Division I Lets the Best Teams In

Times Staff Writer

After winning the Southern Section Division V boys' tennis championship last season, North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake will try to accomplish a similar goal this year, but in Division I.

The Wolverines will not be alone in their leap.

As a result of the latest league and playoff realignment, all but two of last season's 10 finalists, including all five champions, will change postseason playoff divisions this season.

"I don't mind it. I think it's good for us," Harvard-Westlake Coach Chris Simpson said. "It's good for the competition too. I think it's important to have the best in Division I."

Division placement was based on a power-rating system that took into account a league's overall strength and collective postseason performance for the last four years.

In the past, a school's enrollment determined its division. The largest schools were placed in Division I, the smallest in Division V.

Southern Section officials hope the system will provide more evenly matched play. They also hope it will bring Division I into actual alignment with the perception that it boasts, or should boast, the highest level of competition.

"I've been complaining about it every year," said Tim Mang, coach of Corona del Mar, which also will move to Division I after losing to Brentwood in a Division V semifinal last year.

"The debate is, do you want a CIF title, or do you want to be the best team? I'd rather try to be the best team. Of course, my kids think they're going to win, and that's what's important. Now I just have to keep them convinced that they're going to."

It may not be that easy for the Sea Kings, even with the return of Southern Section doubles champions Garrett Snyder and Carsten Ball, who will be playing No. 1 and No. 2 singles, respectively.

Joining Corona del Mar and Harvard-Westlake in Division I will be Division II winner Irvine University, Division III winner Westlake Village Westlake, Division III runner-up Irvine Woodbridge and Division IV runner-up Irvine Northwood. Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula, the Division I runner-up last season, remains in the division.

Glendale Hoover, the Division I champion, moves to Division II, where it will be joined by Division IV winner Palm Desert. Fullerton Troy, which finished as the Division II runner-up last season, remains in the division.

Brentwood, which was the Division V runner-up last season, moves to Division IV.

"I like the idea of, if you win Division I, you're really the best," said Ron Moulton, the coach of Dana Hills, which was in Division I under enrollment-based competition and remains there. "It makes it astronomically more difficult to win a CIF championship though."

Even with enrollment-based divisions, schools were able to petition to move up to higher divisions for sports in which they excelled. However, they could not move down.

The addition of schools choosing to move up cut into the number of playoff berths, affecting those schools that were larger but not as tennis-proficient.

During the last four-year classification cycle, section officials attempted to rectify the problem by not allowing teams the opportunity to move up in divisions, but that skewed the competitive perspective by turning lower divisions into stronger ones.

"If you were stuck in enrollment-based competition, all the powerful schools didn't get a chance to play each other [in the playoffs]," said Palm Springs Coach Bob Walton, a member of Southern Section's tennis advisory committee.

This season, they will.

"Last year, we didn't really get challenged until the end, Simpson said. "Now, there should be more close matches."

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