Laguna Beach High School sits perched above the blue Pacific Ocean, just a few blocks from the sand and surf.
Taking into account the school's locale, its student body--its general aura --an unknowing observer might logically place Laguna Beach in the Coastal Conference.
No? Then the Southern Conference, perhaps?
Wrong again. Southern Section athletics have a geography all their own. Laguna Beach--and the entire Pacific Coast League--belong, naturally, to the Desert-Mountain Conference.
Other playoff-bound Orange County teams will be taking a quick hop down the freeway for most of their postseason contests. But the three Pacific Coast League teams--Laguna Beach, Woodbridge and Trabuco Hills--could be traveling to anywhere from Riverside to central California.
Second-seeded Laguna Beach plays at home Friday against Elsinore from Riverside County. If the Artists make it to the second round, they will play either Santa Clara of Oxnard or St. Joseph of Santa Maria. The site will be decided by the number of home games each team played during the season or by a coin flip.
If Woodbridge wins its Friday home game against St. Genevieve of Panorama City, it will face the winner of the Riverside Norte Vista-Paso Robles matchup.
"If we have to go to Paso Robles, it's a five- or six-hour drive," Woodbridge Coach Gene Noji said.
The mere thought of the possible 500-plus-mile round trip started Noji's wheels spinning.
"That would be Thanksgiving weekend, so we wouldn't have school so we could leave early," he said. "And I guess we wouldn't have much rush-hour traffic. . . . But I can't even think about it. First, we have to get through this week."
Two years ago, the Pacific Coast League was created with six teams that were near the competitive bottom of other Orange County leagues. The new league was placed in the Desert-Mountain Conference, based on school size and competitive level, according to Bill Clark, Southern Section administrator.
The Southern Section reimburses schools, from gate receipts, one dollar for each mile traveled. For trips of more than 140 miles (round trip), the Southern Section will include meal expenses, and for trips of more than 550 miles (round trip), the Southern Section will pay for overnight lodging.
"From the kids' point of view, (the traveling) is kind of neat," said Trabuco Hills Coach Jim Barnett, who will take his team to Riverside College to play La Sierra Friday night.
"It's what it would be like if you were playing in a smaller state," Barnett said.
But the distance between the conference schools presents a scouting problem. The top two seeded teams in the Southern Conference, Santa Ana and Mission Viejo, have already played this season in a nonleague game, but no such luck for Pacific Coast League coaches.
"What do I know about the other teams? Not much," Barnett said.
Both Noji and Laguna Beach Coach Lyman Olney went to the San Fernando Valley last Saturday to scout the final league games of St. Genevieve and Chaminade. The Artists may face Chaminade in a later round. Noji got lucky and drew St. Genevieve.
"But if we make it to the next round," Noji said, "there's no way we can send a scout all the way up to Paso Robles."
Olney, in his first year coaching the Artists, came from Desert High School at Edwards Air Force Base, where traveling was a given.
"We used to travel from Antelope Valley to Bishop," Olney said. "Two hundred and fifty miles one way. But here, 20 miles seems like a long way to go for a game."
And it seems even longer for the fans. Barnett doesn't think there will be a problem getting tickets when Pacific Coast League schools play in such faraway places as Riverside or the San Fernando Valley.
"Orange County fans are pretty spoiled," he said. "They might go to the Santa Ana Bowl, but that's about it."
Said Noji: "The real die-hard fans will come. The parents and the relatives and the girlfriends."
And Noji hopes, if those fans come, their mileage won't be wasted.
"The trip home is always long," Noji said. "But it's a lot shorter when you win."