Final section placement leaves questions, few answers

Phoenix-area schools petitioned out of five sports, creating a section that stretches from Yuma to Flagstaff

RODNEY HAAS/Miner<br> 
Nick Dellacioppa goes for a loose ball during a game last month. Under the final section placements announced by the AIA last month, the boys basketball team will play in a section that will be split between a northern half and southern half. However, there are still questions regarding how playoff teams will be determined between the two halves.

RODNEY HAAS/Miner<br> Nick Dellacioppa goes for a loose ball during a game last month. Under the final section placements announced by the AIA last month, the boys basketball team will play in a section that will be split between a northern half and southern half. However, there are still questions regarding how playoff teams will be determined between the two halves.

When the Arizona Interscholastic Association announced its final section placements last month, it left Kingman High with more questions than answers.

Some of those questions have been answered - for instance, coaches now know they won't have to travel all the way to Yuma for games.

There will still be plenty of travel for the Bulldogs, however, since Kingman's location pretty much guarantees it. Still left to be determined is the way playoff berths will be determined between the northern and southern halves of the state.

Athletic Director John Venenga is waiting to hear from the AIA.

"We talked to them about reconsidering the playoffs and asked that each part gets two (playoff spots), but if we can guarantee each part gets one, then at least we will be represented," Venenga said.

When the final section placements were announced, the major changes occurred in baseball, basketball, soccer, softball and tennis. The change occurred when all of the Phoenix-area schools petitioned out of the section and were replaced by the Yuma schools, creating a section that stretches from Yuma to Flagstaff.

The section will be separated into a north and south, with northern schools playing each other and vice versa. It's also set up so that the northern part of the section will get its own all-section team at the end of the year.

But if northern schools play each other and get their own all-section team, and if the AIA approves the northern schools' request for at least one guaranteed playoff team, then why not make the northern schools a section of its own?

"I don't think they will make us our own section," Venenga said. "I think they will at least guarantee one spot for the north and one for the south."

All other sports remained unchanged for the most part from the initial section placements announced in December. The only other changes occurred in wrestling, where Glendale Independence was added, and in cross country, where Phoenix Thunderbird and Washington were dropped.

Two years ago, the AIA decided to do away with the 4A and 5A conferences and instead adopted a division alignment based on the number of schools participating in a particular sport.

It was an effort by the AIA to cut costs in terms of hosting state tournaments while at the same time installing a computerized scheduling system aimed at reducing travel costs for the schools.

"When we did this two years ago, that was a huge concern," said AIA's executive director Harold Slemmer. "We were just coming off the '08 recession and the huge concern was that we need to minimize travel, so we programmed the computer and we programmed it to just do that and we did minimize travel costs quite a bit."

The computer scheduling did help in some instances. In other cases, it didn't.

Slemmer said the AIA received complaints of teams choosing to play schools with significantly less enrollment that were 20 miles away instead of traveling 200 miles to play a school more their size.

"What had happened was we had schools complain, 'We want to minimize travel, but we also want a schedule that we can compete in,'" Slemmer said. "Some of the smaller schools didn't think they could win that many games. So this next go-around, we went back to the competition route and we didn't work as hard to minimize travel. There are going to be schools that have some significant travel. However, we did take that into consideration when we put them in a section."

KHS will still be on the road a lot under the new section schedule.

If the volleyball team travels to each of its section opponents next year, for example, they will pile up about 3,118 miles on the road, including seven trips to Phoenix.

However, it is expected that the teams will only play their section teams once.

"When you live in Kingman, that's probably going to happen," Slemmer said. "Arizona has 114,000 square miles in it and about 15 percent of those square miles are where most of the population is. We have a lot of rural areas.

"When you travel to Gila Bend from Casa Grande, that's a long ride. There is nothing in between. When you go from West Phoenix to Yuma, that's still going to be a long ride with nothing in between.

"You are where you are, whether it's Kingman or Flagstaff or Holbrook. You are probably going to be on the road to play a whole schedule."