Road to State Title Now Takes More Time on Road
If it feels like the new statewide tournament format for high school sports means more travel, that is because it does.
In 2019, the last time there was a high school soccer post-season, the longest trip in the Western Massachusetts tournament for any team, boys or girls, in any division, came when Mount Greylock’s girls traveled to play Mahar.
That is a trip of about 67 miles, and it takes about an hour and 40 minutes according to Google Maps.
Currently, we know of 11 soccer games this week scheduled in either the play-in round or round of 32 involving Berkshire County schools in the new statewide tournament format. Just three of those games involve trips shorter than the outlier from all rounds of sectional play in 2019.
The rest include trips of 128 miles (McCann Tech boys at St. Joseph Prep), 140 miles (Minuteman girls at Mount Everett) and 159 miles (Drury girls at Hull).
Those 11 games involve an average trip of 107 miles and 2 hours, 10 minutes.
Up until this year, soccer teams would play a Western Mass sectional tournament -- typically four rounds, including semi-finals and finals played at a neutral site, often at Westfield State or the Springfield area. The winner in each bracket would move on to play a Central Mass (typically, Worcester-area) opponent in the state semi-finals, again at neutral sites.
The winner of that Central Mass-Western Mass semi would then play the survivor of the Eastern Mass semi between winners of the North and South Sections.
Since the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association membership voted in February 2020 to scrap the sectional tournament format and run statewide tournaments in most sports, those tourneys have roughly the same number of rounds (at least five rounds per division and usually six with play-in games).
But instead of playing the first four rounds against schools in the same geographic region, yellow school buses will be crisscrossing the commonwealth for the next two weeks to carry teams to far-flung locales in all six rounds.
The most high-profile case is the Monument Mountain volleyball team, which travels from one end of the state to the other (Nantucket) on Saturday for a first round playoff game. But there are other examples that impact Berkshire County schools going east and Eastern Mass schools going west.
The Drury girls soccer team’s trip to Hull on the South Shore on Saturday will take more than three hours each way, for example.
While many (including this website) noted that Monument Mountain’s volleyball team will be traveling by bus and boat to get to Nantucket High on Saturday, the town where that ferry will depart, Hyannis, will send one of its volleyball teams (Sturgis Charter East) nearly four hours to play Mount Greylock -- literally from the very southeast corner of the state to the very northwest corner.
And the trips won’t stop after the initial rounds of contests.
If the McCann Tech boys don’t win their play-in game after traveling 2 hours, 40 minutes to Boston on a school day for an afternoon game on Thursday, their opponent, St. Joseph Prep, gets to trek 127 miles west on Saturday to face Lenox in the round of 32.