Local high schools embarking on new postseason format with move to Region 4D

The four Winchester/Frederick County schools are not only entering a new region this year, but they’ll also be involved in a significantly new postseason format.

For the sports of volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer and tennis, no longer will the postseason begin with district tournaments, and no longer will every team automatically qualify for the postseason.

With the exception of football, Handley, James Wood, Millbrook and Sherando previously saw their postseasons begin in all sports at the district level in Region 4C, which was the only region in the state that didn’t begin postseason play at the region level. Now competing in Region 4D, local teams are going to need to have one of the four best records in one of two sub-regions in order to make the postseason. Every regular-season game — not just district games — will factor into postseason qualification for the aforementioned sports. (Regular-season volleyball invitationals will not count toward postseason qualification.)

And for football, after four years in which the Winchester/Frederick County schools earned playoff spots based on win-loss record in Class 4 Northwestern District games, they’ll return to a situation where regional playoff qualification is determined by the traditional Virginia High School League power point system that factors all 10 games into a team’s rating.

Region/district affiliation

Region 4C now consists of 10 schools, all located in Loudoun County. Region 4D has 15 schools and will be split into North and South sub-regions for the sports of volleyball, golf, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer and tennis. With the exception of golf, each of those sports require three rounds of competition.

“[Travel reasons] was 100 percent the factor into splitting into North and South,” Sherando coordinator of student activities Jason Barbe said.

In football, cross country, wrestling, swimming, track & field and cheerleading, the 15 schools will all be grouped together collectively. Football playoff games are once a week and the other aforementioned sports require just one day of competition.

In addition to the four local schools, Region 4D North features Liberty (Bealeton), Charlottesville and Orange County. The South consists of Amherst, Blacksburg, E.C. Glass, George Washington, Halifax County, Jefferson Forest, Mecklenburg and Salem.

Local schools only have to concern themselves with competing against Region 4D schools in the postseason.

“Anytime anything’s new, there’s going to be some bumps in the road,” Handley director of student activities Reed Prosser said. “But I think there’s a lot of good things involved. I think the new region we’re in, we have a lot of schools very similar to us in terms of size of the town, the tradition historically.

“We used to be in the same region with Charlottesville and Orange a long time ago, so it’s restoring some of those rivalries. Tradition-wise, E.C. Glass and Handley High School are some of the greatest schools in the state of Virginia for a long time. I think the caliber of athlete and caliber of school we’re going to be going up against, I think we’re very, very similar to each other.”

The four local schools along with Liberty are still competing in the five-school Class 4 Northwestern District, which no longer includes Kettle Run and Fauquier, which dropped down to Class 3.


In football from 2019-22, the games involving the Class 4 Northwestern District schools were used to determine playoff qualifiers, with the top four teams in the standings taking on the top four teams in the Dulles District standings in the quarterfinals (the 2021 spring season featured just the top two in each district).

The five current Class 4 Northwestern District schools will still continue to play each other, but now the other six games on their regular-season schedule will also be used to determine their power rating and playoff status. The top eight teams in the 15-school Region 4D will make the quarterfinals, with the No. 8 seed traveling to the No. 1 seed, No. 7 traveling to No. 2, etc.

Other head-to-head sports

Previously, in volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball and soccer and tennis, all Class 4 Northwestern District teams played each other in a double round-robin format during the regular season. The team that fared best in those contests (each team played 12 in the last two-year cycle) earned an automatic Region 4C berth and a No. 1 seed for the district tournament, and the other six teams were seeded second through seventh based on how they finished in the district standings. The district tournament winner (or the tournament runner-up if the regular-season champion captured the title) also qualified for the Region 4C semifinals, which featured the top two Northwestern and Dulles teams.

