Mater Dei, Harvard-Westlake take top two seeds in boys water polo playoffs


LOS ALAMITOS – Changes might be coming to the format of the Southern Section’s boys water polo playoffs but there was plenty of familiarity Saturday with the release of the postseason pairings.

Rivals Mater Dei (25-2) and Harvard-Westlake of Studio City (21-2) took their normal, opposite sides of the Division 1 bracket, the top-ranked Monarchs seeded first and the No. 2-ranked Wolverines second.

Related: Inside O.C. Water Polo Podcast

Their seeding order was reversed last season but it was Mater Dei first and Harvard-Westlake second in 2013.

The heavyweights emerged from their separate corners to reach the finals the past two seasons. Harvard-Westlake captured both matches to derail the Monarchs’ streak of three consecutive Division 1 titles.

But Division 1 appears poised to challenge Mater Dei and Harvard-Westlake this postseason. Loyola of Los Angeles (22-4), which recently beat Mater Dei for the first time in three tries, earned the No. 4 seed.

“When I heard about (Loyola beating Mater Dei), I was shocked,” said Kristine Palle, the section’s assistant commissioner in charge of water polo. “Some of these teams are coming up hot right now.”

Huntington Beach (21-6) or Orange Lutheran (19-8) looms as the potential semifinal challenger for the reigning Division 1 champion.

Huntington Beach and Orange Lutheran were seeded third and sixth, respectively, and could meet in the quarterfinals Saturday. Loyola could face Corona del Mar (17-8) in another quarterfinal, the first major round of the tournament.

A first-round match between 12-time Division 1 champion Newport Harbor (16-10) and host and 11-time Division 1 champion Long Beach Wilson (13-14) highlights Wednesday.

But if a proposed competitive equity format is passed by the Southern Section Council on Jan. 27, next season’s Division 1 pairings might offer more intrigue and more league champions in the first round.

The plan, which would affect other sports besides water polo with bracketed playoffs, would place teams in divisions based on a power ranking, which includes two years of postseason data and strength of schedule.

Teams will still qualify for the playoffs from their leagues but in the playoffs, could go their separate ways. And divisions also could be adjusted each season.

“I want people to believe this is an evolution,” section commissioner Rob Wigod said Saturday at the section office. “We’re starting with this, (which) is pretty similar to basketball. … It’s a culture change for us.”

In the competitive equity model, defending Division 2 champion Foothill (24-2), which earned its second consecutive top seed on Saturday, and Division 2 second-seeded Dana Hills (22-6) might find themselves in Division 1.

“It would make a very strong and deep bracket,” Palle said of the proposed playoff model. “It depends who you ask (if) it’s better.”

Segerstrom (23-4) also earned a top seed in Division 6. The Jaguars were the top-seeded team in Division 7 two seasons ago when they captured their first section title. Segerstrom finished as the Division 6 runner-up last season to Malibu.

Orange County also is well-represented in Division 3. Defending champion Laguna Beach (15-12) and Capistrano Valley (17-11), who faced off Thursday, are seeded second and third behind Murrieta Valley (21-6).

Tuesday’s wild-card round is highlighted by Trabuco Hills-Brea Olinda in Division 3 and Cypress-Ocean View in Division 6. As expected, there were no at-large entries in the playoffs.

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