PEORIA — The playoffs got longer and better for high school boys and girls cross country and golf teams after a decision Wednesday from the Illinois High School Association.


The IHSA board voted to expand the state series for those sports by adding a second round of state playoffs.


Both sports will now follow their regional rounds with sectionals.


It's a move that could leave the door open to speculation on adding a state finals tournament in those sports later. It all depends, of course, on the ongoing COVID-19 situation.


"I think it's encouraging the IHSA is adjusting, still considering things," said Limestone junior Wilson Georges, who has the top Class 2A effort in the 3-mile this season with a 14-minute, 50-second outing. "My feeling is, we had a regional already scheduled, now we have a sectional, too, and this could very well lead into a state finals round.


"There's room for that. It's just exciting for us to have another race to run.


"I've been training really hard. I looked at our conference meet as most important, it's being run at Detweiller and that's a fast course. So I aimed my training toward that.


"For me, this will be about maintaining peak for regionals and sectionals. It's more a mental change than a physical one for me. Now we know our season will end later, and I'll adjust for that."


IHSA executive director Craig Anderson, in a prepared statement, said:


"Despite the challenges of this school year, our board has remained committed to providing the most rewarding postseason experiences possible. Given the relative success we have had safely conducting cross country and golf this fall, the board asked our staff during the (Sept. 14) board meeting to explore the possibility of expanding beyond regionals to conduct sectionals as well."


In golf, the top two teams and top four individuals in each regional will advance to sectional play. Cross country will advance five teams from each regional to sectionals, with no changes in the individual qualifier field.


Golf sectionals are now slated for the week of Oct. 12-17. Cross country sectionals are to run Oct. 29-31. Host sites and meet dates will be announced later on IHSA.org.


"I think it's fantastic," Notre Dame boys golf coach Ryan Julius said. "I was very surprised and excited to hear that. We only have one senior on the team — Rhett Bianchi — and it's been melodramatic for us knowing he's working in his final season just to have it end in a regional. Now he's got a sectional.


"I'm driving over to Metamora right now for a varsity practice, and Rhett doesn't even know this news yet. I can't wait to tell him."


Then he put Bianchi on the phone and broke the news to him:


Julius: "Rhett, they extended the season and now you have sectionals."


Bianchi: "What? We have sectionals? Really? That's fantastic. First time I'm hearing this. It was so disappointing when our season was shortened to regionals. So now we have a sectional, that means a lot to me, to all of us. This is my final year, I get to play the big brother role and lead the team and now it's going to last longer. This is such great news."


And off he went to tee up his first drive of practice.


The IHSA staff, meanwhile, said it attempted to maintain COVID regions and keep participant levels as low as possible when making assignments, but in some cases, generally those involving schools on or near a COVID border, schools were assigned to a tournament outside of their COVID region.


"The kids are excited, they've been texting me about how thrilled they are with this," Notre Dame cross country head coach Dan Gray said. "It's good news for us. It's also frustrating news.


"We were all operating under the previous schedule put out by IHSA, which had our season ending with the regionals. So we adjusted our training so that our kids would peak for those regionals.


"Now they'll have to hold that peak performance for an extra week. Some kids are better at holding peak than others are. But we're happy to get the chance to compete.


"We haven't really had any huge COVID cases coming out of these meets, they've been carefully and well-run."


Said Anderson:


"Given the timing, our greatest challenge will be finding hosts, especially in cross country. We have been granted exemptions to compete outside the COVID Regions in instances, for example, where assigning schools on or near a region border creates better balance in the number of participants at a site.


"Based on the feedback we have received, we expect some schools will choose not to participate beyond regionals. We respect those decisions, but still want to provide as many opportunities as possible."


The IHSA board created an exemption to the season limitation rule to allow for participation in the cross country sectionals. It also modified its conditions to allow greater scheduling flexibility.


There were no changes made to the postseason structure for IHSA girls tennis and girls swimming and diving, which both begin postseason competition at the sectional level.


Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.