Last high school football season, Corona del Mar and Newport Harbor reached a CIF Southern Section finale for the first time during the same year.
If the Back Bay schools plan to return in the fall, it looks as though it will be in different divisions.
The coaches from both programs — CdM's Scott Meyer and Newport Harbor's Jeff Brinkley — expected their leagues to move up. The section released the playoff groupings on Tuesday, rewarding CdM for winning a third straight Southern Division title with tougher competition, and Newport Harbor, off a Southwest Division finals appearance, with a newly created division and stiffer competition.
The Sea Kings' league, the Pacific Coast, is heading to the Southwest Division. The Southwest Division is the one Newport Harbor made a run in to its first section finale since 2005. Having three Sunset League teams — Edison in 2012, and Newport Harbor and Huntington Beach in 2013 — play for Southwest Division titles during its two years in the division forced a change to the West Valley Division.
Unlike CdM, which will stay in Orange County if it qualifies for the playoffs, the Sailors will travel all throughout Southern California for the postseason. Making long drives to Santa Clarita, or to the Inland Empire and facing schools with larger enrollments are what Brinkley has issues with.
"I don't think any team in the Sunset wants to leave at noon for a 7 o'clock game," Brinkley said of the West Valley Division playoffs, which will feature the Baseline, Foothill, South Coast and Southwestern leagues. "The change [in division] doesn't make geographical sense. But we've played Division I football before [when we were in the Pac-5 Division from 2006 to 2011], and if that's where we land, we're going to strap it up and do the best we can."
Next season marks Brinkley's 29th at Newport Harbor. During his time, the Sailors haven't ducked any team. Brinkley has built a storied program, posting a 228-105-3 overall record, and taking Newport Harbor to eight trips to the section finals, winning three.
Winning another might prove to be difficult for Newport Harbor.
The Sailors will be in the West Valley Division with the likes of Southwestern League powerhouse Vista Murrieta, which has played for the Inland Division championship in each of the past five seasons, and South Coast League juggernaut Mission Viejo, which has appeared in five section finals since 2001 under Coach Bob Johnson, three coming against Newhall Hart and Valencia of Valencia, members of the Foothill League. Hart beat Valencia for the Northern Division championship last year.
"I just think that they had a bunch of good leagues that they tried to stick in a spot, and they created this thing," Brinkley said. "I thought we were in a very equitable division [in the Southwest] with La Habra and Villa Park. The Southwest is where we should've stayed."
Newport Harbor Athletic Director Mike Zimmerman is expected to voice the Sunset League's concerns on Wednesday, when the section will hear appeals from leagues regarding their placement in the playoff divisions for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.
The Pacific Coast League will also have a representative to appeal its placement in the Southwest Division. Meyer said he isn't for returning to the Southern Division, which is still home to Costa Mesa and Estancia, both from the Orange Coast League. The new member to the Southern Division is the North Hills League.
Meyer, entering his fourth season at CdM, sees the Southwest Division as a challenge for his program. The Sea Kings are coming off a historic season, claiming its third section title in a row, and capping an undefeated season with its first CIF State Division III Bowl Game title. The Sea Kings became the first team in California to finish 16-0.
"We're kind of excited," Meyer said of going up against teams in the playoffs from the Crestview, Empire, Freeway and Sea View leagues, which make up the Southwest Division. "We have been kind of preparing for this by building up our nonleague schedule [with games against Carlsbad La Costa Canyon, Dana Hills, El Toro, Newport Harbor and Tesoro]. We feel like we can compete, even though some of these schools are much bigger than us [in terms of enrollment numbers]."