We pick which eight teams in both Southern California and Northern California to us seem headed toward this year’s Open Division. We then go through each division both north and south to see if it’s possible to point toward certain teams as leading state title contenders. The group includes one team that is unbeaten at 26-0 and another led by one of the winningest coaches in state history.
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(As of Wednesday, Feb. 22; results from Wednesday, Feb. 22 not included)
(For the Open Division projections, we are assuming that there are no teams that are not eligible to be moved that also have not requested to be moved up.)
Southern California Open Division
Projected Eight Teams
Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 27-1; No. 1 overall in state.
CIFSS Open Division semifinalist
Chino Hills 29-1; No. 2 overall in state.
CIFSS Open Division semifinalist
Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) 25-2
CIFSS Open Division semifinalist; No. 3 overall in state.
Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 30-1
CIFSS Open Division semifinalist; No. 4 overall in state.
Birmingham (Lake Balboa) 25-3
L.A. City Section Open Division top seed; No. 6 overall in state.
Fairfax (Los Angeles) 25-3
L.A. City Section Open Division No. 2 seed; No. 10 overall in state.
St. Augustine (San Diego) 24-4
San Diego Section Open Division No. 1 seed; No. 11 overall in state.
Westchester (Los Angeles) 22-8
L.A. City Section Open Division No. 3 seed; No. 13 overall in state.
All four of the CIFSS semifinalists, who won on Tuesday and will be playing on Friday in a doubleheader at the Galen Center, essentially also have wrapped up the four qualifying Open Division slots for the SoCal regional playoffs from the Southern Section.
This year, as confirmed by the CIF, language has been removed from the selection guidelines that gives the selection committee the option of not choosing an Open Division team from the CIF Central Section. Last year, it was required according to those guidelines that a team from the Central Section had to be chosen, therefore Immanuel of Reedley went as the No. 8 seed in the Open Division and played Chino Hills. This year, like last year, there are no Central Section Open Division candidates that would merit a selection above either the projected No. 3 team from the L.A. City Section or the projected No. 2 team from the CIF San Diego Section Open Division, which right now would be 26-3 Torrey Pines.
Northern California Open Division
Projected Eight Teams
Woodcreek (Roseville) 25-2
Sac-Joaquin Section No. 2 seed; No. 5 overall in state.
Sheldon (Sacramento) 25-2
Sac-Joaquin Section No. 1 seed; No. 8 overall in state.
Bellarmine (San Jose) 23-1
Central Coast Section Open Division No. 1 seed; No. 15 overall in state.
St. Joseph Notre Dame (Alameda) 25-1
North Coast Section Division IV No. 1 seed; No. 20 overall in state.
Salesian (Richmond) 24-4
North Coast Section Division III No. 1 seed.
Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 18-9
North Coast Section Division II No. 2 seed.
St. Ignatius (San Francisco) 19-5
Central Coast Section Open Division No. 2 seed.
Vanden (Fairfield) 25-2
Sac-Joaquin Section Division III No. 1 seed.
Sheldon and Woodcreek would be eligible for the NorCal Open Division simply by being in the top 10 overall of our state rankings. If they play each other for the section title, the loser isn’t likely going to drop out of the top 10, either.
The top two seeded teams in the North Coast Section Division I playoffs, Dublin (26-3) and Heritage of Brentwood (24-3), are not eligible for the Open Division.
In the CCS, by having an Open Division, the CIF can move up any team from the CCS Open Division into the NorCal Open Division. For this projection, we just moved in No. 2 seed St. Ignatius.
Vanden and Capital Christian (Sacramento) plus 2016 CIF Division III state champ Manteca are all in the Sac-Joaquin Division III bracket. All three are eligible for the Open Division so we think the winner is likely going to be moved up.
Defending NorCal Open champ De La Salle of Concord isn’t on this list because the Spartans (24-5) are only the No. 3 seed in the NCS D1 bracket. If they were to win that title again, however, they’d then also likely grab one of the NorCal Open slots and that would drop either the third SJS team or the second CCS team.
Another possibility to look at for the NorCal Open Division is a team from the CIF Central Section being moved into it. Central of Fresno is the top seed in that section’s D1 bracket and while the Grizzlies don’t look like they would be high enough for the SoCal Open Division if they win their section title they could be switched into the north for one of those eight slots.
