Coming off another lopsided victory, Sand Creek coach Craig Decker and his Scorpions (5-0-0) aren’t your typical powerhouse positioning themselves for a top seed.
No, their road is as certain as your crumpled-up bracket. They could just as easily win the 4A state title as miss the 32-team playoffs completely.
“We don’t want to think like that,” Decker said, “but that is the case with a lot of good, good teams down here.”
In the inaugural girls’ soccer season of the Pikes Peak Athletic Conference and 4A Colorado Spring Metro League era, the consensus among area coaches is simple for making the postseason: some deserved area teams will get snubbed, while others, at last, will get in.
Now, fairness is being called into question.
“We just want the deserving teams to get in, and that might not happen with the way things are set up now. We’ll see though,” Cheyenne Mountain coach and Colorado High School Activities Association adviser Tomas Martinez said. “I mean the leagues are pretty one-sided (in Colorado Springs).”
Come May, the top three teams from the PPAC standings and the top three from the CSML will have a guaranteed spot in the playoffs. After that, an estimated three at-large bids will be divvied up among the rest of the state’s non-automatic qualifiers, including nonconference schools like Valor Christian and Mullen, which are ranked sixth and eighth by the Denver Post, respectively.
For the PPAC, it's bad news for a good team.
“Seven of our teams could be playoff teams, no doubt,” said Decker, who recently coached the now-CSML school Wasson from 2007-09 before taking over a Scorpions team that has outscored opponents 26-4. “A team or two that deserves to get in probably won’t.”
The PPAC has five schools in the state’s top 10, including No. 1 Palmer Ridge (3-1-0), No. 2 Air Academy (4-1-0), No. 4 Cheyenne Mountain (3-1-1), No. 7 Lewis-Palmer (3-1-0) and No. 10 Sand Creek. The rest of the conference includes Falcon (4-2-0), Discovery Canyon (2-2-1), which tied No. 6 Valor Christian and took 5A sixth-seed Doherty to double overtime, and Vista Ridge (2-5-0).
“You’re playing one or two of the state’s best teams every week,” Cheyenne Mountain goal-leader (3) Jackie Kitchen said. “You have to come together quickly and play well.”
Then there’s the other side, the CSML, a league filled with teams who've rarely qualified for the postseason. Throughout the conference that has one returning playoff team in Coronado, expectations and goals have changed, as this season gives many a chance.
When CSML coaches were asked about the disparity between the two leagues, Coronado coach Jenn Ury laughed, while Woodland Park coach Andrew Pappadakis just savored it.
“We don’t need to sugar coat it," said Pappadakis, whose Panthers (3-1-1) haven’t made the playoffs in three years. "The reality is the top programs are in the other league. But now it gives everybody a chance of making the playoffs. And that was my argument.”
“It’s a new challenge for all of us, and it has brought some new excitement to a lot of (CSML) programs,” she said. “It’ll be fun for all of us to face some teams that we didn’t get to see as much before.”
While PPAC coaches Martinez and Decker agree the new layout gives some of the less-storied programs a “great" opportunity, they remain wary of the fairness to all schools.
Things will be decided on the field as CSML play begins Tuesday, while PPAC starts the following week. Come playoff time, some teams will happily be returning to the postseason after a lengthy drought, while others may be calling foul.
“We can’t have losing streaks,” the Indians' Kitchen said. “We can’t afford them.”