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Coaches are fans of new playoff format

02/11/2014, 6:21pm PST
By Steve Brand, Special to the U-T

Mater Dei Catholic’s David Monroe and Mount Miguel’s Robbie Sandoval see only pluses.

Mater Dei High’s girls basketball coach David Monroe outlines strategy for his players in a game against Bonita Vista on Friday. Mater Dei stands to benefit from this year’s playoff format. Earnie Grafton • U-T

Some girls basketball coaches aren’t sure if they like the new Open division for the postseason playoffs, but Mater Dei Catholic’s David Monroe and Mount Miguel’s Robbie Sandoval see only pluses.

That’s because by having successful programs over the past five years, they find themselves in the eight-team Open division with as many as three opportunities to advance to the state playoffs.

First, they can win the section Open division and see if the San Diego Section gets a berth in the state’s Open division.

If the state commissioners bypass them as one of the eight teams, they would be shoo-ins to get high seeds in their normal enrollment-based divisions—III for Mount Miguel or IV for Mater Dei Catholic.

Still a third possibility is even if they don’t capture the section’s Open division, each of them would again be given priority for a state playoff berth in their old enrollment division, where the possibility of capturing a state championship might be more likely anyway.

“It favors us in a majority of ways,” said Monroe, now in his ninth year at Mater Dei Catholic. “In the past few years, we were in Division IV, which had the top-ranked teams in the county — La Jolla Country Day and Bishop’s.

“That usually meant losing in the section semifinals. We never got three state playoff spots in Division IV — and we’ve never won a section championship.”

True, despite the fact they captured the state Division IV title in 2009. Mater Dei Catholic lost to Bishop’s in the section championships but came back and in the Southern California Regional final, upset the Knights before downing Modesto Christian in the state title game.

One of the guarantees of the section’s new Open division was that those who lose — and seven of the eight must lose — would get to be front-runners for the state playoff berths in the state’s enrollment-based divisions.

“The thing I really like about the Open division is that we’ll finally have a true champion,” Monroe said.

The Open division is designed to have the section’s eight best teams, which should make for some very exciting playoffs games. There will still be five other divisions based on success the past five years, the most successful in Division I and the least in Division V.

“I was on the committee that helped determine who would be in the Open division,” Sandoval said. “Originally I wasn’t in favor of the Open division, but when they said if you lose you could still be in the state playoffs, I liked it.

“What they’re looking for is equality of competition and having all the best teams in the Open division. I understand that. Originally we (and Mater Dei Catholic) were not in the Open division but we petitioned to move up so when three programs that were not equipped to be in that division this year (Poway, Serra and Horizon) opted out, we got in.”

Numerous proposals have already been advanced that would more precisely guarantee the top eight teams at the end of the season participate in the Open division.

Sandoval continues to chafe against public schools, whose student body is determined by specific geographic areas, having to face private schools like Mater Dei Catholic, which can admit students from anywhere in the county.

But he knows that battle has been waged at both the state and section level before and there is little interest in dividing the two.

Instead, both public and private schools will vie for the biggest prize of all — the Open championship — a competition where even those who lose can still win by earning state playoff berths.

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