Southern California Divisional Playoffs
Projected Top Seeds
After Tuesday’s results, we know which eight teams from the CIF Southern Section Open Division will be in this mix. We don’t know which one is going to win the consolation title in that bracket but the team that does is going to be the top seed. The highest ranked teams in the group are Santa Margarita of Rancho SM (22-7), Roosevelt of Eastvale (19-7), Long Beach Poly (22-7) and Damien of La Verne (26-4).
San Diego Open Division teams dropping down also would be ones to watch for this division. After top seed St. Augustine and Torrey Pines (listed above), the No. 3 seed is Vista (26-3) with Foothills Christian of El Cajon (23-5) at No. 4. Remember that Foothills Christian has a win over CIFSS Division IAA semifinalist Etiwanda but has a loss to Taft of Woodland Hills from the L.A. City Open Division. Taft is playing Birmingham in Friday’s semifinals. Even losing a close game could give the Toreadors a high seed in the D1 South bracket.
The four teams from the CIF Southern Section Open Division that went 0-2 in their first two playoff games are Alemany of Mission Hills (24-5), Esperanza of Anaheim (25-3), Heritage Christian of Northridge (20-9) and Crossroads of Santa Monica (18-10). Those four also would represent four of the eight teams from the CIFSS in D2 South. If Harvard-Westlake wins the CIFSS D1A title, remember that Alemany won the Mission League. Even as a D4 state champ from last year, it may be hard for the CIF to seed the Wolverines higher than any of those four SS Open Division squads. Watch out for Etiwanda, meanwhile, in SS D1AA since the Eagles are from the same league as Chino Hills and Damien and sure have shown over many years under head coach Dave Kleckner that they know how to win in the playoffs.
Other teams that may in line for a high seed include eight-time CIF state champ Crenshaw of Los Angeles (20-4 & No. 1 seed in L.A. City D1 bracket); Mater Dei Catholic of Chula Vista (22-4 & No. 1 seed in San Diego D1); and Ridgeview of Bakersfield (21-2 & No. 1 seed in Central Section D2).
After talking to the CIF on Tuesday, we’re going off the assumption that Open Division teams from both San Diego and L.A. City will be given to the selection committee to be slotted higher than even championship teams from the other divisions.
It looks like a possibility that at least one of the San Diego Open Division teams could fall this far and that could be No. 7 seed La Jolla Country Day or No. 8 seed La Costa Canyon.
The most promising teams for high seeds among those from the Southern Section who are still alive headed to the semifinals include Colony of Ontario (25-5 from D2AA), Villa Park (22-5 from D2AA), Capistrano Valley of Mission Viejo (23-6 from D2A), Vista Murrieta of Murrieta (22-4 from D2A) and Rancho Mirage (28-3 from D3AA).
Selma is 25-4 and top-seed in the Central Section D3 playoffs. Since it looks like several D3 teams in the North could get placed in the Open Division, there could be the possibility that the Bears get moved to the north or that another Central Section D3 team gets moved to balance out the brackets.
Of the teams still going in the Southern Section, the team with the best record by far is Notre Dame of Riverside at 28-2 and the top seed in D4A. With the competitive equity component, however, the CIF likely wouldn’t seed the CIFSS D4A champ over D3A or D4AA. The best teams seemingly still playing in those brackets are Hesperia (23-5 from D3A), St. Paul of Santa Fe Springs (23-5 from D3A) and West of Torrance (20-8 from D4AA).
Coronado is a team to watch from the San Diego Section. The Islanders are the top seed in the San Diego D3 playoffs at 27-3, although Canyon Crest Academy (20-7) is from the D2 bracket and therefore could be seeded higher.
We’d also love to see Immanuel of Reedley (16-8) from the Central Section make some noise. Last year, of course, the system wasn’t kind to the Eagles as it sent them to the Open Division. That wouldn’t happen this year and although this year’s team isn’t as strong if Immanuel can win a fourth straight section title then this is a group of teams in which the Eagles would be more than okay to compete against.
We can see the storyline already with Rolling Hills Prep of San Pedro (22-2) possibly winning the CIF Division V state title and that’s head coach Harvey Kitani winning with a second school. Kitani, one of the state’s all-time winningest coaches, was on the bench for Fairfax of Los Angeles when it won the 2007 Division I state crown. Of course, RHP has to win the CIFSS D5AA title first. Coast Union of Cambria (22-3) is the top seed for the CIFSS D5A bracket and is also into the semifinals.
