The newest Virginia High School League realignment plan brought changes to the landscape of the Bull Run and Northwestern districts and the regions in which the six public high schools in the Northern Virginia Daily’s coverage area will compete for the next few years. It will also alter the playoff structure for many local schools during the upcoming 2019-20 school year.
Region 2B, which includes Strasburg and newcomer Stonewall Jackson, will undergo some of the most drastic changes among the regions hosting local schools. That region will move to what Strasburg Athletic Director Matt Hiserman called a “modified power points” system to determine what schools qualify for the regional tournament in team sports, eliminating the use of the Bull Run and Shenandoah District tournaments as direct means of deciding regional qualification.
Stonewall, which made the jump from Class 1 to Class 2, figures to be one of the schools most impacted by the newest realignment.
Stonewall was one of four schools to recently move from the Shenandoah District to the Bull Run, joining East Rockingham, Luray and Page County as schools to accompany Bull Run holdovers Strasburg, Clarke County, Madison County and Rappahannock County.
As a former member of Region 1B – a scattering of 10 Class 1 teams representing six districts across the state who didn’t play each other during the regular season and used a points-based system to determine regional tournament qualification and seeding – Stonewall played primarily against Class 2 schools for the past two seasons and relied less on wins to reach the Class 1 playoffs and more on the bonus points garnered by playing schools from a higher classification during the regular season.
Those bonus points accrued for playing bigger schools – Stonewall did a lot of that as one of just two Class 1 schools in the former nine-team Shenandoah District – often were enough to all but guarantee the Generals a place in the Region 1B tournament in various sports, no matter how their teams fared during the regular season. In one of the most prominent examples, Stonewall’s football team reached the Region 1B playoffs in each of the past two seasons despite not winning a game.
Stonewall, the fifth-smallest school in Class 2 (499 students) based on the VHSL’s most recent average daily membership figures from March 2018, will face a tougher path to the playoffs across all sports in Region 2B, which is made up primarily of teams from the Bull Run and Shenandoah districts. Failing to win games in the Bull Run District will mean sitting at home come regional tournament time.
“We were kind of on a different playing field before and the magnitude of the games mattered in a different meaning. The (Class 2) schools were trying to get a district championship where we were just trying to get as many points as possible,” Stonewall Jackson Athletic Director Mike Lenox said on Wednesday.
“With everybody being on the same field now, I think overall it will be better for our kids here. I think it’s gonna make them have to work harder. I think that now it’s gonna be a little bit different feel and that if you deserve to go, you deserve to go and if you don’t, you don’t. I want the kids to have the most opportunities possible but I also want it to be meaningful.”
Stonewall and the rest of the Region 2B teams will still be trying to earn as many points as possible throughout the season to qualify for one of the eight spots in the regional tournament, though the points model the region will use is more intricate than the one Stonewall had grown accustomed to.
Region 1B over the last two seasons used a simple formula that awarded its members seven points for a win, plus a bonus point for each classification if the opponent was a member of a higher class (for example, a win over a Class 2 school netted Stonewall eight points, a win over a Class 3 school awarded nine, etc.). While a loss to a fellow Class 1 school meant no points were earned for that game, a loss to a Class 2 school awarded two points, a loss to a Class 3 team awarded four points and so on.
A team’s total points were then divided by the number of games played, and that average was used to determine seeding in the Region 1B tournament.
The modified power points system Region 2B has adopted this year to determine regional tournament seeding is similar to, though more complex than, the one used by the VHSL in football, Hiserman said.
“It’s based off the one that the VHSL recommends. It’s done by Bruton High School and Region 2A has been using it. It’s complicated, what all’s involved in it,” said Hiserman, who noted that the Region 2B points system for team sports such as volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball and soccer will take into account things like the classification of your opponent and how many wins that team has.
“It’s actually a little more complex (than the VHSL’s football points system), I think, in how it kind of leads itself down some different avenues. I know the high school league actually is considering looking at it possibly for its football season later on.”
Like football, teams in Region 2B will be rewarded for playing tougher schedules.
“I think your scheduling’s gonna have a lot to do with it: who you play, how good they are,” Lenox said. “I’m kind of looking forward to something new, especially with it being a little bit more local.”
The new regional power points system won’t mean the end of the Bull Run District tournament, though that tournament will no longer solely determine which teams advance to regionals.
Over the past two seasons, the Bull Run and Shenandoah districts each sent their top four teams from their respective district tournaments to the regional round, pitting the top seeds from each district against the fourth seed from the other league in the quarterfinal round. The second and third seeds from each district faced off in the same manner.
Unbalance in the new Region 2B – seven of the 11 teams will now come from the Bull Run (Rappahannock County remains a member of Region 1B) – and the addition of Buckingham County, a member of the James River District, made the use of district tournaments for regional qualification in team sports no longer feasible.
That’s not to say the Bull Run District tournament won’t matter. Hiserman said the region has adopted a cut-off date for when games would no longer count toward a team’s power points, and that those dates were set to coincide with the conclusion of the Bull Run District tournament and the Shenandoah District regular season. While Bull Run District tournament trophies will be nothing more than a source of bragging rights, wins in the tournament could potentially impact a team’s regional seeding.
The Shenandoah District, which has been reduced to six teams from three different classifications, won’t hold district tournaments in team sports this year.
Hiserman also provided details on how sports with individual advancement would determine regional qualifiers, noting that Region 2B would be split into North and South groups in those instances. The seven Class 2 schools in the Bull Run District will represent the North Group, while the South includes the three Class 2 Shenandoah District schools – Buffalo Gap, Staunton (formerly Robert E. Lee) and Stuarts Draft – and Buckingham County.
Being the larger group, the North will send more teams and/or individuals to the region tournament than its southern counterpart in sports like golf and cross country.
Hiserman said fans in the Bull Run District, which lost Central and George Mason to the Northwestern District after both schools were bumped up to Class 3, can expect to see some changes in the quality of competition in the Bull Run.
“I think the one big thing you’ll see in the Bull Run District is the quality of girls sports will change tremendously,” he said. “I think in the past you’d get a couple teams at the top in every sport and then it kind of fizzles out but I think across the board, top to bottom, in the eight teams in girls sports you can see a lot more competitiveness, which is what the Shenandoah District had and now we have four of their schools.”