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Changes in the postseason generate cheers and jeers


All the county public school girls soccer coaches like the idea of playing for a county championship, but aren't necessarily pleased with the divisional set-up while only one coach disagrees with the open tournament concept.

Arundel's Paul Yannuzzi, who most of the county coaches say has "the team to beat," doesn't care for the open format that gives every team a free ride to postseason regardless of record.

Yannuzzi agrees with his peers that the new North and South divisions created to set up a county championship game need to be restructured.

The three private schools -- Archbishop Spalding, St. Mary's and Severn -- have no qualms with having to qualify for the Baltimore Catholic League playoffs, but agree that it will take a near-miracle to unseat powerful McDonogh.

Spalding and St. Mary's play in the A Conference with McDonogh while Severn, a member of the B Conference, will be hard-pressed to return to that league's final a third straight season under rookie coach Jeff Edwards.

Last season on the public school scene, the county championship game pitted the two teams with the best records -- South River and Severna Park. South River won the title in a 1-0 overtime thriller.

The North Division will be comprised of Chesapeake, Glen Burnie, Meade, North County, Northeast and Old Mill. Annapolis, Arundel, Broadneck, Severna Park, Southern and South River form the South. Division winners play for the title.

"The way the North and South divisions are set up takes away what should be the intent of a county championship game -- to have the best two teams playing as we did last year," said Old Mill coach Bruce Sponsler.

Most of the county coaches feel that the Patriots will breeze into the championship game from the North because the South is top heavy with quality teams.

South River is defending champion, Severna Park was runner-up and is a perennial state champion contender under the dean of girls coaches, Joyce Stefancik.

Arundel has been established as the front-runner and Broadneck has a winning tradition while Annapolis and Southern are expected to improve under first-year coaches.

Yannuzzi loves the idea of playing for a county championship but hates the open tournament.

"If it wasn't for the chance to play in a county championship, it would almost be like playing 12 exhibition games, and actually it still is," said Yannuzzi, whose Wildcats will play host to the title game in Gambrills. "There is no sense of accomplishment in the open tournament because everybody is in and there is no seeding.

"If my team had seven or eight losses, I would be embarrassed to be in the playoffs. We need to seed it like they do in the ACC in order to reward the top teams."

Chesapeake coach Lin Sullivan, who is in his 11th season, is one of the many proponents of the open tournament saying he was "at first opposed to it," but after last year is sold on it.

"I especially didn't like the teams not being seeded, but as I rTC played I came to realize that the won-loss records don't mean anything in the second season," said Sullivan. "You can play everybody now since the final results in regular season are not critical, and it means giving the substitutes three times more playing time."

Sullivan said he "was reluctant to put subs into the game past years" unless he had a four- to five-goal lead.

"Now we can afford to take more chances," said Sullivan. "And in the end, no matter where you are seeded, you still have to beat the top teams. It also gives us a chance to schedule top outside teams like Dulaney who we might not have otherwise scheduled for fear of losing a game that could cost a playoff spot."

Teams annually at the bottom of the standings favor the open because it keeps interest up.

Stefancik, starting her 16th season with the Falcons, approves of the open format but doesn't like the fact that winning teams can draw games on the road against lesser teams.

Stefancik also is opposed to the state 3A-4A tournament and would like to see separate tournaments.

"We have 13 to 14 teams in four regions [total 52 teams in 3A-4A] while field hockey only had 24 total teams in 4A and has a separate state tournament," said Stefancik.

Anne Arundel 4A teams and Broadneck, the county's lone 3A school, play in the East Region with Queen Anne's, Chopticon, Leonardtown and J.M. Bennett.

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