Prairie’s tournament streak gets rein-‘state’-d

Commentary: Paul Valencia

By Paul Valencia, Columbian High School Sports Reporter



The coroner pronounced the streak dead.

Turns out, it was just extremely sleepy.

Two seasons later, the streak is wide awake from its coma. The Prairie girls basketball program has, indeed, made it to state 17 consecutive seasons.

First, some background:

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association drastically changed the format of the state basketball tournaments in 2011, and the organization has been tinkering with it ever since.

Just about every tweak has been met with opposition from coaches, criticism from the media, and/or disgust from fans.

My guess is the only way people will stop complaining is if the WIAA goes back to a 16-team tournament in one facility, each team guaranteed at least two games.

Probably not going to happen any time soon.

Instead, we have the “regional” format. Through district, and in some cases, bi-district play, 16 teams in each classification make it to the regionals. One game. Win and go to the final eight at one facility — the state tournament. Lose, and you’re done.

Anyway, The Columbian confirmed with the WIAA on Monday that it has made another change. Actually, it is reversing a decision it made a couple years ago. Teams that make it to regionals are now considered state tournament participants. That is how it was in 2011 and 2012, by the way.

Back in 2011 and again in 2012, coaches and fans complained because it sure did not “feel” like state. Some of these regional sites were packed with fans. Many were not. The Prairie girls played a game one year with about 40 or 50 people in the gym, no student section for either team. Regionals were just too far away for a fan base to travel.

So after two years of hit-and-miss with regionals, the WIAA agreed with some coaches, fans, and media that this sure did not seem like state. Beginning in 2013, teams that lost in regionals were not considered state tournament participants.

Thanks for making it to the Sweet 16. Don’t let the basketball hit you on the way out.

Well, in 2013, the Prairie Falcons lost in the regionals, and the streak, we reported, was over. The program had made it to state for 15 consecutive seasons. Even though the 2013 team did make the Sweet 16, technically, under the latest tweak, that did not count.

After further review, that really did not make much sense.

Whatever your feelings are on the change to the state tournaments, the WIAA is correct to call the basketball’s Sweet 16 a part of the state tournament, a part of state playoff history. True, it does not feel like state for Class 4A teams to play at Mark Morris High School in Longview. However, those teams still are among the final 16.

The WIAA considers the final 16 in all of the other traditional team sports to be state participants. Boys and girls soccer play their first two rounds of state at local facilities throughout the state. They do not join together until the semifinals.

Football plays the first two rounds of its state bracket with games at high school facilities. Does that feel like state? Football only goes to the Tacoma Dome, and other predetermined sites on the east side of the state, for the semifinals and finals.

Baseball has four regionals, with four teams each on a Saturday, with one survivor making up the semifinals. Those regionals are considered state tournament playoff games.

So yes, the WIAA got this move right. If all of the other team sports consider 16 to be the magic number, then basketball should as well.

Because the WIAA is making this move retroactively, the Prairie girls basketball program can now say it has reached state 17 consecutive years. The 2014 squad also reached the round of 16.

At Prairie, the goal is always to make it to the dome. Didn’t happen last year nor this year. But the Falcons did advance to the regionals.

Making the round of 16 in one’s classification is special, no matter where those games are played.

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @360paulv