Some things haven't changed for the Evans High School softball team - last week the Lady Knights embarked on a road trip to start the 2002 season.
But this year, traveling Wednesday to play in the season-opening South Gwinnett Invitational was by choice, and that's a big change for Evans.
Over the past two school years, Evans High's athletic teams have competed in Region 4-AAAAA, which required rigorous travel to play Atlanta-area squads. This year Evans has moved to Region 7-AAAAA, which means a bit less travel.
Meanwhile, some of the teams at Evans will get some real road relief, because they do not have to play a region schedule.
"We'll still be doing some traveling, but the players won't be pulled out of class every week, which will help," Lady Knights softball coach Colette Cassedy said. "We can keep kids in class, which is where they need to be."
The flexible scheduling was sparked last year when the Georgia High School Association finally made an effort help Evans, which is the only Class AAAAA program in the Augusta area.
Region 7 coaches, the GHSA and Evans worked out a compromise for the 2002-03 seasons. Evans will not have to play region schedules in softball, volleyball, tennis or soccer, but those teams will still be allowed to compete in region tournaments and qualify for the state playoffs.
That's where things get sticky - the Evans softball team, and the other squads not playing region schedules, will rely on an outside observer to set their seedings for region tournaments.
"We don't know exactly how it's going to work," said Gail Connor, Evans athletic director. "The way it was set up at the region meeting was to have somebody evaluate our teams by watching them play, and by how they do against other teams during the regular season."
That process goes against the grain of prep athletics, where ability is supposed to be decided in head-to-head competition.
Now, besides winning games, Evans may have to lobby for a fair shake in the seedings.
"We hope we'll have a little bit of input," Connor said. "I think the region we are in is receptive to that."
For Cassedy and her softball team, which is expected to be one of the stronger squads in Region 7-AAAAA, the seeding system is cause for concern.
"I hope we're treated fairly, but it's new to everybody, and this is the first time we've been through it," she said. "I know the teams at the region meeting weren't too happy about the fact that we won't even play them and might be seeded higher. I wonder how we'll ever get a No. 1 seed."
The other eight softball teams in the region play each other twice and will be seeded by records. The No. 8 and 9 seeds will have a play-in game for the region tournament, and the top four seeds will get to open the region tournament with a home game.
"It's not a good situation, but hopefully it will work out," said Cassedy, who is at least happy that Evans gets to play Greenbrier, Harlem and Lakeside this season.
The Lady Knights visit Lakeside Tuesday at 5 p.m., play host to Harlem Thursday at 5 p.m., and travel to Greenbrier for a 6 p.m. skirmish on Aug. 26.
"It's nice to have some rival games, but all the local teams have their own region schedules, so it's hard to pick up games," Cassedy said.
Football, basketball and baseball teams at Evans will play full region schedules, but those slates also have been tweaked to help limit road contests. Last school year, Evans teams trekked to Atlanta 66 times for regular season region games, and this year the number has dropped to 16.
Still, even with all the changes for Evans, the goal is to have to travel once the state playoffs arrive - in the postseason, arbitrators don't decide your fate.
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