It's safe to say the IHSA won't receive any Christmas cards with a Naperville postmark on it this year.
In a stunning 11th-hour development last week, area powers Benet, Naperville Central and Naperville North discovered that they had been placed in the same volleyball regional.
Seeding for the upcoming playoffs was completed last week. Based on records and strength of schedule, it was assumed that Benet and the Napervilles would get three of the top four seeds at the 4A Neuqua Valley sectional.
Now only one team will get out of a regional. Talk about a lump of coal.
"If you deserve the No. 1 and No. 2 seed it doesn't seem right to stick teams in the same regional," Benet coach Brad Baker said. "It's hard to understand what the IHSA is thinking and it seems to change on a yearly basis."
How did this happen?
Until this year, teams in this sectional were assigned to one sectional "complex" and seeded accordingly.
It changed this year when Yorkville was bumped up to 4A and put in the Neuqua Valley sectional. Under IHSA rules, if a school falls outside the IHSA's predrawn "Chicagoland box" the sectional is divided into geographical regionals with the idea to limit travel.
Here's the catch: Yorkville is all of 15 (yes, 15) miles from sectional host Neuqua. Yorkville's regular-season schedule is made up primarily of teams inside that Chicagoland box.
What infuriated area coaches even more is that due to a technical glitch they did not find out about the change in format until last week when they went to seed teams.
"We didn't even get to seed properly," Baker said. "To do that at the last minute, they would never do that to other sports like football or basketball."
Efforts to get the IHSA to revert back to the previous sectional format were denied last week.
Regional host Naperville Central, though, has filed an appeal to IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman.
"There is verbiage in the IHSA handbook that can be interpreted a couple ways," Naperville Central coach Brie Isaacson said. "We're hoping that the IHSA will do what is right."
The IHSA has long stated that equal geographic representation, moreso than competitiveness, is an ultimate goal for its state series. It doesn't sit well with coaches like Isaacson, but this move takes the cake.
"It was hard for me to look my kids in the eye and tell them what happened," Isaacson said. "Basically the IHSA is saying that all the hard work my kids put in means nothing. It's hard for people like me to understand."
Glenbard East's Autumnfest tournament is traditionally one of the area's best.
It is hard to remember the field ever being this loaded.
Two-time defending champion Benet (24-2) is the top seed in a tournament that includes No. 2 seed Mother McAuley (20-2), No. 3 West Aurora (23-3), No. 4 Joliet Catholic (23-4), No. 5 Glenbard West (27-0) and No. 6 Naperville Central (20-6).
Benet, a perfect 7-for-7 in tournaments the last two years, beat Joliet Catholic in last year's final.
"It's going to be fun," Baker said. "We're in this tournament because there is great competition. This year it seems as deep as it's ever been."
Show-Me Week for Hilltoppers:
There is no team with more to prove at Autumnfest than Glenbard West.
The Hilltoppers, who last week clinched a share of their first West Suburban Silver title since 1984 last week and were awarded a No. 1 sectional seed, will get an idea if they belong among the state's elite. With the Silver down compared to recent years, Glenbard West now more than ever will get to show what it's made of.
Two years ago, an undefeated, similarly unheralded West Chicago team advanced to the Autumnfest semis before losing to McAuley and Joliet Catholic.
The Hilltoppers have never made the Gold bracket at Autumnfest, but last year did beat Crystal Lake South, Prairie Ridge and Naperville Central to win the Silver.
"We'll see -- I think we can play with these teams," Glenbard West coach Pete Mastandrea said. "We're excited to get the opportunity."
But first things first.
Glenbard West can win the West Suburban Silver outright tonight, but it won't be easy at a surging Downers Grove North team much-improved after an 0-5 start. On Thursday the Hilltoppers play Addison Trail -- a potential regional opponent -- and Friday's pool at Autumnfest is no picnic with Lemont and Huntley.
"It means a lot to our kids to try to run the table in the conference. That's step one," Mastandrea said. "This is a big week for us. It will prepare us for the playoff run."
Follow Josh on Twitter @jwelge96