Bringing the LA Playoff Picture into Focus

One week from today, the high school boys coaches committee of the Greater LA chapter of US Lacrosse will meet to select and seed the 2017 playoff teams. Here is am explanation of the playoff format, selection process and a look at which teams are candidates for postseason play.

First, the CIF Southern Section does not sponsor or sanction a championship tournament for lacrosse the way it does for most high school sports, because not enough schools in the section field lacrosse teams. As of the start of the 2017 season, there were 92 schools competing in CIF boys lacrosse. With 584 total schools in the section, there must be 117 (20 percent) offering lacrosse in order for the section office to hold a championship tournament.

In lieu of an official CIF tournament, the US Lacrosse chapters in LA and Orange County for years have staged 16-team playoff tournaments in each region, with the winners facing each other for the de facto Southern Section title. The coaches committees in each US Lacrosse chapter determine the playoff teams and seeds.

Among the factors considered in determining who makes the playoffs from the LA region are league championships, rank in the US Lacrosse/MaxLaxLA coaches poll, rank in the power ranking, strength of schedule (SOS) and rating percentage index (RPI), as well as head-to-head results and record against common opponents. If they still can’t break a tie, the coaches might even look at factors such as goal differential and a team’s overall body of work throughout the season.

In recent years, the coaches committee actually has expanded the field somewhat, offering so-called “play-in” games for at-large teams that otherwise might not make the cut, or for league champions with lesser rankings in the various lists. Those teams then compete head-to-head to earn a spot in the main bracket. The committee’s rationale is to offer two borderline playoff teams a competitive game, rather than leaving one out entirely and sending the other to play the No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

For context, the average score of the 1 vs. 16 and 2 vs. 15 games over the last four seasons is 17-4. Conversely, the average score of four “play-in” games held the last two seasons is 13-11, with two of the games decided in double-overtime.

This year, the coaches also will consider creating a separate, secondary bracket. If there are enough teams interested — teams that otherwise might not receive a playoff invite, or might be offered a “play-in” game as described above, or that might want a more competitive environment as opposed to facing a 1 or 2 seed — the chapter could create a “Division II,” or “Consolation,” or “Best of the Rest” tournament. The goal, as with the “play-in” games, would be to provide more teams the opportunity to play a few more games against similar competition and have a positive playoff experience.

Whether there is one bracket or two, the playoffs are scheduled to begin with first-round games Tuesday, May 2, at the home fields of the higher-seeded teams. If there are “play-in” games, those would be played Monday, May 1, with the winners advancing to play Tuesday. The quarterfinals are schedule for Thursday, May 4, and the semifinals for Saturday, May 6. The Los Angeles championship game will be played Wednesday, May 10, and the LA/OC title game on Saturday, May 13.

With all of that said, what might the primary, 16-team field look like when announced on April 30?

To begin with, the champions of the Bay, Marmonte, Mission, Ocean, Gold Coast and City leagues all receive automatic invitations to the playoffs. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll receive a spot in the field of 16, though, as the coaches committee can elect to schedule a league champion into a “play-in” game. After those six, there are 10 remaining at-large spots — if there are “play-in” games, of course, there could be a few more.

Here is a look at the potential playoff teams from each league and the independents — teams that are not members of a league for lacrosse — with one week to play:

Mission League

Champion: Harvard Westlake (14-0, 8-0) or Loyola (14-4, 8-1), pending the outcome of Tuesday’s rematch and HW’s Saturday matchup with Chaminade.
At-large candidates: Harvard Westlake or Loyola, plus Chaminade (9-6, 5-3) and Crespi (7-7, 3-6).
Analysis: Regardless of who wins Tuesday, Loyola and Harvard Westlake both will be high seeds when the bracket is filled in. Chaminade (SOS: 6; RPI: 13) has been in the Top 10 of the coaches poll nearly the entire season, and Crespi (SOS: 10; RPI: 16) hasn’t been far behind. Neither has beaten a Top-10 team, but both have a handful of wins over Top 20 teams, have solid rankings and have played tough nonleague schedules.

