One question was ripping around Long Beach social media after Sunday morning’s release of this year’s CIF Southern Section playoff brackets: “Division 4?!”
That is indeed where longtime power Long Beach Poly is seeded, as the No. 1 team in Division 4. The Jackrabbits will host Trabuco Hills this Friday at Veterans Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m.
As to that question everyone’s asking–how did Poly end up in Division 4? The answer is, a variety of factors, some of which are Poly’s fault and others aren’t. The Jackrabbits started the season 1-3, with a one-point loss to Serra, lopsided losses to Mission Viejo and Corona Centennial, and a win over Leuzinger. Those losses–which happened while the team was banged up and also missing players due to the CIF-SS transfer sit-out period rules–moved Poly down in the rankings.
They then ran the table in the Moore League. Because the CIF-SS’ new playoff format is based on CalPreps’ rankings, and because those rankings factor strength of schedule in, the league schedule actually moved Poly down, despite them running the table. After beating Jordan with a running clock, Poly moved down three spots in the CalPreps rankings.
“After the Centennial game, we knew everything was out of our control on the rankings,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “We had no choice of what division we’d be in–that was all predicated on how we finished our preseason. So for six weeks we’ve been saying it doesn’t matter what division we’re in, we want to win whatever one we end up in.”
That’s going to be Poly’s goal now, as they seek to prove that they’re a better team than their division assignment is. The question is–are they? Certainly over history, the Jackrabbits have won 19 CIF-SS championships, produced 70+ NFL players, and won more games than any other program in California. But this year, they’ve lost to every team ranked ahead of them and beaten every time ranked beneath them.
The Jackrabbits are confident they’re a much better team than the one that started 1-3, but because of the level of competition in the league, they don’t really have evidence of that improvement. By ranking, this Trabuco Hills team will be the best program Poly has faced since their loss to Corona Centennial in the fourth week of the season.
“We’re healthy, we’re focused, and as a head coach that’s all you want,” said Barbee.
Their first-round opponent in Trabuco Hills is a program that likes to run it, and has put up more than 300 yards on the ground in their last two games. The key is stopping Drew Barrett, an All-CIF running back and outfielder who will be the featured back this week.
If Poly wins Friday, they’ll face the winner of Upland and St. Paul in the quarterfinals next week.