The US Lacrosse coaches committee took a bold step Sunday, scheduling three playoff games for Monday, in advance of the traditional Tuesday first-round games.
El Segundo, Palisades and Sierra Canyon all earned automatic playoff spots for winning their respective leagues. But rather than seed them directly into the 16-team bracket, the coaches decided to have each of those teams play home games against teams that otherwise would have been left-out of the tournament.
According to one coach in attendance, the options for those teams came down to playing an opponent against whom they likely match up well and giving their team a chance to win a playoff game and advance, or slotting those teams into the Nos. 14, 15 and 16 seeds and letting them play first-round games against seeds Nos. 3, 2 and 1, respectively.
For comparison, look at last year:
- No. 1 seed Harvard Westlake beat No. 16 Palisades 16-2;
- No. 2 Loyola beat No. 15 Culver City 15-6;
- No. 3 Thousand Oaks beat No. 14 West Ranch 20-7.
This year, the coaches elected to give six teams — three automatic qualifiers and three at-large teams — a better opportunity to have a successful first-round experience, rather than leaving three teams out and sending the three automatic qualifiers off to face No. 1 Palos Verdes, No. 2 Loyola and No. 3 Peninsula.
Essentially, the coaches made this a 19-team tournament, with three pre-first-round games. It’s a sign that lacrosse is growing in the L.A. area and that more teams should be considered playoff ready.
For whatever it’s worth, the three league champs had strength-of-schedule ratings that ranked 28th, 31st and 40th among the 48 L.A. teams. The three at-large teams added to the tournament have SOS ratings that rank 18th, 20th and 22nd. In the US Lacrosse/MaxLaxLA coaches poll, the three league champs were ranked Nos. 16, 17 and 18 in the final poll, while the three at-large teams were Nos. 19, 21 and 22.
Here’s a quick look at the three Monday playoff games:
Brentwood (8-6) at El Segundo (12-4)
Brentwood, which played in the Mission League until this season, finished second to Sierra Canyon in the Gold Coast League under first-year coach Skylar Hopkins. But the Eagles have head-to-head wins over automatic-qualifiers El Segundo and Palisades. Moreover, they won seven of their last nine games after a 1-4 start. The coaches voted to invite them to play El Segundo one more time for the right to meet No. 3-seed Peninsula on Tuesday.
The Eagles, in only their second season as a CIF program and first in the Ocean League, beat Culver City for the second time on Friday to win the Ocean title and earn their playoff spot. They already beat Brentwood once, winning 19-16 in mid-March. But a lot has changed for both teams since. There’s no guarantee the rematch will be any different, but to get to Tuesday, one these teams must win Monday.
Culver City (7-10) at Palisades (15-3)
Palisades lost only to Peninsula, Brentwood and Thacher this season, and the Dolphins once again claimed the City League title and automatic playoff berth. However, their best victory in a schedule that ranked No. 40 among L.A. teams in schedule strength was against City opponent Birmingham, which Palisades beat twice. The coaches voted Sunday to have the Dolphins earn the right to be the No. 15 seed and face No. 2 Loyola by winning a playoff game Monday against Culver City.
The Centaurs, last year’s Ocean League champ and a playoff team, played a schedule that included games against Chaminade, Harvard Westlake and Crespi from the Mission League; all four Bay League teams; plus Marmonte League champion Westlake. Not surprisingly, Culver City lost all eight of those games. But they were 7-2 in Ocean League games, plus a nonleague game vs. Viewpoint. The coaches rewarded the Centaurs with the opportunity to play a Tuesday playoff game if they win a Monday playoff game at Palisades.
West Ranch (10-7) at Sierra Canyon (13-3), 4 p.m.
Sierra Canyon earned its playoff spot by winning the inaugural season of the Gold Coast League, beating Brentwood, Viewpoint and Malibu. But the Trail Blazers also played a schedule ranked 28th among 48 L.A. teams and that featured 10 home games. They were 7-3 in those home games, one of which came in overtime against West Ranch on March 10, West Ranch’s first game of the season.
West Ranch plays as an independent and each year must convince the coaches it performed well enough against a decent schedule to merit a playoff spot. This year, the Wildcats lost to Westlake and Newbury Park from the Marmonte League and Crespi and Chaminade from the Mission League, as well as Mira Costa from the Bay League. Their other losses were in overtime to Sierra Canyon and to Amador Valley from the Bay Area. A winning record and a decent schedule strength earned the Wildcats a chance to advance in the tournament if it can win at Sierra Canyon on Monday.