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THE FRONT ROW with MARK NELKE: Moment of truth for the new way of seeding state tourneys

| October 21, 2021 1:30 AM

Those who were tired of pre-determined brackets for seeding state high school tournaments in Idaho, well, let's see how you like the new way.

Starting this week.

In soccer and volleyball this fall, and in some of the football divisions, MaxPreps rankings are used to seed the state tournaments. Teams still qualify the same way they always did, through their various regional/district tourneys. But after the teams were done with their state qualifying, MaxPreps rankings from the regular season are used to determine first-round matchups — No. 1 seed vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5, and so on.

For years, the tourneys were "seeded" so, in general, a champion from one district would open against a runner-up from another district — or a third-place finisher, or a state play-in winner.

FIRST UP are the state boys and girls soccer tourneys this week.

In the 5A boys tourney, Lake City is the No. 1 overall season, thanks largely to its 17-0-1 record.

In the past, the Timberwolves would open against a runner-up or worse from another district. But this year, the No. 8 seed is fellow Inland Empire League foe Lewiston, which won a play-in game to advance to state for the first time.

Normally, the state play-in winner would face the District 3 (Boise-area) champion. And often times, that ends up being a matchup of District 3 teams, since the play-in game involves a District 3 team.

IEL teams aren't used to playing each other in the first round at state, but that's the way the MaxPreps ball bounced this year.

This year's District 3 boys champion, Boise, was the No. 3 seed at districts. Usually winning a district title down there would earn a matchup with the aforementioned state play-in winner. But this year, Boise's "reward" for its district title is being the No. 5 seed at state, and opening vs. No. 4 Thunder Ridge of Idaho Falls.

Meanwhile Timberline of Boise, the district's top seed which lost to Boise 1-0 in the district title game, is the No. 2 seed at state, and opens vs. No. 7 Madison of Rexburg.

(Remember, the final regular season MaxPreps rankings are used to seed. They are not updated after the regional/district tournaments.)

IN THE 5A girls tourney, Lake City won the regional title, but received just a No. 4 seed to state. The T-Wolves' opener is against No. 5 Timberline, the third seed to the District 3 tournament, which lost to top-seeded Rocky Mountain in the title game.

Eastern Idaho soccer teams have generally not fared well at state, but Highland (16-0-0) of Pocatello earned the tourney's No. 1 seed.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how the seeds hold up at state.

In the 3A girls tourney, Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy (15-1-0) has won the last five state titles, but earned just a No. 2 seed to state, behind Fruitland (16-0-1).

IN VOLLEYBALL, seedings are not as critical, as the tourney is (usually) double-elimination, so a bad matchup or a bad match isn't the end of the world.

Still, the earlier a team drops into the losers bracket, the longer the road is back to the title match.

Post Falls, which punched its ticket to state on Tuesday night by winning the 5A Region 1 championship, knows it will be the No. 2 seed at state, behind only defending champion Skyview of Nampa.

Post Falls coach Willow Hanna said she's been following the rankings the past few weeks, and was hoping to be on the opposite side of the bracket from Skyview — so the first meeting between the top two seeds wouldn't be until the semifinal on the second day of the tourney.

"The MaxPreps rankings, it’s hard to understand what their algorithm is to determine strength of schedule," Hanna said. "I am appreciative that we are as high as we are considering our record doesn’t show all of our matches, because two tournaments we played in (the Lewiston Invitational in August and the recent Linda Sheridan Classic in Spokane), the scoring doesn’t meet the criteria for MaxPreps, so we didn’t get to enter those scores.

"So when you look on MaxPreps and the south teams have 32 games right now, and we show we have 20, that isn’t necessarily accurate on our full record (now 25-6). I’m glad that we’re still up there with the matches we have competed in, but the Linda Sheridan tournament didn’t count, and the Lewiston tournament at the beginning of the season didn’t count."

Also ...

"Volleyball’s a different game than a lot of other sports," Hanna added. "We don’t have a running clock. The score does not continue to add up as the match goes on. We can play up to five (sets), the score always goes back to 0-0 … it’s a very interesting sport in that way. Again, I don’t know what the algorithm is, because you could play a five-set match against somebody or a three-set match … I don’t know how they’re calculating those things in."

According to MaxPreps' explanation of its computer rankings:

"Generally, the more a team wins, the higher the ranking. However, the system takes into account quality wins (against other highly ranked opponents) and strength of schedule.

"For example, a team's ranking is hurt more by losing to a team that is ranked below them than a team ranked ahead."

So there you have it.

In the old days, if you didn't like the way a tournament was seeded, you could call up the Idaho High School Activities Association and tee off on them.

But now ...

How do you lambaste a computer?

In any event, let's check back after the fall sports championships are completed, then state boys and girls basketball in the winter and softball in the spring.

Then we'll have an idea if this way of seeding teams at state is something we should have tried sooner.

Or if the old way wasn't so bad after all.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter @CdAPressSports.

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