By JEFF HELMINIAK
The Soldotna girls basketball team is not going to state after all.
After announcing Sunday night on a webcast show that Soldotna had made the Class 4A tournament based on its Winning Percentage Index, or WPI, the Alaska School Activities Association received an email from an undisclosed school that two scores from the Southeast Conference tournament at Sitka had been left out of the WPI calculation.
Those two scores were added to the WPI calculations Monday morning and Lathrop jumped ahead of Soldotna and snapped up the second WPI berth to state. Lathrop's adjusted WPI is .5649, while SoHi's is .5644.
Soldotna girls coach Doug Blossom held a practice at 10 a.m. Monday in order to start getting his team ready for a presumed March 21 date with Kodiak.
Blossom checked his cellphone at 11:30 a.m. as he was leaving the school's parking lot and found out the news.
"The girls took it pretty hard," Blossom said. "It was one of those things where we knew we were on the bubble, and it wouldn't have been surprising if they'd announced Lathrop instead of SoHi on Sunday night.
"But after celebrating all night, having a fun practice, then getting all enthused, it was tough on them."
The incident will bring more scrutiny on the WPI system. Gary Matthews, the executive director at ASAA, said the whole process will be discussed at an April meeting of the ASAA board.
The WPI is calculated based on wins and losses against Class 4A competition. Those wins and losses are weighted according to the record of the teams they came against.
Starting last season, the WPI was used to determine two at-large berths to state. The other six berths are determined by finish at the conference tournament. Matthews said the idea was to make sure a great team is not left home from state due to upsets at a conference tournament or being in a conference loaded with powerhouse teams.
The execution of that idea is a mountainous undertaking with little room for error. Russ Schreckenghost, the associate director at ASAA and the one responsible for maintaining and computing the WPI, said over 850 scores were used to compute this year's WPI.
"The correct team according to WPI is going and that is Lathrop," Schreckenghost said. "Unfortunately, we thought that was Soldotna as of Sunday.
"We did get it correct. Unfortunately, there were two missing scores. It proves every score is important in WPI."
The two Southeast tourney games that swung the WPI in favor of Lathrop were Thunder Mountain defeating Ketchikan and Juneau-Douglas defeating Thunder Mountain.
When the WPI was computed Sunday, two scores from the Southeast Tournament were used — Ketchikan defeating Thunder Mountain and Juneau defeating Ketchikan.
Matthews said in the past, the three-team Southeast Conference tourney has consisted of two games — No. 2 vs. No. 3, then the winner playing in the championship. This year, a round-robin format was used, adding the two pivotal games.
Schreckenghost said the incident will lead to a change in how conference tournament games are reported.
"Before region play, teams will have to report to us how many games they are playing," he said. "Instead of just checking off that a region has reported, I would know that the region just reported two games, and two more scores have to come in."
Even with that change, Matthews and Schreckenghost said there are still potential problems with the system for reporting regular-season games.
Schools and coaches are responsible for reporting the results of their games. Matthews said those scores are all posted on ASAA's website the first Monday in February and March. Coaches and athletic directors have a week to look at the list and report any errors.
In addition, Schreckenghost said he has people assigned in each area of the state to make sure all the scores are being reported.
"We've designed a program to try and take care of that," Schreckenghost said. "We knew we had to create checks and balances."
Matthews said some scores haven't been reported in the past. This season, Blossom pointed to a Feb. 15 game between Colony and visiting Kenai that wasn't on the list of reported WPI scores. There are only two Colony-Kenai games listed — Jan. 9 and then the March matchup in the first round of the Northern Lights Conference tournament.
"We think there was a game that wasn't reported from Feb. 15 that wasn't included in WPI," Matthews said. "It's released in March, and the schools have a week to review it, and neither school said a game was not reported as far as we know."
Kenai Central girls coach and athletic director Stacia Rustad said Monday that the Jan. 9 and Feb. 15 scores were reported.
"Russ admitted that he knows it's there and that it's not being counted," Blossom said. "He said it wouldn't change it for us. I have to take him at his word."
Matthews said the difference between the Kenai-Colony game and the Southcentral Conference tourney games is that coaches and athletic directors had a week to review the regular-season games. There was no similar review period for conference tournaments.
Matthews said there must be a deadline for regular-season games. If there were no drop-dead deadline, games could trickle in up to the moments before tipoff at state that would alter the teams on the floor.
Blossom said there should be a review period for conference tournament games as well. He said there's no reason to rush the brackets to the web Sunday night when the tournament doesn't start for over a week.
"I think they really messed up by broadcasting live and having that deadline, then they found out there were two region games in Sitka they didn't have recorded," Blossom said. "They said that to be fair, we need to put those two games in. I buy that.
"Why not wait until Tuesday or Wednesday until they are sure?"
Blossom said he still believes in the WPI concept of getting the best teams to state. He said he wants Monday's mixup to lead to reform of the system so no team has to go through Soldotna's plight again.
"Nobody did this on purpose," Blossom said. "It's rough. I just wish my kids would have found out last night. They got all excited last night."