Fri, Nov 05 2010 05:33 PM Posted By: Phillip Brents
The San Diego Section’s new three-division boys water polo playoff tournament is set to debut next week and the Metro Conference could land a bounty of teams in the expanded post-season pool. Local coaches are keeping their fingers crossed accordingly.
The conference has two automatic qualifiers — the Mesa League and South Bay League champions. Both were determined Tuesday: the Eastlake Titans captured their third consecutive Mesa League championship with a 19-1 victory against east side arch rival Bonita Vista while the Hilltop Lancers won outright honors to this year’s South Bay League title with a 9-8 victory against longtime rival Mar Vista after sharing the league title the previous two seasons.
Hilltop’s undisputed league championship is its first since 1987. The Lancers shared a rare tri-championship with Mater Dei Catholic and Mar Vista last year and a co-championship with Mar Vista two years ago.
“This is our first undefeated (league) season,” HHS coach John Salts said. “We owe it to the hard work and dedication of our kids.”
The Titans have gone undefeated the last three seasons in the Mesa League.
“It’s a good feeling,” EHS coach Chris Barrick said. “We owe it to consistency.The kids have bought into the system and also are playing club ball. They’re also starting to play the sport at a younger age.”
Boys water polo has gradually evolved within the section from a one division playoff bracket (1967 to 1989) to a two-division bracket (1990 to 2009) and now to three enrollment tiers. The addition of a second playoff division essentially doubled the number of teams experiencing post-season competition. Last year’s two division field included 32 teams — 16 each in Division I and Division II.
This year’s playoff field will include 36 teams, with 12 teams qualifying in each of the three divisions.
While the playoff field will only experience a modest increase with the addition of a third division, the introduction of a third division championship more importantly will serve to effectively break up the ongoing domination by a handful of elite teams. Carlsbad has won seven consecutive Division I titles while teams from the powerful City Conference Western League have combined to win 13 consecutive Division II titles.
Dominant teams formerly in the Division II bracket are now in the Division III bracket, with a smattering of schools formerly in Division I and Division II moving over to constitute the “new” Division II field.
Many see the format shift as long overdue.
“The big change is that with three divisions, we will have three CIF champions — it’s time we get in some new blood,” longtime aquatics advocate Dick Draz said.
The section seeding meeting is Monday. First-round match-ups follow through the week, with quarterfinal quadruple headers planned Friday (Division II) and Saturday (Division I and Division III) at La Jolla High School.
Semifinals follow Nov. 16-18, with three championship games to be played on a single day — Saturday, Nov. 20 — at LJHS.
The top four-seeded teams in each division receive byes in the first round (thus setting up potentially more competitive first-round match-ups).
Hilltop will set sail in the Division II playoffs on Wednesday, Nov. 10, at a site to be determined as well as against an opponent to be determined. As a league champion, the Lancers would host any first-round game provided they did not draw another league champion in the pairings.
Salts is hoping his team is seeded eighth through 10th among the 12 teams in the division.
Eastlake will fire up its playoff engines in first-round play on Thursday, Nov. 11. A home game in the first round also is a strong possibility, though a site has not yet been set. Barrick believes his team could receive a seed somewhere in the middle of the pack, possibly eighth or ninth.
The Titans hosted a “home” game two years ago at the Las Palmas pool in National City but drew a road assignment last year.
Eastlake is still looking for the school’s first-ever playoff victory and that has been a focus for this year’s squad.
Hilltop is returning to post-season play for the first time since 2008. Mar Vista won the tie-breaker as the South Bay League’s automatic playoff qualifier in 2009.
Hilltop faced an early 2-0 deficit against Mar Vista on a pair of six-on-five goals but reeled off three unanswered goals to lead 3-2 at the end of the first quarter. “It was just like the Mater Dei game,” Salts said, punctuating the sentence with a slight frown.
A run of four consecutive goals erased an early 2-1 deficit to give the Lancers a 5-2 edge en route to a 7-3 halftime lead. Salts said a spectacular outside shot by Stuart Sokil was the catalyst.
But the Mariners’ tough defensive tactics made it a different game in the second half — one that saw the visitors drop the deficit to 8-5, then 8-6, to 9-7, then 9-8.
The game ended with the Hilltop defense recovering a loose ball during a frantic scramble in front of the Lancer net.
Rodrigo Perez led Hilltop, which improved to 14-7 overall (9-0 in league), with three goals while Juan Ontiveros scored twice. Four other players had one goal each in an all-round team effort: Luis Ontiveros, Miko Hernandez, Sokil and Leo Perez. Jorge Lizarraga and Kevin Moran combined for four saves.
Victor Gaus paced Mar Vista with four goals.
Salts praised his opponent’s tenacity and resiliency.
“They never gave up, even when we were up by four goals,” the HHS coach said. “They made us earn this win.”
There was less drama in Eastlake’s win over Bonita Vista. The Titans, who improved to 5-0 in league play, led 6-1 after the first quarter and 11-1 at halftime.
Nine players scored goals for Eastlake, including a game-high six by Dylan Chase and four by teammate Josue Alvarez. Daniel Lord and David Baldwin each scored two goals while Tyler Rowean, Kevin Cochrane, Ian Muhlbach, Michael Tong and Adam Hilborn each scored once. Rhett McGinty and Brian Porter combined for six saves.
Adam Glick scored the lone BV goal. The Barons dropped to 1-3 in league play.
The Titans (17-10) were coming off a 10th-place showing at the San Diego Open tournament following victories against La Jolla Country Day, San Marcos and Valhalla and losses to Mt. Carmel and Fallbrook.
Both Mater Dei (second place in the South Bay League standings) and Mar Vista (third place in the South Bay League standings) should receive serious consideration for at-large berths in the Division III field. The opening round in Division III is scheduled Wednesday, Nov. 10.
Bonita Vista is in the Division II enrollment division but the Barons’ 15-2 loss to Hilltop makes any prospective playoff appearance uncertain. Otay Ranch will be vying for an at-large berth in the Division I field.
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