League ruling ends TD girls hoops season

The Dalles girls basketball team had its season cut short due to a league decision, based on RPI rankings through the first half of league play, which gave Ridgeview the third and final state-playoff seed and eliminated them from postseason contention. In the group photo are, from right to left, starting in the back row, Rainie Codding, Jenna Miller, Lauryn Belanger, Ellie Codding, Molly Taylor, Grace Schatz and Larissa McConville. In the front row are, from left, Kilee Hoylman, Hanna Ziegenhagen, Ella Salvatori, Pearl Guzman and Augustina Decker.

Bad weather and a lack of playable days halted the completion of the 2018-2019 IMC schedule, so RPI became a determining factor in moving Ridgeview to third place and a final state berth, while The Dalles was dropped to fourth place and out of the postseason mix.

Controversy remains on the explanation and execution of plans put in place to select the top three state-qualifying girls basketball teams from the Intermountain Conference.

At first, The Dalles and Hood River Valley and Ridgeview and Pendleton had to finish games on Feb. 19 to complete the first half of the league schedule.

TD defeated Hood River, while Ridgeview beat Pendleton, which created a three-way tie for second place behind Redmond.

Then the five IMC athletic directors set up a district tournament-style format to expedite completion of the second part of league play, with teams seeded by their RPI (rating percentage index) rankings.

If there are tiebreakers needed, the determining factors in place on the Athletic director’s SOPs (standard operating procedures) come down to head-to-head matchups first, then who fared better against the higher ranked teams and who fared the best amongst lower ranked teams.

Tournament play lasted two rounds, until snow halted games last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, which is the OSAA-sanctioned final cutoff date, so the standings reverted to where they were when tournament seedings were devised.

“When the games whittled down the way they did and the weather was lost, it was my understanding then, depending on the matchup, it goes head-to-head, back to your first five games of league, where we beat Ridgeview, so that would give us the edge and the break and allow us into state,” TD head coach Brian Stevens said. “We’re sitting here today being told that we are not. Another part that is confusing to me is that the boys in our district were granted one extra day to play. The girls were not granted that same day and I’m still confused why we weren’t given that extra day, but the boys were.”

Stevens added that it communicated to himself and the other coaches that the league didn’t need a double consolation bracket.

Through text messages and phone calls with Crook County coach Heidi Lea and Hood River Valley’s Donnie Herneison, the two last place teams in the IMC, Stevens said both coaches offered to forfeit their games and made it clear that the matchup that needed to happen was the third-place game between The Dalles and Ridgeview, so the league could get its three best teams into the state tournament.

Stevens said that wasn’t allowed by the athletic directors because they felt that the IMC needed to play out the consolation bracket, even though the consolation bracket is something the coaches didn’t want.

“A coach could choose to bow out, and we as ADs have had that discussion and that is not good,” said TD athletic director Matt Morgan. “Why on earth would you as a coach, if you have a fighting chance, go ahead and concede? I wouldn’t want any of my coaches in that position. Let’s say I’m the Crook County boys coach and I have a chance to play The Dalles. To beat them on one night and end up with an opportunity to get to third place and get to the state playoffs, why on earth would I want my coach to say, ‘you know what, The Dalles just seems better, let’s just give it to The Dalles.’ No.”

Ridgeview finished with a 10-12 record and had an RPI of 493.288, Pendleton posted a 463.842 RPI while also going 10-12, and in 19 games played, TD was 11-8 and ended up with a 433.729 RPI.

What moved Pendleton and Ridgeview up were lopsided losses to 6A La Salle Prep, where Ridgeview lost by a 55-17 margin and Pendleton was defeated, 63-28.

The Dalles did not play against La Salle, however, and instead scheduled games against Trout Lake and Goldendale, Wash., both blowout wins, and hosted an exhibition game versus an Australian travel team.

All three games did not factor into the RPI rankings, just the win column, so since both Ridgeview and Pendleton played more official games versus Oregon schools, it boosted RPI totals that made a difference.

Instead of games versus Washington schools or Australia, could TD’s RPI had been raised by playing 4A La Grande or the state’s No. 1 3A school, Burns?

