Shenandoah District postseason athletics are going to be hard to find starting this year.
Postseason district tournaments that fans have grown accustomed for decades will not be played in the Shenandoah except in a few sports like golf, cross country and competition cheerleading.
With the district now comprised of two Class 3 schools — Fort Defiance and Wilson Memorial; three Class 2 schools — Buffalo Gap, Stuarts Draft and Staunton; and Class 1 Riverheads, the need to play what will now be non-district tournament games just does not make sense. The luster of district tourneys had dwindled the last few years because of the expanded regional participation.
Wilson volleyball got hit hard in last season’s district championship match when arguably its best player Cassidy Davis tore her ACL. The Green Hornets were never the same, losing in the Region 2B semifinals. Injuries can happen at any time, but will not occur if non-tournament games are not played.
Wilson athletic director Craig Flesher was in favor of eliminating the tournaments, but not because of what happened in volleyball.
“My thinking wasn’t based only on that specific situation,” he said. “As leaders we had to recognize the VHSL is totally different today than 10 or 15 years ago. We have to run our athletic programs in today’s environment, and not how it was always done for years and years.”
Another bonus to no-district tournaments is that athletic directors have more flexibility to reschedule games because of bad weather, especially in the winter and spring. They now have an extra week to work in games if necessary.
Fans already know the district’s fraternity had been reduced with the exodus of East Rockingham, Luray, Page County and Stonewall Jackson to the Bull Run District. Fort Defiance left the Valley District to join the Shenandoah, making for an all-Augusta County six-team district.
Regional representation will now be based on a points system similar to the that used for football. A team’s ranking is determined by its win-loss record and strength of schedule.
Scheduling for football will not change, which still uses the Virginia High School League power ratings system.
“The strength of schedule is important,” Flesher said. “I have worked to put together a balanced schedule for our teams here at Wilson.”
For Class 3 Fort Defiance and Wilson, the Indians and Hornets will be battling it out for the automatic Region 3C berth from the district. The eight-team region bracket will have one Shenandoah team, two each from the Valley, Jefferson and Seminole districts and an at-large bid, which will be the No. 8 seed. The at-large berth, also based on the points system, gives Fort or Wilson another avenue to make the postseason.
“Hopefully by adding strong Class 3 teams like Spotswood, Monticello and Western Albemarle to our schedule that will help us if we find ourselves in the position to grab the at-large spot,” Flesher said.
At the end of the wrestling regular season, Fort and Wilson will wrestle each other to determine the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in each weight class for the Region 3C match.
Should the Indians and Hornets end up tied in a sport, there will be a playoff at a neutral site. Head-to-head and tiebreakers will not be used. The match will be played out on the court or field.
Fort Defiance athletic director Mark Mace is excited about joining the Shenandoah and the postseason setup that was agreed upon.
“Every game played during the regular season is going to be big for advancement to the regionals in any class,” he said. “There can be no wasted games in the regular season by anyone. It is going to be exciting to watch these games unfold.
“And to have a playoff with Wilson if we tie just adds to the excitement. I think the fans of all six district schools are in for a real treat. Our area has produced high-caliber athletics over the years, and that is not going to change, especially now with all of us going head-to-head,” he said.
The same postseason scenario holds true for Buffalo Gap, Stuarts Draft and Staunton in Class 2 where eight of the 11 teams in Region 2B make the playoffs. The eight regional participants will be seeded according the points system.
The Bull Run District has seven Class 2 teams (besides the four former Shenandoah schools there is also Madison County, Clarke County and Strasburg), while Buckingham County has switched from Region 2C into 2B.
Class 1 Riverheads is going to find a more crowded Region 1B with the addition of Franklin, Surry County and Sussex Central coming over from Region 1A.
The three schools will have an immediate impact on the Region 1B football lineup, which has seen winless teams Stonewall Jackson and Cumberland both playing in the 2017 and 2018 regionals. Stonewall and its 38-game losing streak is now Class 2.
Robert Casto’s Gladiators are no strangers to the trio as they have met at the state level over the years.
Besides the three newcomers, Rappahannock County is also eligible once again to make the Region 1B football playoffs after not playing a VHSL-qualifying schedule the last few years.
A decision is expected Friday when the Region 1B athletic directors meet on whether to keep the football playoffs at six teams or increase to eight. The move to eight would leave one team out (hopefully any that is 0-10) and also eliminate the first-round byes for the top two seeds, which the Gladiators have enjoyed in recent years.
Valley District recap
The district stands at six teams after Fort’s departure and will keep its district tournaments. The only change is Class 5 Harrisonburg is coming back after sitting out the last couple years.
The Blue Streaks will have an automatic first-round bye and play the top seed in the semifinals of all tournaments. That way the Streaks won’t be knocking out any Class 3 teams from postseason contention since the top seed has already qualified for Region 3C. Harrisonburg has a spot in the Region 5D postseason.