HELENA — Teams from all over Montana arrived in Helena these last few days to play in the Class AA state tournament.
With as many as four games spread out over the Siebel Soccer Complex, there is soccer every direction you turn.
It’s a sight that some soccer coaches don’t want to see changed, but that's the plan.
This past month, a combination of coaches, athletic directors and the Montana High School Association determined that the tournament format at a single location was not cost effective.
The change to a home-site, single-elimination playoff format will not only replicate the Class A division, but also emphasizes the game and promotes an exciting brand of soccer, according to Billings Public School’s Director of Athletics and Activities Mark Wahl.
“I don’t really like it, but I don’t think we will be able get it changed (back) right now,” Billings West coach Rob Zimmerman said. “I think the majority of the coaches are in favor of this or a modified version of this. We will deal with it when it comes.”
Missoula Big Sky coach Courtney Shields is not only opposed to the change, but she said she wasn’t even a part of the discussion when the decision was made.
“Would I have been liked to have been asked my opinion? Sure,” Shields said. “But essentially it’s their decision.”
Right now, the first two seeds in the Western and Eastern divisions receive automatic bids to the state tournament while the third through seventh teams have qualifying games they need to win a playoff game to qualify. Four teams from each division move on to the state tournament site.
“It’s going to take away the special times traveling as a team and sharing the hotel rooms,” Shields said. “I think this event is something my players look forward to so much, so I think if you are going to do it with soccer, you should do it with all sports.”
Even though the Helena girls team fell to Kalispell Flathead last week and didn't make the state tournament, coach Mike Meloy was adamant about keeping the state tournament the way it is.
“I assume the rationale was to save money, but the real loss is to the players,” Meloy said. “There is no bigger incentive for a team than to qualify for the state tournament. It is the primary goal for every team at the beginning of the season. It brings together the eight best teams across the state, their fans and coaches to play for all the marbles.”
But while some coaches are passionate, some are indifferent and just want to play soccer regardless of change.
Billings Skyview coach Cameron Icenoggle said the new format could give his team more rest during the postseason.
“There’s pros and cons either way,” he said.
Right now, football is the only sport with a postseason that gives the higher seed a home field advantage.