“Chances are no because in my experience, if you play a 6A school and you lose, your RPI increases. If you play a 4A school and you win huge, your RPI drops,” Morgan said. “We are also talking about what is good competition. Playing Goldendale and playing those lower teams that we played, that was better competition for us. They were close games. So, which is better for our kids? Go get thumped by some hot-shot 6A school just to boost RPI or have a competitive game where you can win and feel good as a team? Which is better? I don’t know. At this point, obviously, the first part is better. You go get your butt kicked by La Salle, so your RPI is higher and you’re not in this position in the end. Not sure I agree with that, but I think the reality of state rankings and RPI are forcing schools to have to think like that. That’s unfortunate, in my opinion.”

When the new IMC was formed, coaches and athletic directors brainstormed ideas on how to make the league better and more competitive in the future.

One idea is like what the 3A, 2A and 1A divisions are doing, and that is having a full-fledged district tournament after the regular season to avoid teams being eliminated from postseason play by arbitrary numbers.

“We have to always remember that this league is a democracy. There’s five of us, so we need to have minimal, a 3-2 vote in favor of anything,” Morgan said. “We always try to decide what is best for the kids, in fairness to all, and we also have to have a real tiebreaker scenario. That’s why we revert, ultimately to RPI. Everyone hates RPI. Let me say that again. Everyone hates RPI because it is an ambiguous number and it’s bullcrap, for a lack of a better term. We tried our best to avoid using RPI as the ultimate determiner of who is 1, 2 and 3. We had a great plan. If we could have played out this tournament, we would have determined 1, 2 and 3 on the court without RPI coming into play, because we used RPI to start the whole thing.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, Stevens and his 12 players were in the middle of practice when news broke of the canceled season.

Instead of hearing directly from Morgan, Stevens received a text message from a local radio station for an interview and then read a text from Morgan to read his email.

Word spread through various social media accounts, but the players and coaches were unaware that such a decision had been made.

One anonymous parent received a phone call from a sobbing player, stating that the season was done.

“I think there are two things that upset me about this whole situation—the first one is that I feel like no one in administration fought hard enough for these girls,” the parent said. “Brian did everything he could as a coach, he didn’t give up and he kept fighting because he knows how hard these girls have worked and how much they deserved a chance. I feel that every possibility should have been exhausted before you just agree to give up. The other thing that is frustrating is that it was put on Facebook and announced on the radio before the girls were even told about it, that is not right. The girls are still not clear on what happened, and I don’t think the coaching staff is either. To let the weather decide who goes to state playoffs is ridiculous. If you’re not going to let them play, at least do a coin flip, so we get a chance.”

One player, Lauryn Belanger, at least has another opportunity to avenge her lost basketball season – that cannot be said of seniors Larissa McConville, Ellie Codding, Molly Taylor and Ella Salvatori.

And that’s a painful pill to swallow.

“We are so devastated that we don’t get a chance to fight for our basketball season to continue,” Belanger said. “Looking at my team when we were told that this would be our last practice, our heads hung low. All that we fought for seemed to be lost. To say the least, we feel as if our voices weren’t heard at all. We just wanted to fight for our right to the playoffs and then we get even that privilege taken away, we feel as if we weren’t taken seriously and that all our hard work has just been cast aside. As a player of basketball, I’m angry, but, as a fan, I’m devastated.”

Entering his second season, Stevens did not know what he had with this varsity group, especially with the loss of standouts Jodi Thomasian and Paulina Finn.

He had to break in three new transfers and work them in with a handful of returners and a few who were primarily junior varsity contributors.

They posted a winning record and had the 5A classification’s third-best scoring defense giving up 38.3 points a game.

Off the court, they were united as a family, so his team was given a life lesson and needed to learn how to deal with disappointment and frustration.

“Once I read my email and saw that we were out, I explained to the girls the situation and read them the email for the explanation, and at that point, everyone was excused,” Stevens said. “Instead of leaving and fracturing off and going their own way, they all stayed together. They wanted to go out to MOD Pizza, so we did that, and we stayed for about three hours together. Now, they want to have a team dinner. This group is just incredible. All 12 of them all want to be together, all the time.”

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