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No more tourney time

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | NOVEMBER 13, 2009 7:20 AM

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There will be no Big Ten women’s soccer tournament in 2009.

Because of a format that left teams fatigued heading into the NCAA Tournament after playing three games in four days, conference coaches decided to no longer play the eight-team tilt. Most agreed that their student-athletes are missing out on an opportunity, but the schedule was unfair to the top teams.

“It wasn’t a unanimous vote, but coaches felt that the structure of tournament was not helping the top teams advance in the NCAA Tournament,” said Iowa head coach Ron Rainey, who voted to keep the tournament. “It was leaving teams that reached the final, that for most part were already advancing to the NCAA Tournament, physically and emotionally spent heading into NCAAs.”

In the past, teams with the eight best records in conference play would be seeded for the tournament. Now, the winner of the regular season earns the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tourney.

Penn State wrapped up its 12th-consecutive regular-season title. Nittany Lion head coach Erica Walsh said she would love to keep a tournament, but the old model was not working.

“The way that we trained this week versus last year, our team feels great,” she said. “They have tons of energy going into the NCAA Tournament. It’s interesting to compare the two years, because it’s made a marked difference.”

First-round matches of the national tournament will begin today, with five Big Ten teams seeded in the field. Joining Penn State are Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan State, and Wisconsin.

Minnesota, Northwestern, and Michigan would have had a chance to play into the national event had the conference playoff still applied.

“Do I think we’d be better off with a tournament? Absolutely,” Illinois head coach Janet Rayfield said. “I think most of us would have kept the tournament in another format, but we couldn’t agree on one. Ultimately, the goal is to position your team to win the conference title and prepare and compete as best you can in the NCAA Tournament.”

No other conference in the country plays a tournament schedule similar to one the Big Ten previously played, Rayfield said. She also noted that several Big Ten teams have been upset in early rounds of the NCAA recently, including the Fighting Illini.

“To play two games back-to-back really takes a toll on your body,” Rayfield said. “History says it’s really a disadvantage. As a conference, we shouldn’t be disadvantaging our teams. We should be doing well in the NCAA Tournament, and the old format just didn’t allow that.”

Iowa hosted what was the Big Ten’s final conference tournament last season. From a player’s perspective, Hawkeye senior Alex Seydel said, it was an enjoyable experience, which she is sad to see go.

“I can see it really from both sides,” she said. “I understand that the teams that traditionally make it to the NCAA Tournament want to save their bodies. But from a more personal point of view from our program, it’s a little disappointing. You look at is as a chance to take on some teams that you have another crack at and hopefully get a NCAA berth out of it.”

Rainey would like to try discussing alternative tournament models again to bring back a conference tradition.

“You’re there with your conference peers having seven games in three days, and it’s a pretty cool and neat event,” Rainey said. “I hope that as coaches look at it and maybe talk to their players about it, maybe some more people will say, ‘Hey, this was a pretty special event,’ and, ‘Let’s figure out a way to bring it back.’ ”


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