Marmonte League

Champion: Thousand Oaks (9-5, 6-2) currently leads, one game ahead of Agoura and Oaks Christian.
At-large candidates: Agoura (12-4 5-3), Oaks Christian (12-3, 4-3), Newbury Park (9-5, 4-4) and Westlake (6-6, 4-4).
Analysis: Not surprisingly, five of the six Marmonte League teams are in the running for playoff spots. This is the most competitive league in the area, top to bottom, and all five have been ranked in the Top 10 most of the season. Fifth-place Westlake has the weakest resume — wins over Royal (7-8) and Thacher (4-6) are the Warriors’ best nonleague results — but they have league wins over Agoura and Newbury and an overall SOS rank of 8.

Bay League

Champion: Palos Verdes (11-4, 3-0), most likely. The Sea Kings will be the top seed in the Bay’s mini-tournament this week (1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3, then a title game) to determine its champion.
At-large candidates: Mira Costa (10-5, 2-1).
Analysis: Costa has been perhaps the most up and down team all season. The Mustangs (SOS: 15; RPI: 11) have Top 20 wins over Palisades and El Segundo, along with out-of-area wins over St. Augustine (San Diego) and OC No. 16 Santiago, as well as an OT loss to OC No. 13 Murrieta Mesa. However, they also have Top 20 losses to Crespi, Santa Monica and West Ranch. They will have some explaining to do at the seeding meeting.

Ocean League

Champion: El Segundo (11-2, 4-1) or Santa Monica (12-1, 5-1), pending tie-breaker. The teams split in the regular season, and El Segundo holds potential tie-breaker advantages in SOS (19 vs. 25) and RPI (8 vs. 9).
At-large candidates: El Segundo or Santa Monica.
Analysis: If Santa Monica is deemed the automatic qualifier, Gundo has a strong enough resume to lobby hard for an at-large. Besides a one-goal loss to the Vikings, the Eagles’ only other loss was by one goal to Mira Costa. They also have Top 20 wins over West Ranch, Palisades and Peninsula. If El Segundo gets the automatic, SaMo might have a tougher time making a case. Though the Vikings have lost only once and have a Top 20 win over El Segundo, they have only one other Top 20 victory (Mira Costa), and their schedule strength ranking of 25 could hurt. They play at Palisades on Monday, and another Top 20 win certainly would help their resume.

Gold Coast League

Champion: Sierra Canyon (7-7, 4-0)
At-large candidates: None.
Analysis: It was a down year for the rest of the league, which didn’t help Sierra’s schedule strength (28), but the Trail Blazers have been ranked in the mid-teens of the coaches poll all season. Six of their losses came against Top 10 teams. The flip side, though, is that only one of their seven wins came against a Top 20 team (Peninsula).

City League

Champion: Palisades (10-6, 6-0)
At-large candidates: None.
Analysis: Playing in the City League does the Dolphins no favors when it comes to SOS (they rank 23rd), but they did play a challenging nonleague schedule. They have gone 4-6 in those games to date — though 0-6 against Top 20 teams — with matchups against Santa Monica and West Ranch this week.


At-large candidates: Oak Park (13-4), West Ranch (10-5).
Analysis: The Eagles have been ranked as high as No. 4 in the coaches poll and have the No. 5 SOS, with wins over seven Top 20 teams. They’re in. West Ranch might have a tougher argument. The Wildcats have won 10 games, but with a poll ranking of 15, an SOS rank of 17 and an RPI rank of 15, they are directly on the bubble for a 16-team field. They play Thousand Oaks and Palisades this week, giving them two chances to strengthen their case.

Channel League

Champion: San Marcos (11-1, 4-0)
At-large candidates: None
Analysis: The Channel League added Thacher and Cate this year, becoming a five-team league. The question is whether the coaches will deem that league competitive enough to merit a playoff invite for its champion. Making that decision tougher is that of the five Channel League teams, only San Marcos has a winning overall record, and the Royals’ SOS rank currently sits at 34. In their only game against a Top 20 team this season, they lost 11-6 to Oaks Christian in the season opener. In their favor, though, is an RPI rank of 10 and coaches poll rank of 18.