All Class 4 Northwestern District schools will continue to play a double round-robin schedule, and now the rest of a team’s schedule will be just as important as the Class 4 Northwestern District games. Teams will be ranked at the end of the regular season by winning percentage in all games (only volleyball invitationals will be excluded) and the top four in both the North sub-region and the South sub-region will make the Region 4D playoffs. (Soccer ties will equal half a win. For example, a record of 10-5-1 would be calculated as 10.5 divided by 16 for a .656 winning percentage.) District tournaments will no longer be held.

Previously for Winchester/Frederick County schools, the only way to avoid ending their seasons with a loss was by winning a state championship. Now, a team could end their season with a win but have to deal with the fact that the victory wasn’t enough to extend their season into the playoffs.

James Wood CSA Brian Sullivan said ending a season that way will be “a little bit odd” for Winchester/Frederick County schools. But not only is it common for the rest of the state to start the postseason at the region level, but it’s also common to not have every team in the region make the postseason. For example, Region 4D had eight of 12 teams qualify last year, Region 4A had 10 of 16 and Region 4B had 12 of 17. Region 2B, which Clarke County competes in, had eight of 10 teams in the postseason.

“We were playing a different game than the rest of the state,” Barbe said. “Region 4C was the only region in the state that was split into districts evenly and gave us the ability to still use district success to advance to the region. The rest of the state was already into some kind of a system similar to the one that we’re going into.

“It is different to our people, but the VHSL will tell you that districts are a scheduling mechanism. They’re not about advancement anymore. The region is about advancement.”

Not having an all-in region tournament also helps with getting the region tournaments done in time.

For example, the Region 4D volleyball tournament will start on Tuesday, Oct. 31, the semifinals will be on Thursday, Nov. 2 and the final will be on Saturday, Nov. 4, and the deadline to finish the tournament is Wednesday, Nov. 8. A 15-team bracket would require a fourth play date and would likely require a long trip for one school in the middle of the week. And volleyball is a sport that rarely has to worry about postponements since it’s indoors in the fall. Snow in the winter and numerous weather situations in the spring could derail scheduled events for many sports.

“You have to take into account basketball cancellations, and soccer, you can’t be playing back-to-back nights and be very competitive,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said having Region 4D — which was already using winning percentage to seed teams — implement a power rating formula to rank teams was considered. A school’s class size (1 through 6) factors into the VHSL power rating formula for football. Region 2B, which includes Clarke County, uses a ratings system that factors in class size for determining playoff seedings in volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball and soccer.

Sullivan said a power ratings formula isn’t being used because of the VHSL rule that requires teams to play everyone in their own district. The rule forces teams to play schools of varying sizes and can limit the number of non-district games a team can play. Barbe said that rule — as well as the travel involved — is why round robin sub-region schedules weren’t discussed.

In addition to playing eight games against each other, the Class 4 Northwestern Districts are also required to play the seven Class 3 Northwestern District schools once each unless the Class 4 and Class 3 schools both agree not to play each other.

The two other schools in the North sub-region, Charlottesville and Orange, play in the Jefferson District with two Class 5 schools and four Class 3 schools. They’ll play 14 district games. And while they’ll be on the other half of the bracket, Seminole District schools Amherst County, E.C. Glass and Jefferson Forest will play 14 district games. Piedmont District schools Bassett, Mecklenberg and George Washington will play 12. River Ridge District schools Blacksburg and Salem will also play 12.

Sullivan acknowledged that there could be situations where schools try to schedule games that they think they could win to help their winning percentage, but a look at the volleyball schedules of the Class 4 Northwestern Districts shows they’re pretty similar.

James Wood is playing five matches against Class 3 NWD schools (two vs. Fauquier) and has a strong non-district schedule. Millbrook is playing three Class 3 NWD schools and also has a strong non-district schedule. Sherando has seven Class 3 NWD matches (two each vs. Warren County, Skyline and Kettle Run), one match against Class 4 Loudoun Valley and three matches against the two top returning programs in the Bull Run District in Central and Clarke County. Handley is playing nine Class 3 NWD contests, Loudoun Valley and West Virginia Class AAA Hampshire. Liberty is playing all but one of its non-district matches against Class 3 NWD schools.

