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Sports commentary: A mixed bag

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The verdict on the new high school playoff formats is yet to be rendered

By Mike Forster

 

What do the following have in common:  limburger cheese, kidney pie, Lady Gaga and the new VHSL playoff structures?

While you may be tempted to answer:  "They all smell funny," that would be an incorrect answer.

In order to get a passing grade on this simple test, you'd have to have answered:  "People either love them or they hate them."

Without going into my personal leanings on ripened cheeses and English cuisine (and I'm not even going to try to pretend I understand Lady Gaga), I have found that there are few who are lukewarm on the VHSL's move.

Over the past couple of weeks, we've seen how the shift in the new playoff system has worked.

My appraisal is:  It has worked tremendously well, and tremendously poorly.

Let's look at the good.  Taken strictly from a selfish standpoint, the system has been generous to local athletes, specifically those from Jefferson Forest High School.

The Cav golf team earned itself a tie for second place at the State championship.  That's better than any previous JF team has done--and there have been some awfully good teams from that school in this sport.

Even better, the Jefferson Forest girls cross country team nailed first place at the State meet last week.  The last State championship in the sport from the school was won in 2001.

Kudos all around.  Hey, it's hard to argue with results.

It is not fair to argue that the shuffling and changing of the post-season format were the proximate causes of these teams' successes.  In the end, they were just good teams.

On the negative side, we look at volleyball.  Poor Carroll County had to endure a dastardly bus journey to play at Jefferson Forest in a district match.  By the way, "district" is the lowest denomination in the new set-up.

In the old structure, the locals beat up on each other in district play before moving on to the more geographically challenging aspects of regional competition.

Now, it seems the teams hit the road early and hit it hard.  The only silver lining I can come up with on JF's loss to Carroll County is that the Carrollinians didn't have to endure that nearly three-hour bus ride while contemplating a season-ending defeat.

But, that's exactly what the Liberty football team had to do two Friday nights ago.

Following their opening round playoff loss, the Minutemen faced a long, silent bus ride home from Ridgeway, home of Magna Vista.

Do you know why Magna Vista is called what it is?  Part of it has to do with the fact that you can see North Carolina from the stands of its football field.

Heck, Mr. Magoo could see North Carolina from the stands, given that the Tar Heel State stands about 45 feet from them.

Now, the fact is, Liberty and Magna Vista played one of the most enjoyable football games I've ever seen.  That's a pretty darn big plus.

Also, hats off to the couple hundred Liberty fans who hoofed it to Ridgeway in support of their Minutemen.

But, I strongly contend that the crowd would have been much larger if this had been a matchup between two regional champions, as opposed to a mere opener.

As long as I'm picking on the football playoffs, let me add this.  In 4A-West, there are currently four survivors from a region that covers a broad swath of the state.  Yet, three of these survivors come from the Blue Ridge and Seminole Districts.

Now, it is true that the first round featured matchups that wouldn't have happened in the previous setup.  For example, if last year's system were to have been used this season, Liberty would have opened the playoffs at home, against Brookville or Rustburg, both Seminole foes.

You may recall that, last season, JF opened the playoffs by beating Glass.  The Cavs then fell to Amherst, which lost to Heritage in the Region III (Division 4) final.

All four of those teams are members of the Seminole.

One of the stated purposes of the redesign was to discourage playoff games between teams that have met one another before.

In this respect, the VHSL has succeeded in exceeding fashion.

The price?  Long road trips.