Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Field hockey: P'burg shafted in HWS seedings

Enough is enough.

It's high time for change in the process for selecting the seeds and pairings for the annual Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex tournaments. As evidenced by the rankings of South Hunterdon as the No. 4 seed and Phillipsburg as the No. 6 in the H-W bracket, coaches need to be more responsible with their voting privileges.

As it stands, coaches submit where they think teams should be ranked in their respective draws. As I have said on many occasions, most recently here last week, some coaches, not all, do not vote their conscience. How else do you explain this injustice?

Second-year Phillipsburg coach Jen Paulus agrees it's time to alter the seeding process.

"As the HWS tournament is seeded by the participating teams' head coaches, it seems as though another avenue needs to be explored," Paulus said on Thursday, when the tournament seeds were declared to be official. "A coach could very easily seed their competitors based on record alone with no given thought to the level of competition a team sees. This leads to a very grey area in which coaches could very easily seed teams to advance their own team's interest."

I'm not trying to disparage South Hunterdon, which is having a nice season. But to rank Phillipsburg two spots behind the Hunterdon County school, I would say is laughable, but it really isn't funny. It's sad.

Entering last week, South was 5-1, now 5-3-1 and Phillipsburg sat at 4-3, now 5-5. But the Eagles merely had the edge record-wise. And that's easily explainable.

The biggest difference between the two schools in caliber of competition. South plays in the small-school Valley Division of the Skyland Conference, while P'burg competes in the rugged Raritan Division, which houses state powers Warren Hills and Voorhees, not to mention Montgomery, last year's North 2, Group 4 runner-up.

Four of the Stateliners' five losses this season are to Warren Hills, Voorhees (twice) and Hunterdon Central -- the top three seeds in the Hunterdon-Warren bracket. The other is a 2-0 defeat to Montgomery.

South's losses are 5-0 to Montgomery, 3-2 to Princeton and 3-0 to Bernards, a team the Eagles beat on opening day. South hasn't beaten any top Group 4 or 3 schools this season -- scoring wins over Franklin, Belvidere, Mount Saint Mary and Stuart Day, while tying Princeton Day.

To go one further, South Hunterdon and P'burg have one common opponent in Belvidere. The Eagles scored a 1-0 win, while the 'Liners earned a 2-0 victory over the County Seaters. P'burg also has wins over Somerville, Blair Academy, Ridge and Delaware Valley.

Considering all of the above, how in the world could any coach seriously think South deserves the higher ranking? And based on what?

First-year High Point athletic director Todd Van Orden says this debate isn't unique to just field hockey.

"It's tough. Every single time we seed there's an issue ... no matter what the sport," he said. "There's schedule, strength of program. There are so many factors."

P'burg is the clear choice and it's why the voting process needs to be changed. It's not fair to the kids and their coaches who work hard to reap rewards. And the 'Liners have earned the right to be ranked No. 4.

"Regardless of what school one is representing, the first priority should be the student athletes and their efforts, no matter what school they play for," Paulus said.

I will say, when I seeded this on Sunday, it came out exactly as I had it with the exception of the South and P'burg seeds, which I had reversed with the 'Liners at No. 4 and South at No. 6.

So what's the solution? Van Orden offers one idea.

"Get all of the coaches into one room like the old days -- and hash it out," he said. "When you're in a room with all of the other coaches ... I think that changes everything."

While we're at it, why is it that when H-W teams play in Sussex County there are two officials from Sussex doing those games? How about one-and-one from each area? Make sense? Same deal should apply when Sussex comes to a Hunterdon or Warren school.

It may be too late for this year's event, but let's get this straightened out for future tournaments. Here's hoping that someone finally listens.

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