Benefield: Lopsided soccer league not good for anyone
Santa Rosa High School’s girls soccer team is having one of the most successful seasons they have had in more than a decade.
The Panthers are 6-0 and a lock to win the North Bay League-Redwood Division title and earn a berth in the North Coast Section Division 2 tournament. They have scored 45 goals in six league games and conceded zero.
Yet no one is happy.
So lopsided are the wins, so uneven is the competition, that Panthers backers are looking for a way out of what they say is a mess of ill-conceived competition that is putting everyone at a loss.
“It’s horrible. It’s horrible for the teams we play,” Santa Rosa coach Nikki Kumasaka said of her team’s string of lopsided wins. “It’s just a terrible situation.”
Since North Bay League-Redwood Division play started Jan. 8, the Panthers have beaten Elsie Allen 11-0 and 10-0, El Molino 3-0, Piner 6-0, Healdsburg 10-0 and Rancho Cotate, the second-place team, 5-0.
In some contests, starters are pulled almost immediately. Players are instructed to essentially play keepaway but not advance the ball. It’s a test of sportsmanship and patience, and it’s left Kumasaka in a quandary.
Athletes of all skill levels should love the game and learn something from competition. That isn’t happening here.
“I don’t really know what the right thing to do is at this point,” she said.
When Santa Rosa played Elsie Allen on Thursday, the Lobos could not field a complete team. After a flurry of phone calls and consultations about the legality of doing so, the Panthers lent the Lobos a player. The final score was 10-0.
Santa Rosa parents have expressed concern not only for what their kids are learning from 80 minutes of playing keep-away, but what that must feel like on the other side. The phrase “no win” was used more than once in several conversations.
How did this happen? Santa Rosa didn’t become an overnight power — the Panthers finished 5-9 in a robust North Bay League last season.
Let’s go back in time and unpack how the new North Bay League came to look as it does today.
Their hand somewhat forced after North Coast Section officials OK’d the addition of three Napa schools to the section — thereby altering the balance of area leagues — NBL schools approved a new structure that included many former Sonoma County League schools and created a so-called “super league.”
The idea was to include 12 schools, create two divisions and place teams in either the tougher Oak Division or the slightly less competitive Redwood Division. Teams’ placement would be reassessed every two years, so programs could be promoted or relegated.
Largely it has worked. NBL boys basketball has been filled with barnburners and upsets. So, too, has girls Oak Division soccer. And in the fall, the football season was more interesting than in years past.
But in Redwood Division girls soccer, it’s fallen flat. And Panthers backers are left wondering how they got here and what they need to do to leave.
To Kumasaka’s thinking, the Panthers had proven they were worthy of being in the Oak Division by holding their own against robust NBL opponents last season.