Northern California Divisional Playoffs
Projected Top Seeds
With both Dublin (26-3) and Heritage of Brentwood (24-3) ineligible for the Open Division, you can assume that if either one wins the North Coast Section Division I title, then that team is going to be the top seed for the NorCal playoffs.
Oakland Tech (25-3) also is ineligible for the Open Division but has been among the top-ranked teams in the Bay Area all season. The Bulldogs are favored in the Oakland Section playoffs.
From the CCS Open Division, one or two semifinalists could be a threat for a NorCal title in this division. The next two top seeds after Bellarmine and St. Ignatius are Sequoia of Redwood City (23-4) and Menlo-Atherton of Atherton (22-5). M-A went to the NorCal finals last year in D1 before falling to Berkeley.
If the CCS Open Division seeds hold up and it is Bellarmine and St. Ignatius in the finals, you have to look at the other WCAL teams that would fall into this division. History just says one of those teams can go far. Defending D2 state champ Serra of San Mateo (13-11) may be one of those teams. Both Mitty of San Jose (14-10) and St. Francis of Mountain View (17-7) are also still going.
If O’Dowd wins the NCS D2 title and then gets moved up to the Open, other NCS teams may do well in this state division. Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa (25-3) and Las Lomas of Walnut Creek (22-5) look like the best contenders.
The Sac-Joaquin D2 bracket isn’t as intriguing as some of the others, but top seed Whitney of Rocklin (23-4) and No. 2 Burbank of Sacramento (24-3) have some intriguing players.
This one in the north has a lot of variables, including what will the committee do potentially with 27-1 Mission of San Francisco. The Bears are rolling to the AAA title and have some quality wins that at the minimum should have them higher seeded than the CCS D3 winner and maybe even the top NCS D3 team (assuming Salesian wins the title and then gets moved up to the Open).
The Sac-Joaquin in D3, however, is loaded. The winner of the bracket as mentioned earlier could and we think there’s a good chance will be moved up to the Open Division. The runner-up could be the No. 1 seed in this division and even one of the semifinalists (if it’s Manteca) could be the No. 2 seed.
Pleasant Valley of Chico (21-5) is the top seed from the Northern Section.
Well, folks, when Chino Hills recently lost that big game to Oak Hill Academy, that didn’t mean the possibility of California having an unbeaten team this season was lost. In the Northern Section in D4, meet the Corning Cardinals. We doubt that Corning would be the top seed for the NorCal D4 bracket even if it is still unbeaten on March 5, but 26-0 is 26-0.
The more likely top seed candidate is Palma of Salinas (22-2), which is in the CCS Open Division. And unlike Southern California, where Open Division teams that don’t make it to the Open regional brackets flow back to D1, D2, etc., the CCS Open Division teams go back to their enrollment divisions. Palma also is the defending NorCal D4 champion.
Outside of Palma, watch for the Sac-Joaquin Section No. 1 seed Central Catholic of Modesto (20-7) and then the second team from the NCS assuming St. Joseph Notre Dame wins out and goes to the Open. The No. 2 seed in that bracket is St. Patrick-St. Vincent of Vallejo (21-6), which already has a CIF state football title on its resume for this school year.
For a Cinderella story, look no further than Calaveras of San Andreas (25-2), the No. 3 seed in the SJS. Calaveras head coach Kraig Clifton has been waging an inspirational battle with cancer after he had to miss last season,
The top two teams in the North appear to be St. Francis CCC of Watsonville (22-2) and Elliot Christian of Lodi (23-4). Both are top seeds in their section playoffs. Elliot Christian gained a lot of notoriety early in the season for knocking off Jesuit of Carmichael and several other more famous programs. St. Francis CCC does have a slightly higher computer ranking, however.
Outside of those two, look for Cloverdale (21-6) and Branson of Ross (20-8) from the NCS and Williams (21-5) from the Northern Section.
Not only did defending D5 state champ St. Joseph Notre Dame get moved up to D4 by the NCS, but so did University of San Francisco (25-3), which has been another NCS standout team over the years in D5. Bad news for the Red Devils but good news for St. Francis CCC and Elliot Christian.