Paul Valencia: State semifinalists should place in top four — always

Commentary: Paul Valencia

By Paul Valencia, Columbian High School Sports Reporter



Did you notice it? Were you paying attention to Prairie volleyball?

Yeah, the Falcons finished fifth at the Class 3A state tournament over the weekend.

Prairie won its first match, lost in the quarterfinals, then won two matches Saturday to place fifth.

Pretty cool, huh?

But have you noticed anything yet? Does something seem out of place?

Something, like, say the place?

As in fifth place. Not fourth place.

For one year anyway, the organizers of a one-site, 16-team high school tournament got it right.

Unfortunately for the Falcons, it means they finished fifth. In previous seasons, their accomplishment would have been good enough for fourth.

While some from Prairie might be wondering, “What gives?” this should have been the system all along.

Here is the deal: A study committee last year recommended to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to change the way the tournament awards its trophies. Beginning this year, all teams that made it to the championship semifinals — the final four — would actually finish in the top four.

Hey, what a concept!

In the past, the two finalists secured the first- and second-place trophies. But the loser of the third-place match would fall to sixth place. The reasoning: The loser of that third-place match finishes with a 2-2 record at state, with a loss in the championship semis and another in the third-place match.

That meant that there was one team that lost in the quarterfinals that would finish 3-1 at state and “place” higher than that final four team. Same with one first-round losing squad. There has to be a winner of that left side of the bracket, a team that would go 3-1 and finish fifth.

The same system was used at the state basketball tournaments until the basketball tournaments were reorganized last season. A 3-1 record was always better than 2-2, no matter where those wins were recorded on the bracket.

A few years back, I wrote a column begging for a change. I guarantee you every coach with an ounce of competitiveness would rather win two games in the championship bracket, play in the semifinals and lose two in a row than lose in the first round and then win three in a row in the breakfast bracket. (In basketball, those left side of the bracket games were always played in the morning.)

Those breakfast games were dreadful. One, or both, of the teams never really wanted to be there. Besides Mom and Dad in the stands, there were usually about 15 other fans. Some students. Maybe. A band would show up from time to time. But even the musicians would have rather been anywhere else than a 9 a.m. basketball game.

But the semifinals? Those games had buzz. Excitement. Importance. And there always had to be two losers in the semis. And those two losers would have to play each other for third place. And that loser would then finish … sixth? Behind the breakfast club champion? No thanks. Made no sense.

Or so I thought.

Now, the WIAA makes this change for volleyball. And guess what? Not everyone is happy about it.

“I’m catching a lot of heat for it now,” said Cindy Adsit, the WIAA assistant executive director who is in charge of volleyball. “A lot of the coaches are upset about that.”

Of course, she points out, the committee members that recommended the changes are coaches, too.

“I have no idea what it will end up being next year. We’ll see what the coaches say,” Adsit said.

The committee and the WIAA got this one right, yet they can never make everyone happy. Interestingly, volleyball is the last 16-team, one-site tournament that awards eight places at state.

Basketball is now an eight-team, one-site tournament after regional sites are used to get to the elite eight.

Softball remains a 16-team, one-site tournament, but that sport only hands out four places. And in softball, teams that lose in the first round, quarterfinals or semifinals, drop into the consolation bracket. That’s not how it works in volleyball.

Volleyball continues to award half of its 16 state participants a trophy.

For now.

“Eight deep (for trophies), I can’t guarantee that’s going to continue, either,” Adsit said.

Well, if volleyball does go to only four placings next year, at least the WIAA will know it got it right on its last attempt with the traditional bracket.

Winning two in the championship bracket is always better than winning one or none in the championship bracket. No matter what happens the rest of the tournament.


Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or