With the division's four top-seeded teams sporting a combined 66-1 record, the Southern Section 5-A girls' volleyball playoffs figure to be wide open and too close to call.
Though 12 of the 14 teams in Thursday's first round have four losses or less--four teams play in today's wild-card round--there is one clear favorite: Mira Costa High School.
Mira Costa (19-0) made it to the 5-A final last season against Irvine with a team of 10 juniors and two sophomores. The Mustangs lost that match, but returned everyone, and this season's team has beaten all of its top rivals who happen to be the top-seeded teams in 5-A.
Corona del Mar (14-0), the No. 2 seeded team and champions of the Sea View League, has played Mira Costa twice, losing a four-game match in the Tournament of Champions and a one-game playoff in the San Marcos Tournament. In girls' volleyball, tournament losses don't count against a team's overall record.
Charlie Brande, Corona del Mar coach, says his team has improved since those early-season losses. But he expresses the grim good news/bad news of the situation when he said, "I think we're much better, but I know they're much better also."
Mira Costa plays the winner of today's wild-card game between Bishop Montgomery and Trabuco Hills at Bishop Montgomery.
Corona del Mar plays defending champion Irvine (8-6) in Thursday's first round. Laguna Beach (17-1), Pacific Coast League champion, is seeded fourth in the 5-A and will be home against Hueneme (10-4) in the first round.
A team to watch is unseeded El Toro (12-4), which finished strong in the regular season, including a victory over South Coast League rival and champion Capistrano Valley.
Sunset League champion Fountain Valley is the only Orange County team seeded in the 4-A. The Barons are No. 4 and play Long Beach Wilson Wednesday in a first-round match at Fountain Valley.
Freeway League champion La Habra is the top-seeded team in the 3-A division and will be home, Wednesday, against Sante Fe (10-7). Canyon is the division's fourth-seeded team and plays Fontana (10-4) at Canyon.
Santa Margarita (16-2), Olympic League champion, is seeded fourth in the 1-A and plays Pius X (13-7) in Wednesday's first round.