The CIF Southern Section released its boys and girls basketball pairings Sunday, and two teams from the Valley earned top-four seeds.
One went to the Murrieta Valley High boys, who snared the No. 3 seed in Division II-A. With the Nighthawks at 23-2 and just two years removed from winning a section title ... well, that was expected.
Cal Lutheran's boys are the Valley's only other seeded team, having earned the No. 3 spot in Division VI. And on a day in which 32 area teams — 16 boys and 16 girls — made the playoffs, the C-Hawks' rating was .... well ... not so expected.
In the midst of what could be a banner year, Cal Lutheran has quietly racked up an impressive resume. The C-Hawks won an undefeated Arrowhead League championship and enter the playoffs at 16-3 with a 12-game winning streak.
"Honestly, we kind of went into this season knowing that we had some good guys coming back," said C-Hawks coach Dave Peter, who is also the school's football coach. "We only graduated one from last year."
That returning cast of players has not only produced but shown the versatility a strong playoff team requires.
They have a veteran presence from seniors Matt Correia and Ben Schober, two top football players who have combined to average more than 17 points and 11 rebounds per game.
They have a true big man in 6-foot-8 junior Ryan Smith, who continues to develop into a dominating post player while averaging 14.6 points and a Valley-leading 11.9 rebounds.
"He's kind of learning how to not use his body but use his height as an advantage," Peter said.
Junior guard Robert Riesenberg is the team's designated sharp-shooter, converting 47 percent of his 3-pointers and averaging 14.3 points.
While the C-Hawks rolled through their league schedule, it was perhaps their last loss that prepared them for this run.
In the I-15 tournament on Dec. 22, Cal Lutheran took Temescal Canyon, another team that made the playoffs, to the wire before losing 60-59. And while no one likes moral victories, for the C-Hawks to nearly win a game against a school with an enrollment more than 15 times greater than Cal Lutheran's was a confidence-builder.
"We did put ourselves in a position to win with a last-second shot attempt," Peter said. "Yes, it was a moral victory, but I'll take a moral victory against a Temescal Canyon over a moral victory against a Division VI team we should be beating."
The C-Hawks host Los Angeles New Covenant in the first round Wednesday night.
The Murrieta Valley boys drew a first-round home game against Chino, the fourth-place Mt. Baldy League team. But the Nighthawks could see a solid Fullerton Troy team in the second round. Troy won 20 games this season and enters the postseason on a five-game win streak.
Sunbelt League-champion Elsinore (24-3) was seeded fifth in Division II-A, and while the road appears easier than a year ago — when the Tigers lost at Riverside North in the second round — they could see a rematch of their MLK Day matchup with fourth-seeded Lawndale Leuzinger in the quarterfinals. Elsinore lost that game 52-48.
The highest-seeded girls basketball team was that of Southwestern League champion Murrieta Valley (21-5), which earned the No. 5 slot in Division II-A. The Nighthawks open the playoffs Saturday at home against Beaumont and could see a quarterfinals matchup against fourth-seeded Goleta Dos Pueblos.
The Chaparral girls (18-8) were dealt perhaps the toughest road of any Valley playoff team. The second-place Southwestern League team must travel to co-Pacific Coast League champion Irvine Woodbridge for Saturday's Division I-AA first-round game. Get past that and the Pumas would likely be looking at second-seeded Santa Ana Mater Dei in the second round.