The mantra for any tournament-based championship is generally to "survive and advance."
But doesn't it diminish any champions' journey when there's much less surviving and much less advancing to do?
No, I'm not talking about football; in Section III, the best eight teams from each class make the postseason, and it takes three wins to claim a section title.
This certainly isn't about basketball, considering the smallest bracket in last year's Section III playoffs had nine teams (Class A) while the largest had 17 (Class B).
No, this is about how Section III, and really the NYSPHSAA, puts together its tournament for volleyball.
Last Friday, Skaneateles volleyball took on Hannibal in the Class C championship and the Lakers, pretty handily, swept their opponent in three sets. Hey, it happens; not every championship game is going to be a barn burner.
The issue is that Section III's Class C bracket only involved two teams: aforementioned Skaneateles and Hannibal.
Yes, a two-team bracket.
This isn't just a Class C predicament — Class AA's tournament only had five teams, Class A had four, Class B had five and Class D had four. Because of this, whoever wins each section only needs a couple wins, or in Skaneateles' case a single win, to advance to the state tournament.
I'm saying all of this with no intent of tainting the Lakers' section title this year. Skaneateles was 14-4 prior to that championship game with a perfect 6-0 record in its league. Class C could've had 20 teams and the Lakers would've had a great chance to win it all anyway.
The issue is that these tournaments should include way more teams. Why don't they? Well in Section III's case, it's because most schools offer volleyball in the winter, not the fall.
Consider Section III's winter volleyball tournaments last year: Class A had seven teams, Class B had nine, Class C had 15, and Class D had nine. If all Section III teams played during the same season, these sectional tournaments would be far more akin to those of other team sports.
That seems like a simple solution, so why doesn't volleyball stick to one season like every other sport? Well, as high school athletics' problems often do, it comes down to participation. Take a school like Weedsport, which elects to offer volleyball in the winter. If Weedsport decided to move volleyball to fall, it would conflict with field hockey and the school might create two problems instead of solving one.
The NYSPHSAA unfortunately only offers one true state tournament and it's in the fall, and many other sections in the state do field large enough fall tournaments so that this isn't an issue. Section V has enough Class C and Class D schools to hold multiple tournaments for each of those enrollment sizes.
Let's face it, as long as student-athletes are encouraged to play multiple sports there's always going to be a conflict of some sort. Hold volleyball in the fall and it hurts field hockey, but hold it in the winter and it hurts indoor track or basketball.
Section III does have the power to rectify this though, and can tell its member schools that volleyball will be universally played in the fall so that those schools are eligible for state tournaments.
Since the NYSPHSAA began a volleyball state tournament in 1990, only two teams from Section III, in any class, have won a state title. Both were Class AA's Baldwinsville which won in 2010 and 2013. Other than that, nada.
The section should require, or at least somehow incentivize, its schools to play volleyball during the same season. Until it does, these postseason tournaments will continue to be marginalized.