O.C. teams get lofty seeds for girls water polo playoffs


LOS ALAMITOS – A Division 1 wild-card match screamed with intrigue, and potential displeasure. Three first-round games in the division sprung with fascination.

For a swan-song performance before an extreme makeover, the CIF-Southern Section’s girls water polo playoff draw delivered early interest for the road to the finals Feb. 27 in Irvine.

Leading the way with Saturday’s release of the playoff schedule was the pairing of host Santa Margarita (15-13) and Huntington Beach (17-8) in a Division 1 wild-card match Tuesday.

The third-place teams from the Trinity and Sunset leagues, respectively, have been ranked in Orange County throughout the winter and should offer fifth-seeded Foothill a challenge in the Round of 16 on Wednesday.

“We both had really good seasons and do not deserve to be playing in that (wild card) game,” Oilers coach Mark Canner said in a text message.

Santa Margarita coach Brian Weathersby also didn’t like the draw.

“I am disappointed,” he said in a text message. “We worked so hard, played a tough schedule to prepare for CIF.”

Section assistant commissioner Kristine Palle said third-place teams are paired when possible and there were few options because of section rules that separate teams from the same league.

“There was not an option,” she said. “It’s hard. … We give so much credit to your league placing, it can skew things.”

Huntington Beach beat visiting Santa Margarita, 13-10, in a nonleague game early January.

The winner of the wild-card match will join first-round games between county-ranked Mater Dei and visiting Newport Harbor and host Los Alamitos and Santa Barbara.

Tough first-round games will likely be more common next year when the section moves to a competitive equity model for playoff seedings.

Two-time defending Division 1 champion Laguna Beach earned the No. 1 seed in Division 1. The Breakers (25-2) were followed by No. 2 Orange Lutheran, No. 3 San Marcos and No. 4 Dos Pueblos of Goleta.

The county racked up the lofty seeds. Defending Division 2 champion El Toro (18-10) earned the No. 2 behind Murrieta Valley. The Chargers are 0-3 against the Nighthawks (22-7).

In Division 3, Troy (23-6) claimed the fourth seed on the half of the bracket with No. 1 and defending champion Arroyo Grande.

Mission Viejo (23-6) is seeded third in Division 4. The Diablos are on the same half of the bracket as No. 2 Riverside Poly, which beat Mission Viejo, 11-8, in the semifinals last season. Defending champion Royal of Simi Valley is seeded first.

Orange County also looks strong in Division 6. Ocean View (23-5) is seeded second to Santa Monica.

But with all intrigue and high seeds, there are again first-round games in Division 1 that look like mismatches. Those will likely disappear next season with the new playoff model.

“You’re not going to see as much (lopsided results),” Palle said. "There's not going to be a lot of sacrificial third-place teams."

Before next season, teams will be placed in divisions based on computer-generated power-rankings. For water polo, the Southern Section will use software designed and tailored by Bowl Championship Series mastermind and sports statistician Kenneth Massey, Palle said.

The Division 3 pairings were reworked after their initial release. The Bay League didn't submit Peninsula -- its third-place team and the No. 8 seed overall -- as a playoff entry, Palle said. Peninsula was first assigned a wild-card game that could have paired them in the first round with second-seeded ML King but the entire bracket was then reworked.

"It was a clerical error," Palle said. "We went ahead and did our work based on the information they gave us."

The changes switched games for Sunny Hills (Corona instead of Alemany) and La Habra (La Serna instead of Harvard).

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