it to the finals of the district tournament and receive a No. 1 or 2 seed to state, we could potentially never host another playoff game at Stewart (Field),” he noted. “That seems to put us at a big disadvantage for the postseason.”
Given the circumstances, however, even Fleming isn’t certain if there is a better formula for accommodating the 2A independents.
“If I could have my way, soccer would move back to the Evergreen Conference and play in that league,” he said. “I would schedule non-league matches with Hoquiam, Elma and Monte as much as possible. I don’t see why a few of our sports couldn’t do that individually. We did it for football (in the past two years), so why not for soccer?… I can’t figure out why we are doing (the 2A/1A league) except that Aberdeen doesn’t want to play Tumwater in football. If that is true, why can’t just football move like it did before and not the rest of us.”
Aberdeen’s plan, however, to continue in the Evergreen Conference in girls swimming and boys tennis — sports in which there are few other 1A programs in Southwest Washington — was nixed by league representatives.
“I think our sentiment is all or none and I think it is a fair sentiment,” Chamberlain asserted. “I think those things should have been thought through before making that decision (to join the 1A/2A league). I think I can speak for all four schools, this decision was based on football. Football has affected all those sports. If you want to be in our league, be in our league in everything.”
“For Aberdeen, it wasn’t based on football, it was based on all sports,” Ashlock retorted. “All we did was we asked to play them in swimming and tennis and they said it was all or nothing. And we’re OK with that, we’re not having trouble finding teams to play.”
Contrary to unfounded rumors that the school planned to drop swimming, Aberdeen has already filled its schedule in that sport, with such upper-classification schools as Shelton, North Thurston, Timberline and Capital providing the opposition. The YMCA of Grays Harbor’s reputation of being one of the district’s fastest pools aided considerably in that effort.
Aberdeen’s decision to join a combined 2A/1A league will be revisited in two years. If the Bobcats opt to return to the Evergreen 2A Conference, Chamberlain said they and Rochester would be welcomed.
“We need to have (Aberdeen) back in a six-team league and want to play them again,” he concluded.
Rick Anderson: (360) 537-3924; firstname.lastname@example.org.