The Southern Section girls' basketball playoffs head into the second round tonight, which means a good number of the just-happy- and lucky-to-be-here teams have been sent on their way.
In the 4-A division, this translates into big-time, big-reputation basketball.
Of the 16 teams left, eight entered the playoffs with 20 or more victories. Seven had three losses or fewer. Nine of the 16 are league champions.
Joe Vaughan, Buena High School coach, says it may be the most balanced field he has seen in years.
"You've got six teams with a very real chance of taking the championship," he said. "Then you have a couple of dark horses and a bunch of very good teams. I've seen brackets with one or two better teams, but this has amazing overall strength."
This is Vaughan's 12th season at Buena, located in Ventura. His teams have made the playoffs every season in that time, made four appearances in the 4-A final, won two 4-A championships and two state championships.
The six teams he favors are Lynwood (27-2), Buena (23-1), Morningside (24-2), Edison (26-1), Compton (22-2) and Simi Valley (22-3).
Which brings us to the question: What are Marina and Huntington Beach doing here?
Marina, the Sunset League's No. 2 team, is 16-10. Huntington Beach, the league's No. 3 team, is 13-11. Awe-inspiring they're not.
But the fact remains that Marina and Huntington Beach were the only two schools to beat league champions in the first round. Marina defeated Chaffey (Baseline League), 75-45, and Huntington Beach beat Pasadena (Pacific League), 59-57.
"Our records don't look that hot compared to the other teams left," said Mike Thornton, Marina coach. "But I think it shows just how strong our league was this season."
One reason for the league's strength is Edison, seeded No. 4 in the playoffs. The Chargers were Orange County's No. 1 team and helped improve the level of the league's talent.
"I really believe playing the Edisons, Marinas and Fountain Valleys in league prepared us for the caliber of play in the playoffs," said Cathy Doyle, Huntington Beach coach.
Marina plays Mater Dei (21-6) tonight at home. Marina is led by Dawn Charrion. Against Chaffey, she scored a school-record 34 points, had a school-record 22 rebounds and set the school single-season scoring record with 397 points.
Mater Dei is led by forward Geri Gainey, who averaged 15.3 for the season, and Hollie Formanek, who had game-high 17 points in the Monarchs' 57-52 first-round victory against Thousand Oaks.
Huntington Beach plays Simi Valley. The Oilers are led by Tami Chick, who had 27 points in the first round victory.
In other 4-A games:
Compton at Foothill; Edison at St. Joseph.
Brea-Olinda (21-4) at Riverside Poly (17-6); Katella (24-2) at El Toro (20-7); Mission Viejo (24-2) at Los Alamitos (17-6).
La Habra (19-7) at Monrovia (19-7); La Quinta (18-5) at Artesia (14-7); Woodbridge (20-7) at Arroyo Grande (9-12); Fullerton (15-6) at Orange (13-10).
Whittier Christian (15-5) at Azusa (11-12).