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Rankings...Why They Matter and Why They Don't

By Aaron Brown


PLAINFIELD, IL -- Rankings…the number one subject of many of the e-mails I receive throughout each season. I thought I would shed some light on why the rankings actually matter and counter that by talking about why they don’t all in the same article (if that makes sense). Here goes:



Why They Matter


One of the main reasons that rankings have been important over the last eight years is largely due to the way the IHSA assigns teams to certain sectionals and holds a blind draw for the state quarterfinal matchups. While this may not be a negative in the event there is a lot of parity in the sport, we have seen several cases over the years where two of the best teams in the state have had to meet in a sectional final game, meaning that only one of the teams can qualify for the state tournament and the other would not get to be included as one of the eight teams representing the best in the state.


Earlier in the decade, Oak Park and Fenwick would always play in a girls’ sectional final game, even though both were Top 5 teams (in many cases, both went into the contests ranked #1, #2, or #3). The same thing seemed to happen on the boys’ side between Fenwick and St Patrick early in the decade as well. Not only that, but there have also been several years where both the boys’ and girls’ teams from Stevenson and Mundelein could have been considered Top 5 teams, but only one of them could play at state. And even more recently, Lyons-Brother Rice, St Ignatius-Mother McAuley, and Sandburg-LWE have been some of the other situations where Top 10 teams play in the sectional finals without a chance to play at the state tournament.


In those cases, having a set of rankings ensures that the teams that cannot make it to the state tournament even though they have beaten many of the teams that do qualify for state get the credit they deserve for an excellent regular season performance. After all, should a team that beats every team that qualifies for the state tournament except for one be dropped out of a top eight spot in the rankings simply based on an unfortunate sectional assignment?


I recall a brief conversation a few years ago with St Patrick head coach Marty Gibson, who agreed with the fact that the Shamrocks should have finished the season ranked in the Top 3 even after they lost to Fenwick in the sectional finals. Earlier that season, St Patrick had beaten nearly every team that had qualified for state except for Fenwick, yet they didn’t get to showcase their talent on front of a large crowd at the state tournament. They even beat the state runner-up earlier that year. When all was said and done, the fact was that St Patrick had proven throughout the regular season that they could beat everyone (except #1 Fenwick). They fully deserved to remain ranked ahead of nearly all of the state qualifying teams, so in this situation the rankings definitely mattered.



Why They Don’t Matter


Looking back at the preseason rankings, there are always situations where a lack of information led to a team getting ranked either too high or too low (or not at all). Preseason rankings are more speculation than anything, especially when you consider that many things can happen in the offseason that can both positively and negatively affect a team's performance.


Let's look at a current example...Glenbrook South (boys) began the season unranked, due to the fact that they lost most of their starters and their key offensive production to graduation; there was an air of uncertainty as to how last year’s backups and Junior Varsity players would perform, especially when being considered by an outside source.


As a GBS player, or someone who is associated with the team, they might have felt slighted by not being ranked. This could be attributed to the fact that someone closely associated with that particular team knows more about how they will perform than an outsider looking in and trying to rank the teams. The good news is that performance dictates a team's ranking, so all it takes is a few quality wins over high-quality opponents in order to move into the Top 25, just like Glenbrook South has done so far in 2010. They could still qualify for the state tournament once again this year, even though they started the season unranked, thus proving, in this case, that sometimes the rankings don't matter.



Another argument that gets brought up in most sports is one that says rankings don’t matter, only postseason performance does. What remains true is that regardless of where a team is ranked at any point of the season, things normally shake themselves out once the postseason arrives and teams have a chance to prove themselves in a “win-or-go home” playoff format.


A final point to mention...rankings are simply an opinion; two different sources might have a rankings list that look completely different, so I always say to take any rankings list “with a grain of salt” or, if it helps, to use them as motivation if you feel that your team is ranked too low.


In a perfect world, there would be several high school water polo web sites, newspapers, and other sources in Illinois  that compile rankings. For now, we’ll all just have to settle for








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