NIAA needs to review format of Northern 4A soccer championships
Imagine you’re Galena boys soccer coach Marco Merlo. You lead your team to an undefeated league record and a High Desert League championship. Your reward? You get to play Reno, the No. 4 seed from the Sierra League, on the Huskies’ field in the first round of the Northern 4A Regional Tournament. The result? You lose in penalty kicks. Season over.
Imagine if you’re Carson boys soccer coach Jim Nealis. Your team only loses one game all season and finishes No. 2 in the Sierra League. Your reward? You get to play Reed, the No. 3 seed from the High Desert League, on the Raiders’ home field in the first round of the playoffs. The result? You lose 1-0. Season over.
Or how about this one?
Imagine you’re Douglas High girls soccer coach Fred Schmidt. You lead your team to the Northern 4A championship game against Reed. The game is scheduled for Nov. 9 at Reno High. But it rains a lot and Foster Field isn’t a suitable surface for a game, although the boys played on it two hours earlier (it was muddy). The decision? The NIAA reschedules the game for Nov. 13. Where at? REED HIGH. The reason?
“Reed’s field was set to go,” said NIAA assistant director Donnie Nelson. “We wanted the game to play in a stadium on a football field with lights. We wanted that atmosphere and Reed has it. If we thought there was a major home field advantage, we wouldn’t have done it. Besides Reno and Reed, no other school really has that (stadium, football field, lights).”
Except for Spanish Springs, North Valleys, McQueen, Douglas, Carson, Sparks, Galena, or any other school in the Northern 4A besides Wooster and South Tahoe. But I need to leave Douglas out of this argument because two of the past three years the Tigers have beaten Reed on its home field to win the Northern 4A championship. Douglas was the better team in both instances. But Nelson said no other school other than Reed was considered to host the championship game. That’s ridiculous.
“The No. 1 thing was convenience,” Nelson said. “Reed has hosted this in the past and they could staff it. We didn’t really consider any other schools. They (another school) would have to get the field organized, line the fields and staff the game. We did have some calls and we know it’s an emotional issue.”
Before the season, Reed and Reno were selected as the two host sites for the first round of the zone soccer tournament, with the semifinals and finals to be played at Reno. Fine. But neither of those teams should be able to host a game in the first round if they are a lower seed. If they’re the higher seed, no problem. All the NIAA has to do is switch the first round games that have a lower seeded team playing at home to the other site.
“The whole NIAA has to look at what’s going on,” Nealis said after his team lost in the first round for the fourth consecutive season. “Reed and Reno got to play home games as lower seeds and that shouldn’t happen. I’m not saying this is why we lost, but it contributed. If the NIAA says they did it because of staffing, then they need to find another way to get it done.”
In the three games involving teams from Reno and Reed, in which those schools were the lower seed, the two schools went 2-1. It could’ve been 3-0, but the second-seeded Grizzly girls beat the third-seeded Huskies in the overtime to keep that from happening.
“Staffing becomes a problem. Most of the people who work the games are either parents or friends of someone on the team,” Nelson said. “We couldn’t really expect for them to work a game that they couldn’t watch their kids play or whatever. But that was thoroughly discussed and everybody certainly has an opinion. But you got to have people who are going to run the tournament and Reno and Reed have that. Reed and Reno really put up the bid to host it. Since they both wanted to, we awarded each a first round game. No other school really put up a bid.”
Here’s a stupid solution to a stupid setup. If you want a home game in the first round next year, just put in a bid with the NIAA for your school to host the event.
Jeremy Evans is a Nevada Appeal sports writer.