Archie Williams PE Teacher Rene Ayala also coaches the boys varsity soccer team.
Archie Williams PE Teacher Rene Ayala also coaches the boys varsity soccer team.
Isaac Terry

Half the games, double the pressure: MCAL sports adjust

Since the establishment of the Marin County Athletic League (MCAL) in 1959, soccer and basketball teams have played each other in their division twice per season. However, during the 2023-24 season, soccer and basketball teams only played each other once, decreasing the number of games per week. 

Various factors contributed to the cutting of games. According to Archie Williams Athletic Director Jett Russell, schools find it difficult to manage the many sporting events.

“Having three games in a week was a crunch for a lot of schools. There’s less time for the athletes to recover. There’s less time to get quality practice time in, especially right in the heart of the league season,” Russell said.

The MCAL league includes teams from eight schools: Archie Williams, Redwood High School, Tamalpais High School, San Rafael High School, Branson High School, Marin Catholic High School, San Marin High School, and Novato High School. In the past, each team played 16 MCAL games per season, one home game and one away game against each opponent. Now, with the number of games halved, some schools are scheduling more sporting events outside of MCAL.

You don’t get an opportunity to play opponents twice, which means that every single game is magnified from a competitive standpoint

— Rene Ayala

“There’s also an opportunity for schools that have gaps [in their game schedules] to go ahead and schedule non-league games with league opponents or go outside of our league and get other games as well,” Russell said. 

Non-league games don’t affect a team’s MCAL record, but they impact a team’s ability to qualify for postseason contests. They are often played against teams from neighboring counties, which requires more traveling than MCAL games.  

“Due to the amount of scheduling outside of Marin County, we had to do an increased amount of travel, which can be tough on players and parents. More tournaments, which means more back-to-back games, which means more taxing energy and physicality on the players to play three back-to-back games and tournaments, more risk of injury,” Archie Williams Head Basketball Coach Russell Bauer said.

Many staff members, students, and families enjoy viewing sports games. Unfortunately, fewer games in Marin give the community fewer opportunities to spectate. Having fewer games raises the stakes, putting more pressure on athletes to perform well. This “heavy level of importance” is a double-edged sword. Some athletes thrive under the pressure of a larger audience, while others may struggle. 

“You don’t get an opportunity to play opponents twice, which means that every single game is magnified from a competitive standpoint,” Archie Williams Head Soccer Coach Rene Ayala said. 

Playing fewer games significantly decreases the margin for error in qualifying for playoffs. Some schools benefit from this, as a few lucky wins can put them in a position to play in the MCAL playoffs, but others might not be as fortunate. An unlucky loss may eliminate them from contention for the league title. 

“While potentially the shortened season for MCALs could impact some schools’ ability to get in the playoffs for the [MCAL] league, it does allow teams to go into deeper postseason runs. Instead of 16 league games, you’ve got eight, and [that] allows [teams] to get more contests elsewhere as well. So it’s not that you’re losing games, you’re just losing league competition and potentially more opportunities to get into the [MCAL] playoffs,” Russell said.

The MCAL postseason consists of the North Coast Section (NCS), California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Northern Section, and CIF State playoffs. All contests are single elimination and tournament style.

For an MCAL team to qualify for NCS they need a .500 win rate or higher in the MCAL season or throughout scheduled non-league games. If an MCAL soccer team achieves this, they will participate in NCS divisions I-IV. If an MCAL basketball team does this, they will play in either NCS open division, which is the highest level, or NCS divisions I-VI, depending on their school size and skill.

Archie Williams Athletic Director Jett Russell manages Archie Williams Athletics. (Dempsey Boone)

From there onwards, the qualification process varies between basketball and soccer, based on their postseason performance. 

The switch in the number of league games has sparked both negative and positive opinions from players.

“I have really enjoyed being able to travel out of Marin to play against new opponents, [however] I would definitely prefer to play more games… [double round] also allows teams to make comebacks if they didn’t start the season well,” said senior varsity soccer player Cole Sullivan. “I did really enjoy being able to play every team twice…it also gave us a chance to play at every MCAL field.”

In the 2023-24 season Archie Williams soccer benefited from the reduction of MCAL games. The soccer team went all the way to the MCAL, NCS Division III and the CIF division IV playoff finals but lost all three games.

Archie Williams basketball also benefited from the new format of MCAL games in the 2023-24 season. The basketball team made it to the MCAL semi-finals as well as the NCS Division III semi-finals, where they lost. 

“I prefer 16 [games] but 8 [games] was more intense because every game felt like a playoff game. The best thing about 16 is less travel and more MCAL intensity and strategy,” said senior varsity basketball player Owen Bugas. “Playing every team home and away is also super nice rather than just [playing] random [courts].”

The new MCAL model will continue into the 2024-25 season to complete the two year trial cycle. Basketball and soccer teams will take on the same opponents for the 2024-25 MCAL season, with schools alternating hosting. 

“A lot of people are not happy, which I understand, but there has to be two years. That’s how it works,” Russell said. 

Due to the controversy from both coaches and players alike, the MCAL league is currently planning on returning to the old format of games in the 2025-26 season. This change will allow for every MCAL team to play each other at home and away. Returning to twice the amount of MCAL games will relieve some of the pressure on individual matchups and allow for players, coaches, and parents to enjoy a less stressful season. 

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Pitch
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of Archie Williams High School. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs. Each donation will receive a magazine subscription for a year (6 copies a year), and become a part of the important work our publication is doing.
$35 -- Subscription to the magazine
$50 -- Silver Sponsorship
$75 -- Gold Sponsorship
$100 -- Platinum Sponsorship

More to Discover
Donate to The Pitch
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All inappropriate comments will be deleted (vulgarity, threats, offensive content), please keep it appropriate.
All The Pitch Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *