Even before this season, knowing his team would have to win the OCC-Capital Division, New Albany High School girls tennis coach Marc Thomas couldn't contain his anticipation for the conference's new postseason setup.
For the first time, the first-place teams in the OCC's four divisions will square off to determine the conference champion. The teams will meet Saturday, Sept. 21, on one of their home courts.
That same day, the second-place teams from each division will compete against each other, the third-place teams will face each other and so on, at separate sites.
"Last year, it would have been (Dublin) Jerome, (Upper) Arlington, us and (Pickerington) Central. That's four of the top six or seven teams in the state. How can you not like that?" Thomas said. "Those four teams were the top teams in the area and four of the top 10 in the state, all right here. The talent that will be there (this year) is incredible."
In one respect, the power hasn't shifted. New Albany won the Capital Division and will be joined by Jerome (Cardinal Division), Pickerington Central (Ohio Division) and UA (Central Division) in the OCC championship showdown.
New Albany was ranked No. 1 in the first Ohio Tennis Coaches Association state poll last week. UA was third and Central was seventh.
Dan Witteman, who is in his 28th season as Grove City's coach, has been part of an exploratory committee researching the feasibility and benefits of a new tournament format the past few years. He believes pitting teams of similar talent against one another adds intrigue.
"If it's a league tournament like before and you've finished sixth, seventh or eighth in your division, you'll go to the tournaments and just play those same teams again. You wonder, what's the point? Why again?" said Witteman, who also serves as manager of the Division I girls district tournament. "I really think this is going to be a more meaningful experience for all players and teams. Your sixth, seventh and eighth (-place) teams have something to play for."
Divisional champions were determined solely by seven league matches. Teams earned a maximum of 42 points -- one point for each court won in a match, plus one point for each match won. In the past, the league champions were determined by the combination of points earned in dual matches and the league tournament.
The new format will be followed in boys tennis starting next spring.
Because some league matches scheduled for Sept. 12 were postponed because of bad weather, the brackets and sites for all eight OCC events were not expected to be finalized until Sept. 17. Each event will be played at the home site of one of the participating teams.
All singles players and doubles teams are guaranteed two matches.
The OCC is not referring to the new event as a team tournament because under Ohio High School Athletic Association rules, such a designation would make the event count as two matches against the regular-season limit of 20.
"We'll see how it goes," UA coach Shawn Stamps said. "The first-place teams are pretty much the four who usually qualify for (the OTCA Division I state tournament) and they're playing each other in the (semifinals). In that sense, I'm thinking this (new format) will be great. I get to see more of what's out there and it'll help us in the long run. It'll help everyone as far as the high level of competition."