The changing landscape of the Foothills Council has presented new challenges and possibilities for the upcoming fall sports season.
The league expanded from eight to 10 teams with the addition of Amsterdam and Schuylerville last spring. Now, instead of one eight-team division, the Foothills Council will be divided into two five-team divisions.
Gloversville, Johnstown, Broadalbin-Perth, Amsterdam and Scotia-Glenville will make up the Southern Division, while the Northern Division will include Glens Falls, Hudson Falls, South Glens Falls, Queensbury and Schuylerville.
Amsterdam’s Madison Healy (4) and Gloversville defender Emily Gifford (2) battle for the ball during an Oct. 21, 2013, non-league game at Gloversville High School. Gloversville and Amsterdam will be division rivals this season in the new-look Foothills Council. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)
Teams will play all the teams in their divisions twice and each team in the opposite grouping once. At the end of regular-season league play, a championship game will be played between the top two teams in the division to determine the outright league champion. The remainder of the teams will play crossover games against the team that finished in the same spot in the standings.
The exception in the fall sports is football, girls swimming and field hockey. Football switched to classification play seasons ago and field hockey will have eight teams since Amsterdam and Broadalbin-Perth do not field teams in the sport. Broadalbin-Perth and Schuylerville do not field swim teams while Hudson Falls and South Glens Falls swim as a combined program.
In volleyball, the realignment places three teams that played for sectional championship in 2013 - Johnstown, Gloversville and Broadalbin-Perth - in the same division.
Johnstown and Gloversville met in a five-game thriller in the Section II Class B championship match, with the Lady Bills advancing to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championship game before falling to Owego Free Academy.
Broadalbin-Perth advanced to the Section II Class C championship match before falling to Voorheesville.
"We will be in a very strong division, that is for sure," Johnstown coach Heather McGuire said. "But also, now we will be facing some of the other top teams just once. In league play, it is nice to see a team the first time around and then improve on whatever you saw the last time."
Gloversville coach Duane Hicks echoed McGuire's comment, saying "It doesn't give you a second chance if you lose to make the adjustments and see how you have improved. But if you are fortunate enough to win the first time then it doesn't give them a chance to get back at you the second time. I don't think there is a single pushover in either division. My approach won't change. Like with any loss, you learn from it and move on. Even if you win, it is still learn from it and not pat yourself on the back too much because you have another tough opponent coming at you in a couple of days."
The Broadalbin-Perth Patriots have won or shared the Foothills Council boys soccer title three of the past five seasons. Coach Brian Henry said the split into two divisions is a positive move for the league.
"Obviously, the dynamics of the league have changed, I think for the better," Henry said. "It is always nice to get new programs in so kids can experience what other programs are doing. We have experienced that Schuylerville is a quality squad and they will be going to the North Division. Amsterdam, who we are very familiar with through the years of the Fulton County Cup, will join us in the South. We are looking forward to it. It is unfortunate in one regard that we are only going to see the northern teams once. We have established a rivalry with many of them. The travel will be easier and something the schools were probably looking at it as a win-win situation being able to save some money on travel costs."
Gloversville girls soccer coach Mike Hallenbeck said that the realignment will be beneficial for his young Lady Dragons squad.
"This year one of our goals is just to be competitive and to be in every game," he said. "I think we are going to have a good team, and playing the local teams and playing more games closer to home will help us. I think we will get more fans from both teams at every game, which helps the girls. It is nice that you only have to face the northern division once, but also the teams in our division are all quality teams."
The geographic layout of the divisions also has proven beneficial for teams like the Johnstown Sir Bills golf team when it takes to the road for matches.
"Our schedule is set up where we host Schuylerville and Hudson Falls and travel to South Glens Falls, Queensbury and Glens Falls first, all before school opens," Johnstown golf coach Mark Ralbovsky said. "After that our longest trip, before the Foothills Championships, is to play Scotia-Glenville, and that is at Stadium Golf Course."
With the split into divisions, there will now be a Foothills Council championship game between the top two teams in the division with the remainder playing crossovers. Setting up the title match for golf presents another challenge.
"Everybody was concerned about not being able to get on their course that quickly," Ralbovsky said. "It is something that is being worked out."
However, playing for an outright championship is an idea coaches have embraced.
"The upside is that the way the league is set up now we will have the crossover games and then the league championship at the end of the season, which is kind of cool to have an actual playoff system," Henry said. "It will be different, but I think change is good and we have all embraced it."
The Johnstown Lady Bills are the defending Foothills Council champions, and coach McGuire likes the idea of a competitive championship match.
"Coming off being league champions last year, there was little to dispute, but teams always have the feeling you had the longer drive or my kid was sick," McGuire said. "It will be interesting that the two strongest teams will duke it out in one last game to determine the champion. There is something about a championship team that just loves that situation."