CIF water polo pairings loaded with intrigue


LOS ALAMITOS A fast-rising top seed in Division 1. An ultra-tough lower bracket with two traditional powers and Orange County’s No. 1 ranked team. A high-profile return of at-large berths.

The release of the boys water polo playoff pairings Saturday delivered the promised intrigue along with welcomed invitations to a newly-organized postseason, which begins Tuesday.

Division 1 again made the biggest splash. Surging Loyola of Los Angeles out-dueled Orange County’s No. 1-ranked team, Huntington Beach (21-3), for the top seed in a reshuffled 16-team division selected before the season on competitive equity.

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Powered by a league victory against season-long No. 1 Harvard-Westlake of Studio City on Wednesday, the Cubs (20-6) leaped from sixth in the Division 1 coaches’ poll to the top seed.

“(Loyola has) played really well the last few weeks,” said Harvard-Westlake coach Brian Flacks, part of the coaches’ committee that selected the Cubs for the No. 1 seed.

Loyola also defeated Mater Dei on Oct. 26 but its resume includes two losses against Orange Lutheran. Loyola didn’t play Huntington Beach but still swept aside the popular body-of-work argument with its victory against Harvard-Westlake.

The Cubs, seeking their first Division 1 title, were the only Division 1 team to beat the Wolverines.

“I don’t think there were a whole lot of ways (the top seed) could go,” said Kristine Palle, CIF-SS assistant commissioner in charge of aquatics. “Once Loyola won that league championship, you don’t have a lot of choices (under CIF rules). Harvard-Westlake has beaten Huntington twice. That’s what is so difficult."

Harvard-Westlake (23-2) took the No. 2 seed and joined a lower-half of the bracket with No. 3 Huntington Beach (21-3), Mater Dei (21-6) and Foothill (22-5).

Defending champion Mater Dei and Harvard-Westlake have played for the past three Division 1 titles. If Mater Dei and Huntington Beach each win their first-round games Wednesday, they would clash in the quarterfinals Nov. 12 at Mater Dei.

Harvard-Westlake could await the winner in the semifinals Nov. 16.

“Obviously, we are on the bad end of things,” Huntington Beach coach Sasa Branisavljevic said. “Mater Dei … that’s going to be a very emotional, exhausting game. If we get past that, we get Harvard, who we haven’t beaten before and they’re getting Felix (Brozyna-Vilim) back, so they are going to be full strength.

“But we are ready. We are not shying away from any challenges. We are in fact, embracing them because if we win this one, it’s going to be in the most glorious possible way there is.”

Flacks said Brozyna-Vilim, a 6-foot-5 center who hasn’t played since Sept. 17, is hopeful to return in the playoffs.

Loyola could face the Newport Harbor-El Toro winner in the quarterfinals. No. 4 seed Orange Lutheran could clash with Corona del Mar.

“If water polo fans don’t come out to the quarterfinal games, they’re going to be missing out on a lot,” Orange Lutheran coach Steve Carrera said recently.

Orange County landed top seeds in Division 2 (Laguna Beach, 18-9), Division 4 (Northwood, 17-12) and Division 7 (Katella, 14-2).

Northwood earned the spot as an at-large entry from the Pacific Coast League. The Timberwolves top a 32-team bracket featuring 25 automatic entries and five at-large berths.

“We’re thankful our consistency and hard work paid off,” Northwood coach Kyle Kim-E said.

Yorba Linda (Division 3), La Habra (Division 5) and Saddleback (Division 7) also earned at-large berths, which haven’t been available in recent years.

All the county teams that finished in the top-two (in a four-team league) or top-three (in a five or six team league) made the playoffs.

San Clemente (13-15), ranked fifth earlier this week in Division 3, missed the draw as the No. 4 finisher in the South Coast because it was below .500, which is needed to apply for an at-large berth.

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