Open playoff format presents a challenge to county's coaches Pressure to make playoffs is no longer a factor

August 30, 1996|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

Starting its third year, the open tournament format for state public schools has been an education in coaching philosophies and a test of the competitive spirit.

While Class 4A Severna Park's Don Gregg, the dean of county soccer coaches in his 23rd season, wants "to win all our games," Meade soccer coach Mike Dey doesn't see the need "to scream at the seniors in the first couple games of the season anymore."

There is of course no pressure to qualify for the playoffs.

As a result, Broadneck's Jon Braun says his 3A Bruins are "more relaxed without the pressure," and "a lot of pressure is off the coaches and team."

In contrast, Class 2A Northeast coach Sam Tanner sees that lack the necessity to win as a negative.

"You can go 12-0 and it doesn't mean a thing with no seeding for the playoffs, and I thought I saw a decrease in the work ethic during the regular season," said Tanner.

Annapolis' 12th-year head coach Dave Gehrdes admitted that his Panthers "don't work as hard at the beginning of the season," as they did before the coming of the all-inclusive playoffs.

"We take it easier at the beginning and build to hit stride at the end," said Gehrdes.

With all teams eligible for the postseason regardless of records, the county attempted to fuel enthusiasm for regular-season games by implementing a two-division set-up and county championship game.

It was logical to have all games among county opponents count in the North and South division standings with non-county league games having no bearing. Now that has changed.

This season, only the five games (each division has six teams) within your division count in the standings. Results of cross division play will be used only as a tie-breaker.

"The way it is now, we may not have the top two teams in the county championship game," said Gregg. "Counting only division games, you could have a 5-6 team in the championship. It's important to have the top two teams."

That did happen last year with the North's Chesapeake edging the South's Severna Park, 3-2 in double overtime. Winning proved costly to Chesapeake as the Cougars did not escape unscathed.

Just a couple days after the county title thriller, the Cougars took a 13-0 record into the first round of the playoffs and were stunned by then 5-6-2 North County, 6-3. Severna Park went on to win the 4A East region and drop a 1-0 decision to eventual state champion Northwestern of Prince George's County in the state semifinals.

"We had a rash of injuries from the Severna Park game and were as flat as we could be," said Chesapeake coach Earl Eckhardt. "What I've learned is that it's a long season and the most important thing is to be hitting your stride at the end.

"The open tournament is definitely a different animal and the idea is to keep a larger squad and play more kids early in the season because you never know who will be injured later."

Gregg agrees with Eckhardt and has learned that the guaranteed playoffs "allows more latitude for developing players."

Veteran Arundel coach Nick Jauschnegg says there is no reason to "take chances with injured players during regular season," and that he could care less about the division standings.

"It's a matter of getting prepared to peak at the end," said Jauschnegg.

Tanner says he's "not sure the county championship is that important to the kids anyway because everybody looks to the playoffs."

Dey and his Mustangs definitely have their sites on the postseason first, and the coach makes a strong case for proponents of the open tournament.

"Take Steve, for instance," said Dey referring to injured Steve White, a senior forward who led Meade with 12 goals. White has a broken ankle, but is expected back for the last couple weeks of the season.

"Without the open tournament, his senior year would be about over and we would probably not be in the playoffs."

South River coach Greg Carroll begins his 20th season with a contrasting opinion of Dey's claim.

"With the kids not feeling the pressure during the regular season, they may crumple under the pressure of the playoffs," says Carroll, who sees the open tournament as "a double-edged sword."

The spirit of competition still lives and rules the county's non-public schools, Archbishop Spalding, Severn and St. Mary's. Spalding has to earn a spot in the MIAA A Conference playoffs while Severn and St. Mary's do not have a free ticket to the MIAA B Conference playoffs.

"Our goal is to compete with the elite, but you have to do it first and no, we wouldn't want to be anywhere but in the A Conference no matter how tough it is," said Spalding coach Rick Carlson, who has to deal with the likes of McDonogh, Curley and Calvert Hall.

Severn coach Marc Osterberger says that St. Mary's is "the team beat in the B Conference." Coach Jamie McNealey's Saints shared the title with St. Paul's last fall.

Pub Date: 8/30/96

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