The Lady Longhorns softball team’s omission from the 3A state tournament has coach Will Dunman seething, players angry and parents and fans questioning the fairness of the playoff system.
“It’s not right or fair (that) these girls have been left out. They deserve to still be playing,” Dunman said. “Just last night, we were practicing and preparing to play (in the state tournament).”
Among those to emphasize dismay was Charlene Hunt, who helped found the program 25 years ago. “It is a great disappointment. My heart goes out to the girls and coach Dunman.”
The controversy was stirred late Wednesday afternoon when the tournament bracket was posted on the Arizona Interscholastic Association Web site.
Much to the surprise of almost everyone in Payson, the Lady Horns (7-12) were not among the 16 teams seeded into the tournament, despite PHS being ranked 15th in power points. The top 16 teams earn state playoff berths.
The power point system, which was adopted three years ago, ranks schools on the number of wins plus the strength of their schedule or games won by their opponents.
Payson had the toughest schedule in the state, with its opponents winning 204 games.
Rendering Payson’s omission even more mysterious was that two teams ranked under Payson — Holbrook and River Valley — were awarded berths into the tournament. Although Holbrook was 18th in the state in power points, the Roadrunners were given the No. 16 seed, the lowest seed Dunman, players and fans believed the Lady Horns would receive.
So, how did Payson fall out of the tournament and Holbrook get in? That’s the question PHS Athletic Director Jason Lobik asked AIA Tournament Director Dean Visser.
“He explained what they (AIA) had done,” Lobik said. “Although the tournament relies on power points, teams can get in other ways.”
In the current system, the top three teams in each of the four regions in the 3A conference receive “automatic qualifying” berths, and the other four, if not among the automatic qualifiers, advance on power points.
“Holbrook got a berth because they were second in the North,” Lobik said.
But wait a minute — the North regular season standings show Holbrook finished fourth with a 4-11 record. Therefore, the Roadrunners didn’t deserve a state seed.
But in seeding the tournament, the AIA did not use the regular season standings for automatic qualifying berths, but rather the results of a North postseason tournament.
“Holbrook was second in it,” Lobik said.
AIA Director of Media Marketing Brian Bolitho confirmed that was the method used to seed the Roadrunners. “Yes, Holbrook is in based on finishing second in their region tournament.”
It is unclear exactly what the results of the tournament games in Winslow were — and how a 4-15 Roadrunner team was able to take second — but at least two reservation-area teams did not travel to the tourney due to fears of a swine flu outbreak.
Fans argue that by using the tournament as a basis for automatic qualifier bids, the results of the regular season, which can include 18 games, are rendered virtually meaningless.
Holbrook’s insertion into the tournament slammed the door on Lady Horn aspirations.
“I have not understood the reason that comes out of the AIA for years when it comes to dealing with athletes and the programs,” Hunt said.
“This is the second time in the past four years this particular group of girls has been sidelined and taken out of the state tournament at the eleventh hour,” Hunt said.
She was referring to an AIA decision three years ago to disqualify the Lady Longhorns from the state basketball tournament because school officials had not submitted proper paperwork for a transfer student.
Dunman is upset with the entire softball situation, saying tournament seedings should be based entirely on power points or go back to the old system in which the top four teams in each region advance.
“It’s one or the other, you can’t have both,” he said. “When you do, something like this happens and a deserving team gets left out.”
If power points had been the sole criteria, the Lady Horns would have been seeded ahead of both River Valley and Holbrook because PHS had 85.6944 points. River Valley finished with 85.5625 and Holbrook had 82.1785.
Bolitho said that if the system is to be changed to use power points only, “it is a decision for the 3A conference to make.”
“We didn’t have a great year, but those girls never quit,” Dunman said. “They deserve better than this.”