Ac­cord could im­prove com­pet­i­tive bal­ance

Sched­ul­ing agree­ment be­tween Howard and Anne Arun­del coun­ties is in­tended to match pro­grams at sim­i­lar lev­els

Baltimore Sun - - VARSITY - By Mike Frainie

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.”

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