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Girls’ volleyball: Southern Section coaches take issue with new playoff format

The Southern Section girls’ volleyball playoff-format change was met with questioning tones.

“A little bit shocking,” Mira Costa High girls’ volleyball coach Cam Green said.

“A really weird concept,” Marymount’s Cari Klein said.

For years, the established top-division playoff format in the section has been a single-elimination bracket. Lose a match, and that was it. Promising teams came and went.

But this year, the top eight teams at the end of the regular season will be divided into two groups for pool play. It’s a shift that’s been discussed amongst the Southern Section’s volleyball advisory committee for years, according to Southern Section assistant commissioner Mike Middlebrook.

“I think it’s going to be well-received and great,” Middlebrook said.

Not yet, though.

“I don’t understand it in girls’ volleyball,” Klein said.

The format will follow the pool-play structure already in place for the Open Division basketball playoffs. The baseline reason for the change, Middlebrook said, was to give teams who lost in the first round of the Southern Section bracket more action before moving to regional CIF play, rather than waiting weeks before another match.

“It was unfair to go into that idle mode for such a long period of time,” Middlebrook said.

The first, fourth, fifth and eighth seeds will be placed in one pool, and the second, third, sixth and seventh in the other. The team with the best overall record after three pool matches will win and advance to the finals.

Seems simple enough. But it’s conceivable that three teams in the same pool could all finish with 2-1 records. What happens in a tiebreak scenario?

Middlebrook said that solution hasn’t been determined, but they’d likely follow the model set forth by basketball: Teams earn points based on the number of the seed they beat, and the lowest total wins the pool. That would mean that the lower seed would almost always take the pool in a three-way tiebreak.

“That to me doesn’t make any sense,” Green said. “That part I’m worried about.”

The highest-seeded team in any pool matchup, however, will automatically play the game at home, Middlebrook explained. Thus, higher seeds are expected to win.

“I feel like if I’m one of the higher seeds, I go, ‘Great, I’m guaranteed to be at home for one of these huge matches,’” Redondo coach Tommy Chaffins said. “If I’m towards the bottom, I’ll say, ‘Great! If I’m on the road and I get some wins, we’re going to win every tie.’”

With the new format in mind, here are The Times’ predicted top-division playoff matchups.

Pool 1

1. Mira Costa

4. Palos Verdes

5. Redondo Union

8. Huntington Beach

Pool 2

2. Sierra Canyon

3. Marymount

6. Lakewood

7. Mater Dei

City Section jumble

Six teams are virtual locks for Open Division play in the City Section playoffs: El Camino Real, Granada Hills, Taft, Palisades, Venice and Chatsworth. The final two spots are up for grabs. An overview of five teams that could sneak into Open Division play:

Birmingham: Currently ahead of Chatsworth in West Valley League play.

Sun Valley Poly: Has beaten solid City Section competition and decent Southern Section teams playing a tough schedule.

Verdugo Hills: Beat Sun Valley Poly last Tuesday after losing to them earlier in the season. Team is on the verge of setting the program’s single-season record for wins, and senior Ana Vazquez is on the cusp of breaking their all-time total kills record set by Crystal Perryman at 789.

San Pedro: Hung tough with Venice in two matches this season.

Eagle Rock: Struggled to start the season, but has suddenly emerged with seven wins in a row.

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