And the winning percentage system appears to be popular enough to continue using it. Nine of the Region 4D schools (the eight South schools and Orange County) are holdovers from the last VHSL alignment cycle.

“The bottom line is you need to go win,” Barbe said. “We’re playing qualifying games from the very first game of the season on. [Prior to the last four years] in football, you’ve always been playing qualifying games every game from the first game on. Now the rest of the sports are the same way.”

Playoff advancement will also be different. Previously in the Region 4C semifinals, the No. 1 Northwestern District team always played the No. 2 Dulles team and the No. 2 NWD team would always play the No. 1 team. That scenario allowed the possibility of two teams from the same district to make the region final, and therefore, earn Class 4 state tournament berths.

In Region 4D, there will be no cross-bracketing. North teams and South teams will only play each other in the quarterfinals and semifinals, which means one North team and one South team will make the Region 4D final and earn the state tournament berths that come with making the Region 4D final. The team with the highest winning percentage will host the Region 4D final.

“We’re trying to avoid a James Wood versus Halifax four-and-a-half-hour bus trip for a regional quarterfinal game,” Sullivan said. “That’s why we made a Region 4D North and 4D South.”

Barbe thinks the setup should work well.

“There could be a lot of quarterfinal and semifinal games that are able to just stay here in [Frederick] County or in Winchester,” Barbe said. “And if we have to go to Liberty or Orange or Charlottesville, those trips aren’t way out of whack. There’s no trips all the way to the South unless you’ve already qualified for the state tournament, so that’s good.”

There have been some recent instances in which two Winchester-Frederick County schools have advanced to the state tournament in a given sport — Sherando and Handley in girls’ tennis in the spring of 2023, James Wood and Millbrook in baseball in the spring of 2022, Millbrook and Sherando in girls’ basketball in the winter of 2022 — but that won’t be possible in the Region 4D playoff system.

Many states have single-elimination postseasons, so local teams will just have to be prepared if they face another challenging local opponent early in the postseason. For example, James Wood and Handley have met in the Class 4 Northwestern District championship game in girls’ soccer for four straight seasons with the knowledge that even if they lost, their season would continue in the region tournament. If they meet again this year in the postseason, it will be an elimination game.

Individual tennis

One area where losing a North sub-region match won’t end your season is in tennis singles and doubles. Individual tennis tournaments need two days to complete, and multiple matches can be played in one day for these competitions, unlike in team sports.

The top four singles players and doubles teams will make the sub-region tournaments in the North and South (Handley will host the North, E.C. Glass will host the South). The four sub-region finalists will then move on to the Region 4D tournament (boys at Handley, girls at E.C. Glass) and will feature cross-bracketing in the semifinals. The North champion will play the South runner-up, and the South champion will play the North runner-up. The two winners will then play for the region title and a state berth.

“We tried to make sure the kids are getting the product they deserve and by the same token, it’s feasible travel-wise,” Prosser said.

Golf and cross countryGolf and cross country are two sports in which both teams and individuals can advance through the postseason. (See the Aug. 2 edition of The Winchester Star or go to www.winchesterstar.com and click on one of the five high school sections for details on golf). All teams in Region 4D will participate in the Region 4D cross country meet, which will take place on Nov. 1 at Kernstown Battlefield. The top three teams and top five individuals outside of those teams qualify for the state meet.

Other sports

Wrestling teams will be able to enter everyone in their starting lineup for the Region 4D tournament. Wrestlers will be seeded based on several factors, not just winning percentage.

In swimming, indoor track and outdoor track, discussions about how many people will be able to compete in the Region 4D meets are still taking place.

Though it won’t matter for the postseason, Northwestern District tournaments, meets and competitions will still be held for golf, cross country, cheerleading, wrestling, swimming, and indoor and outdoor track & field.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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