By Michael Carman
Peninsula Daily News
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I don't. I may not love it as much as the old four-day event, but once you walk through the doors of a tournament venue and hear the squeak of sneakers on the wood floor, listen to band strike up a fight song or cheerleaders calling out a routine, that same love floods your brain.
This is still the state tournament, just given a generic name, one that the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, WIAA, should ditch with a quickness.
Faced with declining fan attendance [a 33 percent dip between 1997 and 2010, per the WIAA], the rising costs of transportation and lodging for participating schools and an apparent disinclination to search out more sponsorship revenue in favor of standing pat with loyal, longtime presenting sponsors, the Dairy Farmers of Washington and Les Schwab, the WIAA switched to an eight-team format and added loser-out, winner-to-state regional games for teams that have qualified through their district tournament.
A group that doesn't feel the newer format is working is the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association, WIBCA, which released a statement after the regional round expressing sympathy to the “96 basketball teams whose seasons were cut short of state by the regrettable regional format.”
The coaches group hasn't just sat back and criticized, it has proposed ways to get past the financial obstructions that for now preclude a return to a 16-team format, such as an offer to lobby businesses for additional sponsorships for the state tournaments.
“You will be hard-pressed to find a coach who doesn't like the 16-team format because they know what the experience is like for their kids and how it can feed a program one, two, even three years down the line,” Port Angeles coach Michael Poindexter, whose team participated in the 2A state tournament in Yakima, said.
“Regionals, you get that a little bit, but in some ways it's just an extension of the district tournament.”
He felt that the regional round was improved this year, in part because the Roughriders were able to play at one of the most historic high school hoops venues in the state, the recently renovated Mount Vernon High School gym.
I attended Neah Bay's boys and girls regional round matchups, played at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma.
The 10-year old school is a beautiful facility, but the gym itself lacks the gravitas of playing in a more storied venue, and it felt much like watching an important Olympic League game at a larger Klahowya Secondary School.
Suggestions to improve regionals, like renting college facilities such as the University of Washington's Alaska Airlines Arena, Carver Gym at Western Washington University, the University of Puget Sound Fieldhouse and other venues, have been made by the coaches association.
Poindexter understands both the financial underpinnings of the WIAA's decision and the criticism offered by the coaches association but believes the current format has the ability to grow into a more cherished tradition.
He also thinks that the four-day tournament had its own downsides, the biggest being Saturday's title game and state-placement games can be ugly, sluggish contests with worn-out athletes playing their fourth game in as many days.
“Saturday games can be pretty messy, attendance has been spotty. I understand the expenses and I appreciate the WIAA's dilemma, but the 16-team format is an experience that feeds your kids in a way that no other experience does,” Poindexter said.
“With the regional format you get the extra week of postseason, which is special because many teams do not, so I guess you have to learn to be happy with different things.”
Port Angeles seniors Kylee Jeffers and Brittany Norberg received WIAA Sportsmanship Medallions for their comportment in Riders' losses to Lynden and East Valley (Spokane), respectively.
These awards are presented to both teams during an on-court ceremony at the conclusion of each contest, starting at regionals and continuing with each state game.
Port Angeles hosts
Each team that makes state is partnered with a tournament host, a family or business that helps sponsor the event and welcome the programs to town.
This year, the Roughriders were paired with Doug and Nancy Groenig, volunteers from Selah who assist with the Class 2A girls softball state tournament, held in Selah each May, and Sue Cleveland.
Cleveland is the widow of legendary East Valley (Yakima) girls basketball coach Jack Cleveland, who guided the Red Devils to Class 2A titles in 2002 and 2003.
Cleveland was an incredible 141-19 during a six-year span at East Valley but died of a heart attack at age 56, just three months after the 2003 triumph.
Two of those wins came against Port Townsend at the state tournament, a 58-32 contest in 1998-99 and a 69-25 thrashing in 2001-2002.
Two points, takedown
Despite the two losses, a few remarkable plays stood out for Port Angeles.
Refs at state call the game a bit differently than during the regular season.
They allow more contact amongst guards but less down in the post and none against those shooting the basketball. Lots of old-fashioned three-point plays were whistled in the games I witnessed.
Midway through Friday's game with East Valley, Krista Johnson had seen enough and while trying to step through a screen, hooked arms with a Knight player and hauled her down to the court.
No foul was called on either side and the two remained entangled for a few more moments with the ball moving across the other side of the court.
I'm still a little new to wrestling scoring but I would have given Johnson two points for the takedown. I think it also sent a message that the Roughriders weren't backing down.
Johnson later hit three third-quarter 3-pointers and was 8 of 18 from behind the line in both games.
Sitting courtside, Maddy Hinrichs was a blur racing down the sidelines all-game long against Lynden.
She had back-to-back runout layups, the first coming off her own steal, the next off her own defensive rebound and nicely finished with a left-handed layup off the glass on the offensive end.
With the game tied late against the Lions she caught the ball right in front of me at halfcourt and zoomed by, converting a layup while being fouled that gave the Riders back the lead, at least momentarily.
I'm not sure if they keep a stat for tie-ups forced at state, but Bailee Jones would likely lead it.
The senior was aggressive on the boards and on defense in both games, playing with passion and intensity.
Although the refs whistle would break up the held-ball situations, Jones played through, typically coming away with the ball each time.
Talk shop with Schubert
Reunions happen every year at the state tournament as long-time fans of particular programs run into friends who support opposing sides, and they even happen amongst media members.
I spent time with former Peninsula Daily News sports writer Matt Schubert, now sports editor of the Daily News in Longview after a stint in corn country, Lincoln, Neb.
I worked alongside Schubert as the PDN's sports assistant from 2007 to 2009 and became good friends, even if we will always disagree on the officiating in game 7 of the 1992-93 Western Conference Final between his Phoenix Suns and my Seattle Supersonics. A 64-36 free throw-attempts disparity in favor of the Suns? Come on, now. No fix there.
Schubert was onsite, along with TDN reporter Matt Pentz and photographer Bill Wagner, to cover Mark Morris boys and girls teams, the Kalama girls and the Toledo boys squads.
Wagner was pulled into double-duty for our purposes, taking game photos that appeared in today's and Friday's editions.
Sincere thanks to the both of them for taking time out of their busy days and their help in bringing a view of the action to our pages.