WESTERLY — When the Rhode Island Interscholastic League announced that swimming would have a playoff bracket to determine its division champions, it was not well received by many.
In the past, each division had its own meet with all the teams participating. There were no brackets with teams advancing to each round like a conventional tournament. And from that division meet, a team champion was determined.
A week later, a state meet, which featured qualified swimmers from all divisions, took place at Brown University. A team state champion was crowned from that event.
The state meet packs the house at Brown — a top-notch facility — and is the premier event of the swim season. But the coronavirus pandemic made those events an impossibility this year.
"A lot of people were whining about [playoff brackets] in the beginning," Westerly High girls swim coach Jim Knapp said Sunday after the Bulldogs lost to Classical in the Division II championship meet. "But I'm very thankful for those that cooked this up. It was very refreshing in a year we couldn't have the division meet."
Westerly reached the D-II finals with "tournament" victories over South Kingstown and Wheeler School.
Knapp said some consideration should be given to having both events next season — a playoff bracket for each division and a state meet for individuals.
"I wish we could do both. But this is better than a division meet," Knapp said. "We could have the playoff brackets for the division and then do a state meet. The playoff brackets are very exciting in terms of winning and moving on."
Girls and boys tennis teams follow a similar format. Teams compete in brackets for division titles. Individuals compete in qualifying events and then come together for a state tournament to crown singles and doubles champions. Team scores are not kept at the singles and doubles tournaments.
"I kind of like both. The elimination bracket is something new, something I've never done before in swimming," Westerly senior Melanie Gomes said. "I've done it in lacrosse. It's kind of motivating because every game you win, you get more excited for the next one."
Westerly boys coach Thomas Weismuller is a bit more ardent in his support for a postseason of bracket team competition.
"I've been an advocate for that. I actually never liked the other format because you lose the team camaraderie," Weismuller said on Saturday, after the Bulldogs lost to North Providence in the D-II title meet. "We are all supporting one another as individuals [in the one division meet] so there is camaraderie in that respect. But this is so much better.
"Head-to-head competition in a bracket, every sport chooses that for a reason. It is the most superior method for a playoff, and I hope they stick with it."
Westerly senior Madigan Hiltz, who set a school record in the 200 individual medley and won two races Saturday, likes both events.
"I was actually less nervous about the division meet than I am these head-to-head ones," Hiltz said. "At the big meet, I get to go in and worry about how I am going to swim. But at the dual meet, it's a team experience. There are pluses and minuses to both. I think everyone swims better in the dual meets."
It's not expected the league will make a change for next season.
Hiltz said regardless of the format and the challenges of the coronavirus, the team was glad to be swimming this season.
"If you asked me four months ago if I thought we would be here swimming, I would not have seen it coming," he said.