JSerra Lions and others benefit from CIF playoff model that levels playing field

By Dan Arritt     12/16/2019

One of the latest beneficiaries of the new playoff model is the JSerra boys’ water polo team. 

Based on a formula that accounts for a team’s past playoff performances, its number of wins, margin of victories, and strength of schedule, the Lions were classified as CIF-SS Division 4 team before the season. 

They took advantage of the more even playing field and won the program’s first section championship in school history on Nov. 16. 

A year ago, Servite did the same in Division 3, going all the way for the program’s first section title since 2005. 

What both teams also had in common is they each finished fourth in the Trinity League before making their lower-division championship runs. 

Under the previous playoff format, JSerra and Servite likely wouldn’t have qualified for the postseason. 

That’s because if teams didn’t finish in the top three and automatically qualify for the playoffs, they could only hope for wild-card berth. Even then, they would compete in Division I or 2 with the automatic qualifiers, and then be matched against one of the best teams in those divisions in the first round. 

That proved extremely difficult for teams that weren’t at the same level as others in their league.  

The Mater Dei, Santa Margarita and Orange Lutheran boys’ water polo teams, for example, combined to win five section titles in Divisions 1 and 2 between 2015-17, while JSerra, Servite and St. John Bosco felt lucky just to experience a playoff game. 

The new playoff model not only gives teams a chance to chase a section title, but against teams deemed closer to their competitive level. 

After the Lions were tagged as a Division 4 team back in the spring, JSerra entered the season ranked sixth in the division before moving to No. 1 in late September. 

The Lions continued to hold the top spot, earning the top-seed for the Division 4 playoffs. 

JSerra went on the road in the first round and beat Beaumont, 12-3, then won back-to-back home games against Yucaipa (10-3) and El Segundo (14-19). The Lions headed back on the road for the semifinals and beat Pacifica 13-8. 

Up against San Juan Hills in the championship game, JSerra allowed the first four goals. 

“We were kind of flustered,” JSerra junior Lachlan Treister told reporters afterward. “I didn’t know how it was going to turn out.” 

The Lions pulled within a goal at the half, and then surged ahead with a strong third period before holding on for a 13-10 victory. 

Treister said the recipe for success was simple. 

“Just commitment, training,” he said. “If you believe in it, you’ll do it. And we all believed in it.” 

The Lions had no seniors on this season’s team, leaving them in great shape for another long playoff run next season. 

JSerra’s success this season could lift them into a higher division next season, but Treister already has a goal in mind. 

“Another championship, hopefully,” he said. 

Mater Dei, Santa Margarita and Orange Lutheran might be feeling envious of the Lions. All three lost in the first round of the playoffs each of the past two seasons.