What do Vikes have to show for remarkable hoops season?
They won their 11th division title in 12 years, became only the fourth team to go unscathed in Northern Nevada League regular-season play and owned a victory over one of the top teams on the West Coast.
The South Tahoe High boys basketball team can be proud of these accomplishments, but what did they get the Vikings?
Respect. Another division title banner to hang from the rafters. Hold on a second, they even get to host a first-round zone playoff game against Elko today.
Two years ago, the two division champions in the North were given byes into the zone semifinals, thus securing their rightful places in the state tournament. After all, they proved on a consistent basis that they were state material, even if some underdog caught them on an off night in late February.
Some complained – namely the third and fourth seeds – who needed to win at least two zone games just to reach state and play four games in a five-day period if they were lucky to make the finals.
They were heard.
Now, in Northern Nevada basketball, it’s not what success you have in December and January that matters, it’s what you do during a one-week span in March.
“Basically, the way it is now it’s like the NFL playoffs … you’re playing for home-field advantage. But we just get it for one game, not three games,” said Viking senior Casey Dowling. “I guess it’s all right, but it would be nice for an undefeated team to have a spot at the state tournament.”
So, despite a truly memorable regular season, the Vikings (24-4 overall and 16-0 against league opposition) are no better off than Galena, Sparks and Reno. South Tahoe has beaten each of these teams at least once, but all three will host first-round playoff games tonight.
“It’s not much of a reward, but the flip side is we’d have to go to Elko,” said South Tahoe coach Tom Orlich, who has seen a lot of playoff formats come and go during his 23 years as a Viking mentor. “But when it comes down to it, you should be given a distinct advantage.”
While the Vikings are chapped about not being compensated with postseason perks, the Elko Indians have the toughest road to face at zone.
The Indians will depart Elko at 6 a.m. today for their 7 p.m. battle with the Vikings. They also will return home tonight.
“They won’t complain. It’s tough, but you know what? We make a long trip every other weekend,” said Elko coach Chris Klekas. “I just hope we can compete with them. I hope we don’t get blown out too badly.”
Alan Case, the Vikings’ top scorer, sees pluses and minuses with the present playoff plan.
“I kind of liked it a little better when the top team was assured a spot at state. But I guess they figure to participate at state, you have to earn your way there,” he said.
Implemented last year, the play-your-way-into-state system wasted no time biting a top seed. Douglas, the 1996-97 Division II champion, was upset on its home court and consequently, watched the state tournament.
“No question about it, I believe it was wrong, ” Orlich said. “Douglas won its conference and didn’t go to state and it could certainly happen to us. We go 16-0 and could end up losing one game at zone and not go to state.”
After first-round play, zone shifts to Reno and Reed high schools – a move that distinctly favors Reno and Sparks. If Orlich had his druthers, Carson would host the tournament annually if a high school site is essential. Otherwise, Orlich prefers a neutral location like Lawlor Events Center.
“If we play Galena again, they’d get 8,000 people in Lawlor. We’d may even pack it. They could make $70,000-$80,000,” he said.
Despite STHS’s status as the premier program in Northern Nevada, the school has never hosted a zone tournament. It’s not even on Orlich’s wish list anymore.
“There’s no way we’re going to host a zone tournament here. Although we’d pack the gym, I don’t see them doing it,” he said.
Whether it’s logistics or the fact that STHS is a California school participating in a Nevada league or the unpredictability of weather in the Sierra in late February, no one knows for sure.
But a better playoff plan exists. How about playing each game through zone at the site of the higher seed. That way attendance would be sufficient and regular-season champions benefit from their productivity throughout.
Orlich says there’s a rising opposition to the zone playoff format.
“They’re dismayed by it and would like to see it changed,” said Orlich, who discussed the matter with the league’s coaching fraternity on Sunday night.
Klekas may be one of the few NNL coaches who likes the present playoff format.
“You can’t make everybody happy, but I like it,” Klekas said. “I like the format because you get to play for a No. 1 seed and the right to host a game. The year before we never had a chance to host a game.
“It would be nice if the No. 1 seed got in automatically, but sometimes one division is stronger than the other.”
If that’s the case, maybe someone will suggest returning the league to one division. Then a zone tournament wouldn’t be needed because the top four teams could be identified during the regular season.
That’ll never happen because it makes too much sense.
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