Commentary: AIA makes 4A soccer and basketball big dances bigger

Mingus boys soccer players celebrate the Marauders’ 2-1 win over Flagstaff on Tuesday night. With the expanded postseason, the game was a must win for Mingus Union. (VVN/James Kelley)

Mingus boys soccer players celebrate the Marauders’ 2-1 win over Flagstaff on Tuesday night. With the expanded postseason, the game was a must win for Mingus Union. (VVN/James Kelley)

After the full time horn had blown ending their 2-1 win over Flagstaff on Tuesday night, Mingus Union boys soccer players jumped in each other’s arms.

When they sang the fight song at middle field, they added an element that they didn’t do during other victory celebrations: spraying water our of their hydration bottles, despite the 40 something degree weather at the time.

It was quite a joyous time for the Marauders, not only did they get the win on senior night and beat a rival, the victory gave them a legit chance to make the postseason.

This was despite their ranking in the mid 20s. Previously, well actually currently if you want to be technical, the 4A state soccer tournaments are 16 team affairs, so normally with a ranking of 26 the Marauders’ last game would have been meaningless when it came to the postseason.

However this year the AIA effectively expanded the tournament to 24 teams. They added play-in games for the teams ranked ninth to 24th.

Adding those extra eight teams means the second group of eight get an extra home game and of course more teams get a chance at postseason play.

Normally I’m not a big fan of leagues with huge playoffs, like the NBA, NHL and MLS, which cheapen the regular season and I prefer the tournaments that the NFL and MLB have.

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Camp Verde’s Tanna Decker drives past a defender during the state tournament last year. Last season the 2A tournament featured play-in games, something 4A added this year. (VVN/James Kelley)

However, it’s a great fit for high school because the season is so compressed. It’s just over two months for soccer.

In fact, since they added a bye to the state football tournament before the championship game, if your team made it that far, your soccer season would start in December.

Plus it’s not a cash grab like the NBA having seven game series after seven game series after a marathon 82 game regular season. Expanding the postseason feels like it’s for the kids.

For this level of high school soccer they’ve consistently had 16 team tournaments.

That’s not the case for basketball, which has been moving back and forth.

The AIA keeps switching back and forth from classifications like 4A to Division III, so naturally the playoffs haven’t been stable. Last year when they made the switch back the 4A, 5A etc. system, they moved to a 16-team tournament from 24 for most conferences.

2A, 5A and 6A got play-in games but the rest lost eight teams from the tournament.

Thankfully now they have expanded the play-in games to include almost every conference, especially 4A.

So with the expansion, it means Mingus Union could have two teams make it to the tournament. As of press time, the boys basketball team is No. 12 and the girls are No. 24.

In fact the boys have a good chance to get a bye, by making it to the top eight and getting into the tournament proper and skipping the play-in round.

That can be a double-edged sword. In 2016 when the state tournament proper was 24 teams, the Mingus boys got the five seed and narrowly beat Holbrook in second round after they had their bye.

“We were able to scout Holbrook and Poston Butte but they definitely came to the game a little more ready to play than we did just because we only practiced for two weeks the kids get antsy and start to lose focus,” said Mingus boys head coach Dave Beery.

This year there isn’t a region tournament for the Grand Canyon, so if the Marauders got a bye then they would have a gap of 12 days before games.

“There’s advantages and disadvantages to both I don’t have real strong feelings one way or the other, I think it’s our job to get the kids ready to play,” Beery said.

Still that’s pretty much the only negative to this year’s 4A tournament compared to last year’s and perhaps giving the kids some rest after a packed in season isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Although it is much maligned, the AIA made the right call by bringing the play-in games to 4A.

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