The Panthers came from behind to beat the Spartans 44-43 and advance to the quarterfinals of the state tournament next Thursday at the Tacoma Dome.
I could talk a lot about the game. I will just say this, it was a game that I thought the Spartans dominated. I thought they were the better team and that was backed up by the fact that they led for most of the game. The regional round is a one-and-done situation. Win or go home. The bottom line is the Spartans didn't get that done.
But there is a bigger issue at hand.
The same happened to Lynnwood on Friday. The 4A district 1 champions were eliminated by Kentwood 61-60 in double overtime. Both the Spartans and the Royals lost by just one point and their seasons are now over.
The same happened to Lake Stevens a year ago when they won the 4A district 1 tournament and were eliminated by Skyview in the regional round.
The rules are what they are and the teams have to win to get to the Tacoma Dome. They all know that and so do we.
But I can't help but feel that these teams were cheated.
The WIAA used to have a 16-team double-elimination state format before switching to an eight-team three-day tournament a few years back.
The regional round is passed off as part of the state tournament, but let's be honest, it's not.
The girls from Stanwood and the girls from Lynnwood were cheated out of the opportunity to play on the grandest high-school stage that they could play on in the Tacoma Dome. I'm not giving them a pass for losing the games. But they were still cheated.
Under the old format both teams would have played in Tacoma and even if the results of their first games would have been the same, their season would not be over and they would have a chance to finish as high as fifth in the state. Under this format, they are done.
It's not as if both teams got blown out. They each played games they could have, and probably should have won. But they didn't.
They could have gotten the experience to play in Tacoma rather than some high-school or college gym and really feel like they accomplished something and have the lifelong memories to go along with it. Instead, they have left only to think of what might have been.
Both schools are young and likely will be back at the same point next season. But really, who knows, anything can happen in high-school sports. Injuries can derail a run. Or maybe next season the teams just don't play up to the same level or another young team catches up. The time for these schools was now and I can't help but feel like they didn't get what they deserve.
If both schools would have gotten the opportunity to play at state under the old format I'm all but certain they both would have left with trophies.
Not this time.
I'm not advocating just for the schools in our coverage area, but schools all over the state.
Tonight, the boys from my alma mater Wapato High School have a regional game of their own. The deck is stacked against them. They are playing a team that finished with a better record and a better seed in the regional round. I hope they win. But if they lose, I will feel the same for them as I do our local teams or any team in the state who follows the same fate.
High-school athletics are about the athletes, not about who makes money or who doesn't.
This system is flawed and the WIAA needs to address the problem.
My hope is that enough coaches, players and even journalists from throughout the state voice their opinion and the WIAA does what is right and revamps the format.
If not, I fear I will be writing a similar story about this time next season.
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