The Southern Section Monday announced the playoff pairings for three fall sports--water polo, girls' tennis and girls' volleyball.
There were few surprises.
The players' names change from year to year, but little else does. Right here on the peach-colored draw sheet for the 5-A volleyball playoffs is the No. 1-seeded team, Newport Harbor High School.
And on a gold sheet for the 4-A water polo playoffs, Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar are the second- and third-seeded teams.
And here, on this light green sheet of paper, Laguna Hills is the No. 3-seeded team in 3-A tennis.
Schools in south Orange County--that area south of the 55 (Newport-Costa Mesa) Freeway, including Newport Beach--wield considerable power in the three sports.
This is not to say that only south county teams and athletes excel in these sports. Two of the most notable exceptions have been the Sunny Hills and El Dorado championship water polo teams.
But south county teams have been more successful than their north county counterparts. This is especially true in volleyball and to a lesser degree in tennis and water polo.
In the 16 years of Southern Section girls' volleyball, only four north county schools have advanced to the 1-A through 5-A division finals. None has won a title. Eighteen south county teams have reached the finals, and seven have won.
In water polo, Newport Harbor has won seven 4-A titles since divisional championships began in 1974. Corona del Mar has won three and Sunny Hills two.
This season alone, at least one south county team is among the four seeded teams in the Southern Section playoffs for all three sports, which begin today.
There appears to be a number of reasons for this continuing success. Coaches in the three sports agree on several common threads to which their success is tied. Among the most prevalent are:
An extensive club system outside the schools in the south county.
Community and parental support and familiarity of the sport.
Long-time rivalries between south county schools.
Long-time coaches in the sports.
The single-most important reason, though, may be the clubs, which offer a number of teams based on age and skill-level.
The Nellie Gail Tennis Club in Laguna Niguel, the Orange County Volleyball Club in Newport Beach and the Newport Water Polo Foundation form springboards for players to gain exposure and experience in their sports at an early age. Instruction is often more intensive than in-school programs.
"I've been at USC since 1976," said Chuck Erbe, the Trojan volleyball coach. "In that time, I've never seen a player make it to college by just playing on her high school team. Never."
In many cases, coaches say, the parents of current players also participated in the sport and often still play.
Rivalries, such as the one between Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar in water polo and volleyball, greatly increase interest and participation. Since 1974, the schools have met three times in the 4-A championship water polo game. In volleyball, the teams draw about 1,000 in Sea View League volleyball matches.
Jack Hodges, Laguna Hills tennis coach, said strong recreational programs in south county feed the high school programs. "There are more people playing and more people teaching," he said. "You don't have to go far in this area to find good courts with good instruction. Heck, a lot of people have courts in their backyards."
Heading into the playoffs, Laguna Hills is 18-0 and the two-time Pacific Coast League champion.
"Girls in our area all know each other (through club play and tournaments)," Hodges said. "It's almost like if you haven't heard the name, it usually means she doesn't move in the same competitive circles."
Mark McKenzie, Irvine volleyball coach, agrees.
"On all the top teams in the 5-A and 4-A all the girls play on clubs," McKenzie said. "It would be very unusual to find more than one kid not playing on a club."
North county volleyball teams operate at a disadvantage because few of their players compete for a club, according to Esperanza Coach John Reid.
"Esperanza has won 10 straight league championships," Reid said. "That's great, but every year we usually get beaten in the first or second round by a south county team.
"It's unfortunate we don't have a club situation (in the north county). The younger kids, who can't drive, need a big commitment from their parents to make the drive three times a week. So, it's not as popular to join a club. And because of that there will always be a disparity in talent and strength of teams."
Reid also sees a lack of support that south county teams receive.
"I think what plays a major part in their dominance is that they have boys' and girls' teams," he said. "Beside the fact that boys attract the girls, the girls attract the boys, there's a respect factor that goes with it. There are no boys' teams north of the Garden Grove Freeway, and so at those schools, volleyball is perceived just being a girls' sport. Kind of has a GAA stigma."