Accord could improve competitive balance
Scheduling agreement between Howard and Anne Arundel counties is intended to match programs at similar levels
In recent years, metro-area volleyball teams have been making annual trips to the state semifinals and playoffs in College Park, only to come home with disappointed players and no hardware. With a few exceptions (Severna Park in 2014, Dulaney in 2013), this scenario has become all too familiar.
In 2008, metro-area schools won three of the four state championships. Last year, no metro-area school won, though Dulaney did make it to the title game.
Many coaches wondered why they had to play teams in the regular season that, in many cases, weren’t as competitive. They sometimes played the same team three times and felt as if those games did not prepare their teams for the playoffs. Other coaches wondered why they were facing top-ranked programs when volleyball was not a focus at their schools.
This season, because of a scheduling agreement between Howard and Anne Arundel counties, known as the Maryland Public Secondary Athletic Association’s District V, some of that imbalance is expected to end.
This year, the two counties have partly combined their schedules, resulting in teams at the same level in each county playing teams at the same level in the other. While the agreement is not just for volleyball — lacrosse did it last year and field hockey will also do it this season — it’s possible the change will have the biggest impact in volleyball. This season, seven of the 15 teams — and four of the top five — in The Baltimore Sun’s preseason poll are from the two counties, traditionally the strongest in the metro area. Last year, nine schools from the two counties finished the year ranked in the season-ending poll.
“I love the new arrangement,” Centennial coach Mike Bossom said. “It adds competitive balance. Now every game matters, and it will lead to some really great volleyball. The kids love it, and the parents love it, too.”
Under the agreement, each county is divided into three tiers. The top four teams, based on last year’s record, in Anne Arundel (Arundel, Broadneck, Severna Park and South River) and Howard (Atholton, Centennial, Howard and River Hill) will make up tier one. The middle four schools in each county (Glenelg, Marriotts Ridge, Mount Hebron and Reservoir in Howard; Annapolis, North County, Old Mill and Southern in Anne Arundel) will make up tier two, and the bottom four in each county (Hammond, Long Reach, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake in Howard; Chesapeake, Meade, Northeast and Southern in Anne Arundel) will play in tier three.
Each school will play each team in its county once, regardless of tier, and three of four schools from the other county in the corresponding tier. For example, No. 1South River will play No. 3 Howard, while No. 2 Arundel plays No. 5 Centennial.
The scheduling idea came from the office of John E. Davis, coordinator of athletics for Howard County.
“We are both in District V, so we’ve tried a few things in the past like a District V championship,” Davis said. “That wasn’t very well received, because the team that lost always had a mental letdown right before the playoffs. We just decided, since they had scheduling issues and we had scheduling issues, to see if we could work something out. We tried it for boys and girls lacrosse last season, and we had some good results.”
Davis thinks the agreement helps teams at the bottom as well as those at the top.
“We had some teams that would play the top teams and get beat by a lopsided score. That’s not fun for anyone,” Davis said. “Last year we had lacrosse teams that hadn’t won many games in years actually post a decent record, and that got everybody excited. It really helps us to build our programs.
“The other great thing about it is that it maintains the integrity of our county championship. The games against the Anne Arundel schools will not count toward the county record that we will use to determine who the county champion is.”
Said Severna Park coach Tim Dunbar: “I think it’s a toss-up as to which county is the best at the top of the leagues, but I think overall the Howard County league is a little deeper than ours. One of the things I really like about it is that most of the Howard County schools are Class 3A, while most of ours are Class 4A. That means we can just play and not hold back anything for the playoffs because we won’t see them again. Even in the case of Howard, who is a 4A like us, they are in another region, so we wouldn’t meet them again unless both make it to College Park.”
Brian Leyman, an athletic specialist and one of Davis’ counterparts in Anne Arundel, thinks volleyball is a natural fit for this type of arrangement.
“Volleyball plays 14 or 15 games, so this works out perfectly as far as the number of teams is concerned. Both counties do well in the sport, and by adding the extra three games [from the schools in Howard County], it really helps with the competitive balance,” Leyman said. “Everyone seems to love it because you get an equally matched opponent that is not too far away, so we also save on travel costs. We have our fingers crossed that it will be successful.”