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NIAA finalizes winter sports alignment

The Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association has completed the realignment process for winter sports, and Pahrump Valley High School basketball teams will have a new lineup of league foes next winter.

While there was a lot of talk about placing all of the Class 3A Southern Region teams in one league, the final alignment features two six-team leagues in girls basketball and two five-team leagues in boys basketball.

The changes are rather dramatic. A year ago, the Trojans boys team was in an eight-team Sunset League that also included Del Sol, Valley, Mojave, Democracy Prep, Western, Somerset-Losee and Equipo Academy. None of them will be in the new Desert League, in which Pahrump Valley will be with Boulder City, Pinecrest Cadence, SLAM Academy and Southeast Career Tech.

The Trojans finished the season 2-12 in the Sunset, 6-20 overall.

The Pahrump Valley girls dominated the Sunset League last year, finishing 12-0, 30-4 overall with a trip to the Class 3A State Tournament. The Trojans swept the regular season series from Mojave, Valley, Somerset-Losee, Del Sol, Democracy Prep and Western. For the next two years, the opponents in the Desert League will be Boulder City, Eldorado, Pinecrest Cadence, SLAM Academy and Southeast Career Tech, although it is not yet known if Pinecrest Cadence will field a girls team.

The radical changes stem from three key developments: the move to doing realignment by sport, the introduction of a new Class 5A and an increase in the number of charter schools gaining full NIAA membership.

“We have this group of charter schools that is fairly new, and their enrollment, even though it doubles, are still below the 1,300 ceiling,” said NIAA Assistant Director Donnie Nelson, noting that for charter and single-gender schools enrollments are doubled for classification purposes. “There’s got to be a place for them to go, and that’s the Class 3A.”

In the southern region, only four schools — Boulder City (629), Moapa Valley (560), Pahrump Valley (1,274) and Virgin Valley (764) — are enrollment protected to be in Class 3A. Southeast Career Tech and Eldorado are 5A/4A by enrollment but are weak enough in specific sports to fill available space in Class 3A, which can have from eight to 12 schools in each region.

“We had a 3A Northern League that got a set number of teams at 12, and we had to make sure the number of schools in the 3A South was as equivalent as possible to 3A North,” Nelson said. “On a sport-by-sport basis we’ve got a range in 3A South trying to get near 12 schools. The charter schools end up filling a lot of those available spots, and that means some of those less competitive schools that are of high enrollments were forced up to 4A.”

Which is why Western, which went 1-18 in girls basketball last year, is now in 4A, where it belongs based solely on enrollment. In 3A, there simply was no room at the inn.

“The 4A and 5A are the same, over 1,300 enrollment,” Nelson said. “All those schools we rank, and we then draw a line and say these 10 schools are this way, 11 through 14 are on the bubble, and 15 and below are 4A. We only really have to figure out where the bubble schools go.”

And that is done sport by sport, so rather than placing, say, Cimarron-Memorial in 4A or 5A, each team at Cimarron-Memorial is placed individually in one or the other. In this way, teams are placed in what should be, in theory, a more competitively balanced league.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a whole bunch of teams go 5-5,” Nelson said. “We’re still going to have teams that go undefeated and teams that don’t win a league game, but you will find more schools that are toward the center of the standings. The goal is not total parity but competitive parity.

“The other big factor was the thought of school morale. If our boys team is in this class and the girls team is in this class, and they’re playing here and we’re playing there, does that mean people think less of us? But I think that feeling will be thwarted when teams see they have a chance to win. The whole mentality of splitting genders by classification will take care of itself by the first week of the league season.”

The end result will be a very competitive Class 5A and a somewhat less competitive 4A, especially with several schools that had been playing a 3A schedule now forced to play schools their own size. In fact, Nelson sees an intriguing possibility.

“We talk about what is the ‘new’ classification, and honestly it’s the Class 4A,” Nelson said. “It’s a middle ground in terms of athletic ability. In some regards, Class 3A in some sports may be … more competitively successful class than the 4A. Not saying that will happen, but it’s possible.”

And that’s because the better teams in Class 3A are staying in 3A because they are enrollment-protected, while many of the 4A schools that struggle in a particular sport had to stay at 4A because the 3A spaces were filled. The end result is that Nelson can see how Boulder City, Moapa Valley, Pahrump Valley and Virgin Valley could be more competitive in a variety of sports than many 4A schools.

Said Nelson, “By rubric points, if those schools weren’t protected, you would see them in Class 4A in a variety of sports.”

For wrestling, all Class 3A Southern League schools were placed together: Boulder City, Chaparral, Del Sol, Desert Oasis, Eldorado, Moapa Valley, Pahrump Valley, Sunrise Mountain, Valley and Virgin Valley.

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