Two new leagues are set to debut as the revamped, realigned landscape of local high school sports is gaining clarity with the start of practice just days away.
Some of the changes are fun, highlighted by a pile of trophies purchased by the new Pikes Peak Athletic Conference to be handed out as traveling mementos for its league champions — kind of a local, prep version of the Stanley Cup in all sports.
“All the schools paid for them,” said Diane Shuck, the athletic director at Air Academy and president of the PPAC. “It was something we all agreed upon, so everybody chipped in.”
The PPAC — formed from half of what had been the 16-team 4A Metro League — is made up of Air Academy, Cheyenne Mountain, Discovery Canyon, Falcon, Lewis-Palmer, Palmer Ridge, Sand Creek and Vista Ridge. The other half of the disbanded league will retain the 4A Metro moniker and has selected Widefield athletic director Shelli Miles as league president. The eight teams set to begin play in the new-look 4A Metro are Coronado, Harrison, Mesa Ridge, Mitchell, Sierra, Wasson, Widefield and Woodland Park.
The six-team 5A Metro also split into a separate entity after residing under the same governing umbrella as its 4A counterparts. The 5A Metro will continue to be headed by District 11 athletic director Dave Eichman and will see no changes in terms of scheduling and postseason qualifiers.
The same cannot be said for the 4A schools.
Gone are the crossover tournaments that determined league finishes in several sports, including boys’ soccer, softball and volleyball in the fall. The PPAC will determine its league champions in those sports by playing a seven-game round-robin schedule and then a series of tiebreakers if necessary, beginning with head-to-head. The 4A Metro will determine its regular-season placement in those sports with a 10-game schedule — a seven-game round-robin followed by a three-round tournament.
The new league format instantly impacts the area 4A teams’ chances of making the playoffs.
In soccer, for example, the final year of the 16-team setup saw seven 4A Metro teams qualify for the postseason. Of those, six were schools now in the PPAC, while only Coronado advanced from what is now the 4A Metro.
Under the new format, the PPAC will have three automatic qualifiers, with the remainder vying for two statewide wild-card spots (though independents like Valor Christian will also be in this mix for those).
The 4A Metro will be given two automatic berths.
Last season, Coronado was the only 4A Metro team with a winning record (8-7-1), while the other seven teams combined to go 26-70-6.
The trade-off is a postseason spot or two for what figures to be a more competitive regular season.
“There won’t be those games where we don’t get anything accomplished,” said Cheyenne Mountain coach Tomas Martinez, whose team went 5-0 against teams now in the 4A Metro and outscored them 41-3. “This will minimize minutes for our bench players, so we’ll lose that. But teams should be sharp and ready for the playoffs.
“When it comes down to those final playoff spots, we’ll have some teams sweating bullets.”
Other sports may also see more evenly matched games during the regular season as a result of the new setup, but automatic qualifiers for postseason will not be an issue.
In volleyball, only league champions receive automatic berths into regional play (the district round has been removed for this season). A total of 36 teams will advance to regionals in 4A, leaving 26 spots to wild cards that will be determined by MaxPreps Freeman Rankings.
In softball, the top two teams in the PPAC and 4A Metro will receive automatic bids. Half of the 32-team field will be automatic qualifiers, the rest will be determined by MaxPreps power rankings.
Football is arranged in leagues that do not match the other sports and is thus not impacted by the new format. Field hockey and gymnastics will also see no changes as a result of the 4A Metro split and postseason qualifiers in cross country, golf and tennis have no connection to leagues.
Key dates for upcoming weeks
Monday - Boys’ golf practice begins
Aug. 9 - Boys’ golf can begin regular contests
Aug. 13 - Practice begins for all other fall sports
Aug. 16 - Boys’ tennis can begin regular contests
Aug. 17 - Softball can begin regular contests
Aug. 23 - All other sports can hold scrimmages
Aug. 30 - Regular season begins in all sports