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Adversity and Geography

Are East teams better than West?

When I first started as the Sports Editor for the Sun-Telegraph five years ago, the Winter Sports season had just kicked off and I was getting to know the area teams. A number of them, including the Sidney Girls Basketball team, were doing really well and were on their way to qualify for the State Tournament.

I heard from a number of people, all Cheyenne County natives, a similar sentiment about the State Title prospects of our local teams. "Not gonna happen" and "Those eastern teams always beat our teams" was the universal opinion. They made it sound like the system was rigged against the teams from the rural and western portions of the state. I heard every theory from the western teams not used to playing with bigger crowds or at big venues, teams being tired from driving so far to games, to literally "the refs favor East teams and rig the games." And sure enough, after the 2017-18 Lady Raiders downed Roncalli Catholic by 9 points to win the Class B District 1 Championship, the Lady Raiders, with a 21-and-3 overall record, were promptly bounced from the NSAA Class B State Tournament by Beatrice with a 12-and-8 record. Interestingly, Sidney defeated Beatrice earlier in the season by 13 points. But that contest was at Sidney High School. The year previously, the 20-and-3 Potter-Dix Lady Coyote Basketball team qualified for the tournament, but was eliminated in the first round by the 24-and-1 Falls City Sacred Heart team from the east.

Although the NSAA classifies teams mainly on enrollment size, there are other factors that they consider. For example, according to the NSAA, the 2022 Lady Raider Volleyball team is in Class B, with 278 students enrolled, 134 of which are girls. However, Gothenburg is a school with an enrollment of 197, but only 98 are girls, putting them in Class C1. These numbers don't seem right, but this is what the NSAA is using for their classification formula. The formula also includes number of teams participating in a particular sport or activity, so it is common for one school to have different sports in different classes. I then used a map application to chart the Class A, B, C1 and D1 winners and losers based on geography, like some kind of amateur conspiracy-theorist. As I looked at the overlay of winners versus losers based on geography, there was no trend that stuck out, with both winners and losers mostly lining up in the Omaha and Lincoln areas out to Grand Island. In Class B, Sidney was the exception to the rule, way out west by itself. Class D1 by far was the most diverse geographically, with all of the schools coming from, logically, smaller areas. D1 winner Cedar Catholic is way up north in Hartington, while the teams in D1 that lost in the first round are scattered in the rural areas around the Grand Island area.

While geography plays an obvious part in Class A, B and C1, it clearly does not have nearly the importance in D1, as evidenced by Cedar Catholic, technically in the eastern part of the state, but so far north as to be almost in South Dakota. So I next looked to strength of schedule and quality of opponents. For example, the Norris team the Lady Raiders fell to this year in the first round of the tournament had seven losses going into their match with Sidney. All seven losses came against teams that qualified for the State Tournament. Three of the losses were to Class A teams, and one loss was to the C1 undefeated Lincoln Lutheran team. Sidney's six losses came against four Class C1 teams, a Class B team, and a team from Rapid City South Dakota that would be the equivalent of an "A" team here, with a student enrollment four times the size of Sidney. At the State Tournament this year, Sidney started the first two sets of their match against Norris with big leads, but were unable to hold off the Lady Titans and lost the match in straight sets. I had seen nearly every Lady Raider home match this year, and watched them build leads against quality teams and hold on for the win numerous times. And with the way the Lady Raiders were playing at the end of the season, I believed they had a great shot to go deep into the tournament, even as the number 6 seed . But it was not to be.

Jumping over to football, the Potter-Dix Coyotes again ran the table in the regular season, practically wiping out every team they faced. On offense, the starters generally only played for the first half in most games. In D6 Football, all the teams come from smaller schools, but Potter-Dix lost to Cody-Kilgore in the playoffs in 2020 and 2021. Cody-Kilgore has about half the enrollment size as Potter-Dix. This year, Potter-Dix was upset by Pawnee City in the second round of the playoffs, and the Indians came into the contest with two losses. Pawnee City's first loss came in a road game against Red Cloud, a 7-12 grade school with an enrollment of 64 students. Pawnee City's other loss came against Parkview Christian, in Lincoln, a Kindergarten through 12th grade school with an enrollment of 141 students. Pawnee City made it all the way to the Championship Game, and met up with Parkview Christian again. Pawnee City lost again, and had to settle for state runner-up in D6 football.

If I had to pick one factor for success in the post-season, the success or lack of success of our western teams have in the State Tournaments is not about geography, but it is more about strength of schedule during the regular season. However, perhaps not, as both D6 Football teams in the Championship Game are from the east, indicating an inherent advantage in scheduling enough strong teams while still enabling a team to have a strong record for post-season considerations. Our teams do a good job to schedule a few games each season against technically stronger opponents, as it helps to play teams above your own level and to face adversity and develop the ability to hang tough against strong opponents. But there's only so far you can drive for a regular season football game. And, would you want our local teams regularly making two hour plus drives (each) on Tuesday nights for basketball games against higher-level opponents?

What is your opinion about the West versus East question? There's a lot of complexities to the equation, and I cannot say I have the answer. If you have an opinion, please email me at [email protected], and the best selections will be printed in next week's paper.


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