BLOOMINGTON — Consider Sullivan boys golf coach Ben Richter surprised on Wednesday afternoon.
On Tuesday, Richter said, he just got information for a boys golf regional and 24 hours later he learned that, after announcing in August that the postseason would end at the regional level for fall sports, the Illinois High School Association reversed course on Wednesday to allow for sectionals for boys and girls golf and boys and girls cross country.
Richter told his team before a Wednesday afternoon meet.
“It was a complete surprise," Richter said. "We’re kind of optimistic that they maybe they change their mind and let us have a state; at this rate it would be pretty nice. Just being able to move on to a sectional, we definitely plan on doing that. We definitely plan on winning the regional so we can go play in the sectional."
The IHSA Board of Directors announced the expansion to sectionals after taking a vote during a special meeting that was called to specifically address sectionals for the two sports. Still, no overall state tournament is scheduled.
“Despite the challenges of this school year, our Board has remained committed to providing the most rewarding postseason experiences possible,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson in a news release. “Given the relative success we have had safely conducting cross country and golf this fall, the Board asked our staff during the September Board meeting (September 14) to explore the possibility of expanding beyond regionals to conduct sectionals as well.”
Though the regional sites haven't been announced yet, St. Teresa athletic director and cross country coach Todd Vohalnd welcomed the news.
“I’m thrilled that they’re adding another round; great for them," Vohland said. "It gives the kid another chance to compete against some of the better runners in the area. I still have to see how it shakes out. ... Overall, I’m excited that they’ve added another round but nobody knows where we're going — and that’s not a complaint — but until we see that, we'll see what the effect is. We're going to plan on running the regional and hopefully we get another week. It's exciting we could get another week."
In golf, the top two teams and top four individuals in each regional will advance to sectional play. Cross country will advance five teams from each regional to sectionals, with no changes in the individual qualifier field.
Richter has an incredibly talented Sullivan golf team that could make a deep run as long as the postseason lasts.
“We’re really excited and relieved to at least have a sectional that it kind of gives us hope to keep playing and show these guys that they can compete at a high level," Richter said. "We’re really glad and excited, for sure."
IHSA staff attempted to maintain COVID regions and keep participant levels as low as possible when making assignments, but in some cases, generally those involving schools on or near a COVID border, schools were assigned to a tournament outside of their COVID region.
“Given the timing, our greatest challenge will be finding hosts, especially in cross country,” said Anderson. “We have been granted exemptions to compete outside the COVID Regions in instances, for example, where assigning schools on or near a region border creates better balance in the number of participants at a site. Based on the feedback we have received, we expect some schools will choose not to participate beyond regionals. We respect those decisions, but still want to provide as many opportunities as possible.”
Golf sectionals are scheduled for the week of October 12-17, while cross country sectionals are expected for October 29-31. Host sites and meet dates will be announced soon.
There were no changes made to the postseason structure for IHSA girls tennis and girls swimming and diving, which both begin postseason competition at the sectional level.
That begs the question: Is there hope for a state tournament after all if the IHSA reversed course on regionals to sectionals?
“We’re one step closer," Richter said. "It’s definitely a possibility. You have 12, 13 teams at a regional, you’re going to have 12, 13 teams at a sectional and a state tournament is always 12 teams and however many individuals. They could do it. It’s just whether they want to or not. The fact that they are allowing us to have a sectional is one step closer."
Said Vohland: “Anytime we can extend the season a little bit, it’s good for these kids. Doesn’t it bode possibly well for later on like maybe basketball getting a sectional or what not? We’ll see. We’ve got a long way to go."
PHOTOS: Boys golf meet at Hickory Point
Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25
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