A couple of people asked me after St. Margaret’s 15-8 victory over Harvard Westlake in the Southern Section title game how close the L.A. half of the bracket is to breaking the O.C.’s seven-year streak of CIF titles. It’s an interesting question, and pretty fair given how close Palos Verdes came to beating Corona del Mar last year — CdM rallied late to win 7-6 — and how well Harvard Westlake played SMES for a half this year.
Foothill won the first five north-south championship matchups, from 2007 through 2011 before CdM won last year and St. Margaret’s this year. The north has been represented in those title games by Palos Verdes (three times), Mira Costa (twice), Loyola and now Harvard Westlake.
So when will the north bracket break through? It’s always tough to answer hypotheticals like that, so I decided to look at it a couple of different ways, trying to get some sort of handle on the overall quality of lacrosse being played in the north, as well as the depth of talent and the development of complete teams, not just one-year wonders.
That last point is important, I think, because in the time I’ve been watching high school lacrosse in the L.A. area, I’ve see a bunch of teams win plenty of games and advance deep into the playoffs while leaning on just a couple of players. In fact, one coach told me that when he took over as head coach at his high school, he was advised by a colleague to simply identify his one or two best players, get them the ball and let them go one-on-one. That’s how you win games around here, the other coach said.
But that’s not how you play lacrosse.
And it’s certainly not how you’re going to beat teams like St. Margaret’s or Corona del Mar or Foothill or JSerra or any of a number of other teams who can move the ball, get offense from multiple contributors and defensively can shut off your one weapon.
But I think it’s also important to note that the advice mentioned above came a few years ago, and that’s a long time in the development of the game in an area with great athletes. Perhaps that philosophy worked at one time, but now teams are posting rosters with kids who have been playing at a high level these last three years (and more), kids who have been working on their games year-round. Top to bottom, high school rosters are deeper and more talented than they were just a few years ago.
So how good is L.A. compared to Orange County? One source of comparison is the LaxPower.com ratings. Orange County teams dominate the top 10, holding seven spots in the final 2013 rankings. But expand that to the top 20, and the O.C. holds only nine of 20 spots. Top 30? The south holds 13 of 30 spots. There are more top 30 teams from the north bracket — L.A. and Ventura counties — than from Orange County.
Three years ago, the 2010 final rankings also had seven O.C. teams in the top 10, along with 12 of the top 20 and 16 of the top 30.
So there’s some progress. Three years ago, Orange County dominated the Lax Power ratings. While teams from the south still have a hold on the top 10, L.A. teams hold 14 of the 20 spots between 11 and 30.
How about head-to-head matchups? A couple of teams ventured out of their region this season. Here are some cross-county results:
• Feb. 27: Foothill 8, Oak Park 2 in Anaheim
• March 2: St. Margaret’s 9, Oak Park 8 at St. Margaret’s
• March 6: San Clemente 20, Oak Park 4 in Anaheim
• March 19: Palos Verdes 9, at Santa Margarita Catholic 8
• April 13: Corona del Mar 11, at Thousand Oaks 4
• April 20: Agoura 13, at San Clemente 12, OT
• May 11: St. Margaret’s 15, Harvard Westlake 8 at West Torrance HS
There might have been others, but those stand out as examples of top-rated teams from each county squaring off. The O.C. won five of the seven matchups, and the two losses were by one goal each, one of them in overtime. So perhaps its fair to say that the best of the O.C. still are a step ahead of the best from the north.
But take note: Oak Park made three trips from Ventura County to the O.C. in a span of eight days to face teams that eventually finished in the top 10 in the LaxPower ratings. They lost all three, but don’t believe for a minute that scheduling like that won’t help close the gap between the two halves of the Southern Section bracket.
So when will an L.A. team break through? It might not be next year, but it’s coming. Harvard Westlake was a young squad this year, listing only seven seniors on a published roster of 33 players. Palos Verdes loses a couple of excellent seniors to graduation, but the Sea Kings started three freshmen and return half their roster. Oak Park also was very young, listing seven seniors on a roster of 29 and expected to return its top six scorers.
It will be fun to see if one of those teams — or someone like Crespi or Loyola, or Westlake, Agoura or Newbury Park — can field a team with enough depth, talent and experience to be the first L.A. champ to win it all.