Determining the success or failure of the Florida High School Athletic Association’s new postseason qualification rules is going to take some time.
This is only year one, but strong opinions are coming quick. District tournaments wrap up this week and regional brackets will be set using the FHSAA’s new standards. Dozens of district runners-up throughout the state are going to be done for the year, just as a sizeable number of semifinal losers will be getting slotted into regional brackets.
There are teams already guaranteed to be qualifiers no matter what happens in districts and others that have no choice but to win their league title. In North Pinellas, Clearwater Central Catholic, East Lake and Palm Harbor University fit into the first category – locked in. Dunedin falls into the second – needing to win the district championship.
And then there are situations like the one facing Calvary Christian. The Warriors are already done playing in their Class 3A District 7 tournament, having lost 3-0 to CCC on Friday. Down, but not out. Calvary will be scoreboard watching this week. That’s because Classes 2A-7A are each comprised of four regions. Each region contains four districts and 16 total teams from those four districts will move on to regionals – four champions and four at-large bids. Those at-large bids are determined by rankings compiled by MaxPreps.com that were locked in at the end of the regular season.
Back to Calvary. Despite a one-and-done performance in districts, the Warriors entered the tournament ranked eighth in Region 2. If the No. 1 seeds in Districts 3A-5, 3A-6 and 3A-8 win their tournaments, Calvary is in as the final at-large bid. One of those teams, The Villages, already won its 3A-5 tourney last week. The main one to keep an eye on is 3A-8. Cardinal Mooney is the No. 1 seed and No. 2 Bishop Verot could pull a championship-match upset Thursday.
Dunedin’s situation is a little more cut-and-dry. The Falcons’ 5-0 win over Hudson last Thursday moved it into the Feb. 4 District 4A-7 title game against top-seeded Tarpon Springs. The teams tied 1-1 back on Dec. 13. Dunedin can win and host a first-round region quarterfinal match next week or lose and pack it up for the year. The Falcons’ season-ending MaxPreps.com state ranking of 258 places them ninth in the region, one spot shy of advancement.
Tarpon Springs is in a better situation, but the Spongers would need assistance if Dunedin captures the district championship Tuesday. They rank sixth in the region and don’t need all other district top seeds to win, but there can’t be a big upset in the 4A-6 or 4A-8 tournaments. Those would be Cypress Creek or Hernando winning in 4A-6 or Bradenton Bayshore winning in 4A-8. Avoid those scenarios and a district runner-up Tarpon Springs team heads to regionals as the eighth seed.
Similar to Tarpon Springs, Countryside ranks sixth in Class 5A Region 3 and can qualify without winning the District 5A-9 title. The Cougars are the district’s No. 2 seed and headed toward a championship clash with No. 1 River Ridge. The Royal Knights edged C-Side 1-0 on Dec. 11. Chances are good that the Cougars advance as the seventh or eighth seed in the region if they fail to win districts. The nightmare knockout scenario would be a team seeded No. 4 or worse winning 5A-12 and anyone but North Fort Myers winning 5A-11. That’s unlikely but it’s the type of situation that now exists.
Now for the programs fortunate enough to breathe a little easier: CCC, East Lake and PHU.
In basic terms of qualification, district results don’t matter for these three. Championships, however, guarantee at least one home match.
CCC faces the most daunting challenge of the North Pinellas trio. The Marauders’ 3A-7 semifinal opponent is top-seeded Academy of the Holy Names. The Jaguars finished the regular season ranked fourth in the state. Surviving that contest would likely set up a title match Thursday against No. 2 Berkeley Prep, ranked 23rd in the state. If CCC cannot run the table this week, it will lock in as the Region 3A-2 seventh seed.
East Lake is the top seed in District 6A-5 and No. 2 in the region. That doesn’t mean the Eagles are a shoo-in to win their league, however. East Lake lost to No. 3 seed Mitchell earlier this year and has yet to play No. 2 Wiregrass Ranch (16-1-1). Without a district championship win Friday night, the Eagles would enter regional play as the fifth or sixth seed. It would be sixth if Venice gets upset in District 6A-7.
Then there’s PHU, last year’s Class 5A state champs. The Hurricanes are seeded second in the District 7A-7 tournament behind unbeaten Plant. The teams’ meeting early last month ended in a 1-0 Panthers victory. PHU could win its district and be the regional No. 1 or 2 seeds or fall to as low as eighth in a worst-case scenario. The ’Canes face Steinbrenner in the semifinals Tuesday. Win that and face either Plant or Sickles. If hoisting the district championship hardware doesn’t come to fruition, PHU will most likely enter regionals as the No. 6 seed.