Courtney Coffer is a competitor.
It stems from his upbringing in Norfolk and carried over to his four-year collegiate basketball career at Division II Barton College.
And the fire within the Mount Vernon girls’ basketball coach left him yearning for another shot at No. 13 South Lakes after his Majors lost, 46-45, in a Virginia AAA Northern Region quarterfinal last season.
On the playground, a simple “run it back” would have had a rematch tipping off in minutes.
But the Majors won’t be running it back with the Seahawks this season and won’t be facing traditional Northern Region rivals like No. 16 Centreville, Oakton, T.C. Williams, West Springfield or Madison in the postseason for at least the next two seasons.
When the Virginia High School League’s most recent reclassification went into effect before this school year, Mount Vernon moved to the 5A North region, distancing the Majors from teams they were accustomed to battling on the hardwood annually.
The VHSL’s decision to split its member schools into six state-level classifications has drastically altered the postseason landscape. While the new structure creates more state championship opportunities for teams, it will also fracture some long-standing rivalries and reduce the importance of regular-season games between neighboring schools no longer in the same classification.
“I understand it when it was broken down to me. I understand why they chose to do so,” Coffer said. “But I disagree, because in order to call yourself a champion, you should have to play the best in the state. Don’t get me wrong, I would like to win a state title, but it might not be as gratifying.”
The days of three state titles being awarded in Virginia’s traditional AAA, AA and A classifications are long gone. The VHSL split the A and AA classifications into two divisions in 2008 and 2009, respectively, to improve the competitive balance as the gaps in enrollment within the existing classifications grew too large.
This year, the AAA classification was split to form 6A and 5A, while the other four classifications were renamed accordingly.
The moves change the dynamics of the state tournament, and in some cases make the path to a title less difficult.
West Springfield Coach Bill Gibson, whose team will play in 6A, said he is unhappy that both of last year’s AAA state finalists, Lake Taylor and Princess Anne, are now in 5A.
“I’m not a fan of it at all,” Gibson said. “Some are fighting for this like it’s good. It’s watered down the play. Last year those two lower conference teams went to the state final. Now they’re in the lower class for several years!”
Stonewall Jackson lost to Princess Anne, a Virginia Beach school, in the AAA state final in 2011 and in a state semifinal last season.
This year, the fourth-ranked Raiders will play in 6A, while Princess Anne will play in 5A. Likewise, last year’s Northern Region finalists — the South Lakes (6A) and Edison (5A) girls and W.T. Woodson (6A) and Wakefield (5A) boys — will no longer compete for the same postseason crown.
“You always go into the next season with the mind-set of wanting to beat the team that ended your season,” Stonewall Jackson forward Nicole Floyd said. “But we’re focused on getting back to the state finals. It would be nice to face Princess Anne, but we’re looking forward to being better than we were last year.”
Regular season schedules will still match teams against district rivals, but once the postseason begins, schools will be grouped in conferences and then regions based on their new classifications. Only regular season games played against teams within a school’s conference will count toward their playoff standing.
So 6A Madison will continue to play 5A district opponents Jefferson, Marshall and Madison, the results of those contests will not factor into playoff seeding.
Several coaches said they felt the latest alignment would lessen the value of a state championship, but VHSL Director of Communications Mike McCall believes that more championships don’t diminish the accomplishment of winning one.
“A championship is a championship when you’re competing against a school in like size enrollment,” McCall said. “There is no ACC, NFL or Premier soccer league for most of these kids. This is it for the rest of their lives. It’s a very special thing for a kid to get a state title.”
South Lakes guard Caitlin Jensen sank the game-winning shot with less than one second remaining that knocked Mount Vernon out of the postseason last winter. She said the reclassification brings a new challenge for a Seahawks team with eight returning players who contributed to a run to the Virginia AAA quarterfinals.
“It’s weird for me because since I’ve been a freshman I’ve gotten used to playing the same teams,” Jensen said. “But it’s a great challenge not knowing the type of people we’re going up against, and it’s a whole new ballgame. Adversity for any team is something that you want. With our leadership we’re well-suited to go up against these teams that we haven’t seen.”