1. Dublin climbs to the top
In the Bay Area Preps HQ preseason rankings, there were 10 teams from the North Coast Section ranked ahead of No. 18 Dublin, which was a bit of a mystery after its three-year standout, Robby Beasley, transferred last spring to Dougherty Valley for his senior season. But the cupboard was far from empty for coach Tom Costello, and he molded a veteran-laden team into something special. The Gaels won the section’s strongest league, beating Dougherty Valley for the East Bay Athletic League championship on Saturday, and posted a non-league victory over Salesian along the way. Sunday, the NCS rewarded Dublin with the No. 1 seed in the section’s new six-team Open Division. That means in the eyes of the section, the Gaels are the No. 1 overall seed going into the playoffs. “If you asked me last spring or summer if we’d be in this position, I don’t know if I could have told you that,” Costello said. “But it’s a tribute to how hard our kids have worked.”
2. Open’s top seeds have long wait
The good news for Dublin and Salesian is they are the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the Open. The challenge, for both coaches and players, is how they will stay crisp waiting for their semifinal games Feb. 26. Both will have 11 days off between winning league titles Saturday and playoff openers. “I am actually going to put together our week’s schedule right now, and it’s different, trying to keep them motivated and keep them sharp,” Costello said. “It’s a double-edged sword. It’s awesome to be that 1 or 2 and have that time off and make sure we’re healthy. But at the same time, we’ve won nine in a row after that one tough week when we lost three straight league games. You kind of want to keep that rolling. As a coach, you’ve got to figure out creative ways to keep things interesting.”
3. DLS, Branson left out of Open
With the Open Division capped at six teams — largely because lower-division schools feared that they would lose NorCal regional bids to compensate an eight-team bracket — the NCS decision-makers had their hands full determining which teams to choose and where to seed them. The six Open teams are guaranteed a spot in NorCals. The section went with four locks — Dublin, Salesian, Bishop O’Dowd and Campolindo — and then pored over the criteria before going with San Leandro as the fifth seed and Dougherty Valley at No. 6. San Leandro has a pair of double-digit losses to O’Dowd but beat Dougherty Valley 85-65 on Dec. 18 and Mission Valley Athletic League co-champion Moreau Catholic 73-43 on Dec. 27. Branson, which opted up from Division IV to Division III to be eligible for the Open, was left in D-III despite a 26-2 record. De La Salle, which beat Dougherty Valley at home last week to split the season series, was the No. 1 seed in Division I. With the six Open teams coming from the Divisions I through III pools, only the finalists in those three enrollment divisions will advance to NorCals. In the previous format, all semifinalists moved on. Commissioner Pat Cruickshank sat in on the Open and Division I discussion Sunday and commended the committee’s thoroughness during a challenging process. “It took a long, long time,” he said.
4. No. 1 seed SRV hits the road
The NCS bylaws honor teams that win league championships. They have for years. If you win a league title, you get to host in the opening round, provided that your opponent was not a league champion as well. San Ramon Valley did not win a league crown, but its resume was worthy of the No. 1 seed in Division II, according to the seeding committee. The Wolves’ opening-round opponent, Vallejo, won the Stone Division of the Tri-County Athletic League on Saturday. Vallejo’s resume merited a No. 16 seed but also a home game Tuesday against San Ramon Valley. “It’s an easy one for us,” Cruickshank said. “That’s what our bylaws state. If they (SRV) win the first-round game, then they’d be home through the semis.” The Miramonte girls traveled last season as a No. 1 seed, routing No. 16 Benicia 80-33. The Mats went on to reach the Division II final.
5. Can an MVAL team make another run?
In 2017, both James Logan and Moreau Catholic of the Mission Valley Athletic League played for state championships. In 2019, James Logan made it back to a state final, a run that included winning the Northern California Division I title. If an MVAL team advances that far this season, they’ll have to do it from an underdog position. Moreau and Washington-Fremont shared the league title. That got Moreau a No. 4 seed in Division I and Washington a No. 3 seed in Division II. Only the finalists in each of those divisions advance to NorCals. Moreau is looking at a potential quarterfinal Friday against No. 5 seed Monte Vista and a possible semifinal at top seed De La Salle next week. If Washington beats Vintage in the first round Tuesday, the Huskies could have a third date with league rival Newark Memorial — the sixth seed — in the quarterfinals Friday. The teams split two games this season. “When I saw that, that was gut-wrenching for somebody from the MVAL,” Moreau coach Frank Knight said. “They should have been on two different ends because they’re both very good teams.” Logan is seeded 10th in Division I and will visit No. 7 Mt. Eden on Tuesday. “They’re super dangerous right now,” Knight said of Logan, which won at Moreau on Feb. 8.
Where are last year’s champs?
• D-I: De La Salle (19-7) claimed the title three of the past four years, and will get another shot as the No. 1 seed in a diluted bracket after four of the contenders found their way into the Open Division.
• D-II: Moreau Catholic (17-9) got promoted to Division I based on competitive division criteria and received a No. 4 seed, with its path to a title littered with East Bay Athletic League teams.
• D-III: Salesian (23-5) never had a chance to make it four in a row after it joined the Division II pool based on competitive division criteria, and then earned a first-round bye in the Open Division as the No. 2 seed.
• D-IV: Branson (26-2) petitioned to move up to Division III, which made it eligible for the Open Division — but missed the cut. As the No. 1 seed in D-III, the Bulls can claim a fourth NCS trophy in a row (D-IV last year after back-to-back D-V titles).
• D-V: University (20-7) ended up with a tougher path to repeat as champion as a No. 4 seed in Division IV.
• D-VI: Cornerstone Christian (23-6), promoted into Division V, must travel in the opening round as the No. 10 seed.
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