Early last week, the Southampton field hockey team and head coach Jackie Trelease were confident that their season would extend into the Class B playoffs.
That expectation was dashed by the end of the week, thanks to the complicated points system that determines playoff brackets, known as the power rankings.
In many sports, playoff qualification is determined simply by a team’s win/loss record, the standard requirement being an even (.500) record or better to make the playoffs. But in a few sports—field hockey, football, and lacrosse—standings are determined by a complex mathematical formula that awards or removes points based on the strength or weakness of a team’s opponents. Teams are ranked to start the season, in a process—done collaboratively between coaches—that attempts to predict how well teams will perform over the course of the season. Teams are awarded a certain number of points based on that preseason ranking, which are then added to the total number of points accumulated at the season’s end.
Determining preseason rankings is a tricky process, with coaches jockeying for position. Higher ranked teams earn more of those preseason points, but also have to play a tougher schedule. The reverse is true for lower ranked teams. For a team in a rebuilding year, a lower ranking is ideal, but for teams that feel they are on the rise and want to qualify for the postseason—like Southampton—a ranking that’s too low can make it difficult to earn a playoff spot.
The seeding process for this year’s field hockey season was done three times, with the Lady Mariners being ranked as high as eight and nine before the committee ultimately seeded them 11th of the 15 teams in the division. Trelease was unhappy with that ranking, because she knew her team would not garner many points for beating the weaker teams, which made up a majority of her squad’s schedule. The Lady Mariners were dominant against those squads and also beat a few of the more competitive teams on their slate this year, resulting in a 10-5 record and what Trelease thought would be a spot in the playoffs. But when the final rankings were released, Bayport/Blue Point, which went 7-8 on the season, was able to jump ahead of Southampton because of the nine points it received during the preseason, when it was ranked seventh. Southampton earned only five points for its preseason ranking of 11. The final result: Southampton, despite having the same or better record than all but two of the teams ranked above it, was the first team out of the playoffs. Bayport finished with 125.420 points, while the Lady Mariners had 124.960.
Making matters worse was the knowledge that if Pierson had won its final game, the shakeout in the power rankings would have put Southampton ahead of Bayport for the final playoff spot. Pierson lost, 1-0, to West Babylon in double overtime on October 19.
The Lady Whalers (5-10) will face Babylon (5-10) for the Suffolk County Class C Championship on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Half Hollow Hills West High School. Despite being much lower in the rankings than Southampton, both teams qualified for the playoffs because they are Class C teams competing in a division that is comprised primarily of Class B teams.