Baseball: Rivalries and recurring questions return with reconfiguration of WIAA regional pairings
The 2020 baseball season may be eight months away, but the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association has already reconfigured the regional pairings for the upcoming 2020 baseball playoffs.
Prescott and Spring Valley were directly affected by these changes and will both move up a division next season.
The Prescott Cardinals competed as a Division 3 team next season but will return to Division 2 — due to an increase in enrollment — where they'll be joined by all Middle Border Conference schools aside from New Richmond, which was bumped up to Division 1 from Division 2 at the conclusion of the 2019 season.
Now, Prescott, Ellsworth, Amery, Baldwin-Woodville, Osceola, Somerset and St. Croix Central will all compete in the same Division 2 regional tournament, which will essentially be a conference tournament.
"Lack of familiarity will certainly not be an issue come tournament time," Jeff Ryan said.
Ryan, Prescott's head baseball coach, said that the change "makes sense" but that the regional pairing will cause coaches to ask why the entire sectional is not seeded, as is the case with other WIAA sports.
Ryan also brought up the lack of an additional Division 5 when asked about the recent WIAA baseball changes.
"I would still argue there remains a number of schools who question why the WIAA does not move to five divisions, as they have done for softball," Ryan said.
Rob Heller, Ellsworh's head baseball coach, said he is happy with the restoration of the competitive balance.
Last season, Ellsworth competed in Division 2 where they were eliminated in the first round of playoffs by the River Falls Wildcats who boasted a school enrollment of 989 during the 2018-19 school year compared to Ellsworth's 477 enrollment.
"It is tough to compete against schools that are close to double your enrollment," Heller said. "Has it been done before? Certainly, but I would say that the smaller of the two is usually facing an uphill battle."
Heller said he's also in favor of what he referred to as a "mini conference tournament" for the regional tournament.
"Someone from the MBC will be represented at the sectional, which is also a positive," Heller said.
Lastly, Heller pointed to geographical and traditional rivalries being restored after a short hiatus.
"When regional games are on the line and rivals are playing, it just takes the baseball to another level," Heller said. "It's a great atmosphere for everyone involved from the players, to the grandparents, to the young fans. People don't forget those games, and I am glad they are back."
The Spring Valley Cardinals, who advanced to the Division 4 Sectional 1 tournament in 2019, saw a 10.4% increase in their school's enrollment from the 2018-19 school year to the 2019-20 school year and will compete as a Division 3 team in their upcoming playoff run.
The Elmwood/Plum City Wolves will continue to compete as a Division 4 team in the 2020 season.