Last year, the field hockey season ended with two Wyoming Valley Conference teams, Crestwood and Wyoming Seminary competing in the PIAA Class 2A final.
The rare instance had happened just twice before when two WVC teams were involved. Wyoming Seminary may have won the game that day, 2-1, but bragging rights were shared by everyone in the league.
It was the third installment of the competitive rivalry that season and coupled with five appearances by a WVC team in the state finals the past six years, proof of the league’s strength.
So when the measure to realign the league based on enrollment was accepted, coaches like Wyoming Seminary head coach Karen Klassner were left scratching their heads.
“They’ve weakened our whole league by this setup,” she said. “What they’re trying to do is go with enrollment and in field hockey, it just doesn’t work.”
“I think coaches should have been involved in the conversation a little bit more and had time to look at the alignments,” Dallas head coach Kylie Fisher said. “My AD was good about it. … I don’t think they looked over the well-being of the conference overall.”
The old alignment was a competitive-based system. Teams were divided into three divisions. Division 1 was made up of 3A teams, while Division 2 featured some of the perennial powerhouses in the sport. District 3 was made up of emerging teams which were the programs looking to grow in the sport. Teams were allowed to request movement from one division to another, which at times put the league in flux.
The new alignment, which is based on female enrollment and in line with the format just about every sport uses, increases the number of divisions from three to four and has reshuffled teams within each division.
Gone are the season rivalry games between Wyoming Seminary vs. Crestwood; Dallas vs. Wyoming Seminary; Coughlin vs. Lake-Lehman.
“I always said that’s what gets our conference teams ready for the postseason,” Lake-Lehman head coach Jean Lipski said. “Look at how many times our conference has won states. .. All of this has been watered down by not allowing us to play the best teams.”
The loss of those competitive games is a strike against the new alignment, but District 2 chairman, Chris Gegaris, said the decision wasn’t an easy one. It’s intention was two-fold: to “get consistency across the board” for all sports and to ultimately lead to a stronger conference in the future.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction to go by enrollment,” he said. “It wasn’t like the decision was made at the snap of a finger. The (meetings) were long and every AD got a vote.
“What we’ve always tried to do is to create the most competitive situation that we can. This is something that may emerge as a better situation or not, that’s yet to be determined,” he said.
The new alignment will allow more teams a chance to play against opponents they wouldn’t have faced in the past. But there will be growing pains and plenty of lopsided wins until any ground can be made.
And there’s also the concern for the teams that made up the old Division 2. Where will they go to find the kind of games they played in the past? The answer has been exhibition or non-league games with teams from all over the district.
“Field hockey has so many kids that go out and represent us in college and one reason is the strength of our conference,” Lipski said. “All those great games they get to play. They’re really going to take that away from us.”
When it comes to districts, the new alignment will be a four-team format with each division winner receiving a top seed. Early predictions have Coughlin winning Division 1, Crestwood winning Division 2, Lake-Lehman wining Division 3 and Wyoming Seminary winning Division 4. In the past, the winner from the emerging league (Division 2) was given a lower seed. According to Gegaris, the new alignment eliminates that.
The new alignment has a two-year cycle and will likely be revisited once that time is up.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,”Gegaris said. “The vote for it was close … time will tell”