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July 3, 2014

Examining 2015-2017 Realignment

[Editor's note: The VHSL recently announced the new alignments for the 2015-2017 seasons as enrollment numbers have changed across the state. Long-time friend to VirginiaPreps.com, Matt Gilliam, sat down to examine the changes and their impending impact.]

Here's my list of the ten teams I think will make the biggest impact on football in their new classes once the redistricting takes effect in 2015. Remember, nothing has changed for the upcoming 2014 season. A lot more teams will be moving. But these ten made me sit up and take notice.

10. Washington & Lee - This school moves up from 1A to 2A. They will be the smallest 2A school in the state with only 479 students. Nevertheless, the Eagles are always there with a winning record and sometimes much better than that, so look for this squad in the playoffs and as often as not, look for them to snag home field in the first round of the playoffs most years.

9. Stuarts Draft - This is the second of three tough new 2A schools on our list. The Cougars are moving down from 3A so they may be looking at a little easier path in the playoffs than they're getting in the first two years of the new plan. Their 728 students will make them one of the larger schools in this class. I expect these guys to be around in the late rounds of the playoffs more often than not.

8. Manchester - This looks to be the new team in 6A that could be having the biggest impact. The Lancers will be playing as one of the smaller schools in Virginia's biggest division, but they also could have a big impact. Plain and simple, these guys always have a winning record, and they seem on the verge of some big things. 6A is a challenging place to make your move, but Manchester could be trouble for anyone who draws them in the playoffs.

7. I. C. Norcom - As a AAA school they had become one of the most respected squads around and they are coming off of a nice season in 4A. It can't be comforting to most of 3A to see the Greyhounds will be a contender in their division.

6. Kettle Run - Kettle Run has been one of the best teams around the last three years and while moving up to 4A will be a challenge, anyone who has dealt with the Cougars will tell you that nobody in 4A is going to have an easy game against theses guys.

5.   Central - Woodstock - I'm not sure everyone statewide has noticed how good the Falcons have been. They have posted two straight 10 win seasons and have had five straight winning seasons. They are moving down from 3A to 2A, so theoretically they will have an easier road, not that they need one. They've been in the final eight two straight years.

While I am predicting the above teams to have immediate impacts in their new classifications, the next four teams are the BIG stories.

4. Varina - The Blue Devils have been bad in the past, but I can't remember when that would have been. These guys put up double digit wins as often as not and usually in the state championship conversation at some point just about every year. Still the trophy has eluded them (though they probably had the best team in the state a couple of times). 5A should give them a better shot than 6A simply because 6A is consistently going to provide a national powerhouse caliber team or two while you may get a break from that from time to time in 5A.

3. Lafayette - This team was the AA version of Varina, though they did have a couple of down seasons 5 or 6 years ago, not many schools have more football tradition than the Rams. Lafayette has won the state title before (2001). Moving up to 4A from 3A probably means some tougher early round games in the playoffs, but I don't think anyone doubts that Lafayette is up to the challenge.

2. Riverheads - The Gladiators have been a single A powerhouse for ages and they are always a contender to win it all. Moving down to 1A from 2A will mean trouble for any school that runs into them in the playoffs. If you follow the smaller schools in the state, there is no doubt that this move is the biggest story in those classifications.

1. Phoebus - Really? The Phantoms drop to 3A? The team everyone uses as the prime example of enrollment doesn't matter is Phoebus. The team was AA size while playing up in AAA and winning 7 state championships over an 11-year period. The new system has moved them down and the thought of these guys in 3A has to send shivers down the spines of some people.

So what's the overall impact on the divisions? It really is not that much; the divisions mostly traded teams around and overall it was mostly a wash. 6A and 5A basically trade good Central Region teams. Varina is probably seen by most as a traditionally stronger team than Manchester, but we all know that Manchester has been steadily closing the gap on everyone in recent years.

4A will lose Phoebus and Norcom, but gain Lafayette and Kettle Run. Phoebus is such a big deal that you have to feel that things are a little easier here for the remaining teams, but really, even as good as the Phantoms are, it's not a significantly easier class in the new line-up.

3A will be losing Woodstock, Stuarts Draft, Kettle Run, and Lafayette which opens up a lot of new playoff spaces.  Phoebus and Norcom come in to take those places. If one of the teams coming in wasn't Phoebus, I might be willing to say things are getting easier in 3A, but with the Phantoms there, I can't make that claim.

2A will have more tough teams than ever with three teams on my top ten list coming in and they only lose Riverheads. This class will be even more competitive come 2015.

1A loses Washington & Lee, but gains Riverheads. The Gladiators have more tradition than Washington & Lee so you might think this makes the class a little more difficult, but I don't think it does by a huge margin, though Riverheads is a super strong program, no doubt.


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