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Sweet 16 format debut dubbed a success

The Class A state volleyball tournament was a little sweeter this year. It showcased teams that qualified under the Sweet 16 format, which debuted this season. While the Sweet 16 format will continue in Class A for boys and girls basketball this ...

Bon Homme's Jeni Schmidt celebrates a point with her teammates on Thursday in Beresford. (Ryan Deal/Republic)
Bon Homme's Jeni Schmidt (5) and her teammates celebrate a point during a Sweet 16 match at Beresford earlier this month. (Ryan Deal/Republic)

The Class A state volleyball tournament was a little sweeter this year.

It showcased teams that qualified under the Sweet 16 format, which debuted this season.
While the Sweet 16 format will continue in Class A for boys and girls basketball this winter, area volleyball coaches are already singing praises about the new process.

"I think it's good and it makes the state tournament a little more competitive," Winner head coach Jaime Keiser said. "The state tournament is supposed to be the best teams and that's what you are trying to do. Some regions weren't represented, like ours, but you want the state tournament to be competitive."

The Sweet 16 format, allows for two teams from each region to compete for a state tournament spot. The 16 teams, two from each region, are seeded 1-16 and the teams played eight neutral site games with the winners all qualifying for the state tournament.

"I thought it was a great way of getting the best teams in the state to play in the state tournament," McCook Central/Montrose head coach Tami Bies said via e-mail. "I do believe it is a fair process. Some regions like ours (Region 5) are stacked every year and it gives another team out of that region an opportunity to advance."

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In volleyball, Region 8 and Region 7, both consisting of all West River schools, failed to have a team qualify for the state tournament. Region 3 (Sioux Falls Christian and Madison) and Region 5 (Bon Homme and West Central) each had two teams qualify for the state tournament.

"We made it (to the Sweet 16), we faced the No. 1 seed, but that's why you play a regular season," said Keiser, whose team lost 3-0 to eventual state champion Dakota Valley in the Sweet 16. "Every match you play during the regular season matters, because it affects where you are in the Sweet 16 if you get there."

The Sweet 16 games all took place on Nov. 10 and five of the top six seeds, according to seed points, advanced to the state tournament. No. 15-seeded Sioux Valley was the lowest seeded team to make the state tournament, after pulling off a 3-0 upset over No. 2 and previously undefeated Custer in Fort Pierre.

No. 10 Madison knocked off No. 7 St. Thomas 3-0 in Chamberlain and No. 9 Milbank Area defeated No. 8 Miller 3-1, while No. 1 Dakota Valley, No. 3 Sioux Falls Christian, No. 4 Bon Homme, No. 5 Mobridge-Pollock and No. 6 West Central all won to round out the state tournament teams.

Bies pointed out both West Central and Bon Homme finished third and fourth place, respectively at this year's state tournament.

"In the old set up, only one of those teams would have advanced to state," Bies said. "Also (Sioux Falls Christian) and Madison are in the same region and ended up playing an amazing match in the first round of the state tournament. I do believe it made the tournament better for everyone."

In the past, winners of each of the eight regions met in the state tournament.

For Keiser and Winner, facing top-seeded Dakota Valley was a more daunting task to reach the state tournament, compared to facing Pine Ridge for a state tournament spot like it was in years past. Winner and Dakota Valley met for the Sweet 16 game in Wagner, which is 120 miles from North Sioux City and 93 miles from Winner.

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"I liked it and I like the neutral sites, even if we'd been the No. 1 seed or the No. 16 seed," Keiser said. "I like meeting halfway between."

Other Sweet 16 matches that pinned a West River school against an East River school were played in Pierre, Fort Pierre and Chamberlain.

Keiser said it would've "been a long day" if Sioux Valley had to go play Custer in Custer. She also added she wouldn't mind seeing neutral sites hosting more than one Sweet 16 game, if possible, for the possibility of adding more fans.

Bies said the thought the neutral site locations were "OK" but thought some teams had to travel farther than their opponents and would like to see that gap cut down.

In the first round of the Class A state volleyball tournament, two games-No. 3 Bon Homme vs. No. 6 Milbank Area and No. 2 Sioux Falls Christian vs. No. 7 Madison-went five sets. Those were the only first-round games to reach five sets in all three state tournaments combined.

Keiser said the closer matches were an indication of the Sweet 16 providing more equal competition at the state tournament.

"That made a difference and you see a seven seed made the championship," said Keiser, pointing out Madison reached the championship. "It was more competitive and it made for a more-exciting state tournament."

Related Topics: VOLLEYBALLWAGNER
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