It was tried and quickly abandoned three years ago, but the five-game match is back in Arizona high school volleyball.
The previous two seasons, matches were best-of-three affairs. The Arizona Interscholastic Association's Legislative Council voted last March to adopt the best-of-five format — a format used collegiately and in the Olympics.
With the season about three weeks old, it appears there is no consensus verdict on the new system.
"I understand the positives and the negatives," Josh Olshan, coach at Phoenix Arcadia, said. "I think the jury is out."
To Olshan and the other coaches contacted, the positives are clear:
- More games mean more playing time and more players getting a chance to play.
- More games should mean less upsets. The better team usually prevails, the more games two teams play.
- Playing the same format as colleges could help Arizona players in recruiting. College recruiters like to compare apples to apples. "That is one thing I like about it," Phoenix Mountain Pointe coach Fred Mann said. "It is very consistent. College coaches recruit for talent not for 2-out-of-3 but 3-out-of-5."
Then there are the perceived negatives:
- Matches last longer so student-athletes get home later at night. Since varsity matches normally follow freshmen and then junior varsity matches, they start between 6 and 7 p.m. A five-game match can go 2 hours. If a team is on a long road trip across the Valley, players may not get home until 10 p.m. or later on a school night.
- More playing time can lead to more injuries.
- Longer matches can wear down a team, especially one which has three five-game matches in the same week followed by a weekend tournament.
"We've had more injuries," Olshan said. "I don't know if it's random luck, but we've had more injuries and more soreness."
Scottsdale Saguaro coach Shannan McClure said her team is just plain tired.
"It has been rough on the kids," McClure said. "We've had three long matches in the week and it is tough."
While the jury may be out on the five-game system, it could be here to stay. AIA official Gary Whelchel said that unlike three years ago when the format was tried on a one-year experimental basis, this time it is in the bylaws. It would take a change in those bylaws to revert back to best-of-three.
Scottsdale Chaparral coach Jayme Crowley has some suggested changes to adapt to the new format.
"I would like to see some separation where the JV and freshmen maybe are away when the varsity is at home like they do in softball," Crowley said. "That way we could start matches earlier, at say 5. That would help."
Coaches may have mixed feelings on the format, but Chaparral senior Jessica Waggoner loves it. Waggoner disputes some of the negatives, including players getting home too late. She concedes they are getting home later, but they also are making good use of their downtime.
"We are doing school work during the freshmen matches," Waggoner said. "I really like it. The better team should win."