Kurt Kersten, coach of the Anaheim Esperanza Aztec girls' volleyball team, ranked No. 4 in the Southland by The Times, doesn't want to get caught looking over his shoulder. Not yet, anyway.
Especially not after Tuesday's Sunset League game against No. 9 Huntington Beach Edison and with No. 10 Los Alamitos up next on Thursday.
But Kersten acknowledges that it's the time of the season when coaches start positioning their teams for a good seeding in the playoffs.
"This will be a huge week," he said. "If we can sweep and then sweep the following week, especially since Los Alamitos lost to Edison, it makes the second round of [league] games even more important for [playoff] seeding."
Heading into this week, Los Alamitos was No. 1 in the Southern Section Division I-AA rankings. Long Beach Wilson was No. 2, and Long Beach Poly was No. 3. The Aztecs were No. 4.
The top four teams ranked in each division are expected to be seeded in the playoffs, and that could mean a first-round bye or, at least, a home game in the opening round.
"You've got to keep track of what is going on with the rest of the seedings," Kersten said. "You need to watch out for who is playing well and who is not. You need to start to think about the playoffs a bit, maybe get some scout film on someone you think you might play down the road.
"But this league is not something you can walk through," he said of the Sunset. "I've seen some nasty things happen in my career. I've seen four-way ties before."
What has happened to Los Alamitos?
The Griffins, who began the season with high expectations, have fallen on hard times and to No. 10 in The Times' rankings.
They were soundly swept out of the Huntington Beach Edison gym last week in a Sunset League opener before rebounding to beat struggling Fountain Valley.
The loss to No. 9 Edison came after Los Alamitos was swept by top-ranked Santa Ana Mater Dei and No. 7 Newport Harbor in nonleague matches.
"We just haven't been showing up," Coach Sue Monsoor said.
She put some of the blame on the Griffins' tougher-than-expected nonleague schedule that began with them beating several top Southland teams to win the Cerritos Gahr tournament.
But then Los Alamitos finished a disappointing fifth in the prestigious Las Vegas Durango tournament.
Monsoor also said her team is not yet in sync, with the younger players brought up from the lower levels not yet jelling with returning players from last year's Division I-AA championship team.
"We need to mesh as a team," she said. "We have really great individual players."
It's nervous time for Caroline Brandon, coach at Huntington Beach Ocean View.
After a challenging nonleague schedule, during which the Seahawks lost road matches at Gahr and Cypress, they are faced with relatively unchallenging Golden West League opponents.
That doesn't sit well with Brandon, who said it's tough to evaluate how much improvement her team has made when it's not being pushed.
"It's kind of a love-hate relationship," said Brandon, in her third year. "We do really well in league, but we don't see a lot of intense competition.
"By the time the playoffs come, we're either a step behind everyone else or we're ready to go, depending on the makeup of the team."
Last year, Ocean View advanced to the Division III-AA quarterfinals, where it was defeated by Temple City.
"This year, I think we'll be a little bit more ready," she said. "Santa Ana has stepped up its game and so has Costa Mesa, so we are seeing more intense competition."
Ocean View beat Costa Mesa on Friday.
Middle blocker Jeniece Womack leads the Seahawks in kills, and the setters, senior Kelsey Brown and sophomore Hayley Hanson, are settling into the 6-2 offense.