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Caught in the Shuffle – Jacksonville and Anniston sent to different regions in new AHSAA basketball alignments

Caught in the shuffle

Jacksonville, Anniston sent to different regions in new AHSAA basketball alignments, Brown not happy; wrestling gets 4 classifications

By Al Muskewitz

Newly crowned Class 4A state champion Jacksonville won’t have to go through Anniston to get to the Final Four the next two years, and the only time they’d possibly meet in the postseason is in Birmingham the way the new state basketball alignments fall for the next two years.

The AHSAA Central Board approved the winter sports alignments Tuesday.

Jacksonville and Anniston crossed each of the last two basketball seasons with the winner of their game going on to win the state championship. The only time they’d meet in postseason these next two years is in the Final Four.

The Golden Eagles have been placed in a North area (Area 10) with White Plains, Cherokee County and Cleburne County. Anniston, meanwhile, would be the northernmost South region team in its classification, paired with Handley, Talladega and Munford in Area 8.

“Wow,” Anniston coach Torry Brown said. “I think the state got that one wrong. That there is all wrong. Wow.

“I would rather go north and cross with them (Jacksonville). I think they got it wrong on that one and for us to have to go to Montgomery (for regionals). We should have a five-team area here and Talladega, Munford and Handley could’ve had a three-team area.”

The teams will meet in a regular-season game next season — the return of this year’s game at Jacksonville the night the County Tournament started — and the anticipated big gate should help the Bulldogs defray any travel expenses in the postseason.

“We’ve just got to do what we have to do,” Brown said. “I don’t like it and would rather have a five-team area with the teams we have here and play it that way, but that’s beyond my control.”

White Plains coach Chris Randall is glad he dodged that bullet.

“The biggest thing is I didn’t want to go south,” he said. “I wanted to stay north so if things do work out and we have a chance to make it to the regionals, we’re going to JSU. I have no desire to be in the south and have to go to Montgomery, so I’m happy we’re in the north.

“Anniston’s on the doorstep of JSU. If they have to go south, it’s brutal (for travel).”

Meanwhile, in Class 3A, Saks and Wellborn move from a three-team area to a four-teamer with Piedmont and Weaver, while Ohatchee plays with Hokes Bluff, Glencoe and Westbrook Christian.

“I’m thankful our bus fees will be kind of down,” Weaver coach Beau Winn said. “I’m looking forward to (the new alignment). We see each other a lot and kind of anticipated (the result). I’m looking forward to the challenge and hoping these boys are, too.”

In 1A, Faith Christian and JCA are both in five-team areas, but headed for different regionals. Faith and Donoho are feeling a little like Anniston today; they’ve been paired with ASD, Wadley and Winterboro in Area 8 (South), while Jacksonville Christian is paired with Spring Garden, Cedar Bluff, Coosa Christian and Gaylesville in Area 12 (North).

“The first thing I think is it stinks,” Faith coach Cory Hughes said. “I love that we have a regional in our backyard, which is basically like home-court advantage for us, and it stinks that we’ll go to Montgomery.

“But if you look at our area, we’re excited to get to play those teams; we haven’t played ASD and Wadley before. The way it worked out there are pros and cons for us; the pros outweigh the cons.”

Pleasant Valley, Alexandria and Oxford all draw three-team areas, meaning the regular-season winner is guaranteed a spot in the subregionals.

Pleasant Valley, dropping down to 2A, is paired with Ranburne and Woodland. Alexandria gets Lincoln and Southside in 5A, while Oxford draws Gadsden City and Fort Payne in 6A.

On the wrestling front, 2022 1A-4A sectional champions Weaver and Ohatchee will now be in the same section (Section 2), along with Piedmont, White Plains and Pleasant Valley. Anniston, Cleburne County, Ranburne, Saks and Wellborn are in Section 1. Weaver is the reigning state champs.

The sport will have state champions in four classifications moving forward — 1A-4A, 5A, 6A, 7A — due to the growth of the sport, especially in the south part of the state.

It’s been a progression to get here. Teams used to compete 1A-5A, 6A and 7A. When the smaller schools broke off, 5A and 6A combined. Now, the 27 5A schools will compete in a league of their own and there will be four mats at the sectional and state meets.

“The process seemed to have started forever ago with committee meetings and begging and pleading to get everyone to see it would be beneficial for wrestling as a whole,” said Alexandria coach Frank Hartzog, one of the main proponents for the splits. “When it moved with 1A-4A, it gave some of those smaller schools a sense they can be competitive now and I feel the same thing could happen for some of these 5A schools – we’re competitive against a level playing field.

“I’ve known about this for a while, but to see it in writing, to see it posted, man, that gives you chill bumps. That really is nice.”

This story will be updated.  [*** read more]

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