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Newsday (New York)
The Northport girls soccer team played in eight games decided by six goals or greater last season, and with changes in Suffolk league alignments, that should no longer be the case this year.
After years of forming leagues based strictly on student population, Suffolk will use a "power ranking" system, as coaches ranked and voted on each team before the season. The new system will include "power points" assigned to each team, determining the schedule and postseason seedings.
"Last year when we played against not-so-great teams and we were beating them by a lot of goals, it was not really exciting," said Northport defender Izzy Yeomans, a three-year varsity player. "But this year, each game is going to be really close and we're all really excited about that because those are the best games."
Last fall, Suffolk featured seven leagues, but this year, there will be two divisions. Division I will be comprised of 27 Class AA schools, with Division II consisting of 26 teams in Class A, B, C and D (18 Class A, six Class B, one Class C, one Class D).
Suffolk's new system is similar to what has been done for the past several years in Nassau, which has based its league alignment on preseason rankings.
Northport, the two-time defending Suffolk AA champions, is pleased with the change and thinks the more competitive games will help the team in the postseason. The Tigers — the top seed in Division I — will play the No. 2 through No. 15-ranked teams in Suffolk AA this season.
"I'm definitely a big supporter of it," Northport coach Aija Gipp said. "I think it's going to make our association a lot stronger in the long run. It will take some getting used to, but I think in the long run it will better prepare whatever team is the county champ because we're playing only the top teams.
"I don't think it did anybody any good to beat teams 8-0," Gipp added. "It's not helping us, so it's going to be a different year for us, but I think it's definitely good."
The new alignment not only is beneficial to the top-end teams, but also to the teams on the other side of the lopsided scores.
Adrian Gilmore, coach of Division II No. 2 ranked and defending Suffolk A champion Shoreham-Wading River, is in favor of the Wildcats playing top-level competition every game, but also sees the change as a positive for schools trying to build and improve a program.
"No one wants to play a game and lose 8-0," Gilmore said. "That's no fun, and I don't think it's even fun for the team winning. We've had heart-to-heart talks with the teams we've played and we feel bad. Do you keep passing the ball around? So for teams like them, they'll get to play competitive soccer and hopefully they'll get to build their program and attract more kids."
The Suffolk coaches agreed to a two-year commitment for the two-division format with power rankings, with the hope of close, more competitive games increasing interest for student-athletes in the sport.
"All these girls that are playing in Suffolk County are putting in a lot of time and effort if they're playing a varsity sport and to go out there and be defeated every game is hard," Gilmore said. "So I think you'll attract hopefully more kids that will come out and play, but I think they'll enjoy the game much better."
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