No qualifying system is infallible, so Papillion-La Vista South and North Platte shouldn’t be faulted for being in the field for the Class A state tournament.
They succeeded under the existing rules, Papio South as the champion of the North Platte-hosted District A-6 and the Bulldogs as Class A’s one wild-card team.
Class A has come closer than any other class to getting its teams to state. District assignments are made late in the year, not before the season, and use the state point system instead of geography. The most recent tweak has let the top seven teams in the point standings host districts.
If you make it automatic for the perceived top eight to get to state, what incentive is there for the other 20 in the postseason? You can’t always bar Cinderella from the ballroom.
This time, the conditions were ripe for two of the eight teams to come from the weakest of the seven districts.
North Platte, the westernmost school in Class A, had seven Class B schools on its schedule and picked up two more, which it couldn’t control, in its conference’s holiday tournament. The Bulldogs were 8-1 against them and 8-5 against Class A, including a 57-35 December win over eventual district champion Lincoln Southeast, prior to districts. Good enough to be the No. 6 overall seed and a host school for districts.
So what happens? Papio South, the low seed, beats North Platte 60-57 in the first round and defeats Omaha Bryan (then 9-14), not 13-10 Omaha North, for the district title. Bryan had topped 60 points only three times, then poured in a season-high 72 to edge the Vikings in their district semifinal.
No qualifying rules will change for next season, but schedules for Class A boys and girls basketball are getting tweaks that were decided long before these district results.
From talking with Athletic Directors Chris Loofe of Millard West and Jeff Johnson of Papio South, these are some of the changes coming next season:
>> All schools will open the season with four-team tournaments. As a result, Kearney no longer will go to the Hays Invitational in Kansas, and North Platte loses a game with Class B Hastings.
>> A fourth Saturday of games between Metro Conference and non-Metro opponents has been added.
>> Columbus, which appears fixed in Class B, has given up six or seven Class A opponents and picked up Class B replacements.
>> North Platte will lose several Class B opponents. A ramification of this is that some western Class B teams, such as Lexington, must replace Kearney and North Platte on their schedules. Lexington scrambled to get games with Class C-1 Kearney Catholic and Phillipsburg, Kan.
A typical Metro Conference schedule, Loofe and Johnson said, will include nine games predetermined by a school’s recent history of success, four games allocated for those Saturday non-conference games and five games of a school’s choosing.
Top 10 changes: While the top five teams won districts and retain their rankings, in sixth is Omaha Creighton Prep. The Junior Jays were 10th before taking Millard West to overtime in the District A-5 final and could have bumped North Platte from the state tournament had they won (giving Millard West the wild card ahead of North Platte).
Lincoln Southeast, the only other non-Metro team at state, beat Lincoln Southwest 75-60 in the A-7 final and re-enters at No. 8. Omaha North is ninth and Southwest 10th, giving the ratings a second non-Metro team for the first time since the week of Jan. 14.
Other classes: Class B remains a wide-open title chase, as reflected by Gretna’s run through Omaha Gross, then-No. 1 Elkhorn South and Ralston to the District B-2 title. The Dragons rise from seventh to second, with defending champion Scottsbluff back at No. 1 and Elkhorn South dropping to fourth.
Spalding/Spalding Academy is the new No. 1 in Class D-2 after Sterling beat Falls City Sacred Heart in a subdistrict final — a rematch comes in the first round of state.
All-state nominations due: Coaches are reminded to return their forms by March 11. If a school did not receive a form by email last week — some athletic directors received the forms if there was no email address available for their coach — they should email firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain one.
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