With five local teams headed to the CIF Southern Section girls' volleyball playoffs, there's plenty of different scenarios to mull over with each one facing a different path to what each squad hopes will be a CIF title.
Bellarmine-Jefferson is the only team seeded for the postseason, while Burbank High also figures to be favored at home in its opener and Burroughs, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy and Providence hit the road Tuesday.
There was plenty of good news for the Guards this week. Not only did they lock up the third seed for the Division IV-A playoffs with a perfect run through the Santa Cruz League, but they'll have their impact middle blocker Mariah Bankhead back from a knee injury that's kept her out most of the year.
"We've had two practices with her right now and she hasn't missed a beat," Bell-Jeff Coach Miguel Segura said. "She has been antsy to get back on the court and she came out real strong. Right now, she looks very good with the team."
After falling to No. 1-seeded and eventual Division IV-A champion Hemet in the 2011 quarterfinals, the Guards (14-7, 9-0) are looking to improve on last year's run.
Bell-Jeff will host Kern Valley, an at-large team out of the High Desert League, Tuesday and, should it win, it won't face another ranked team until a possible date with Laguna Blanca (12-5, 7-1), which entered the playoffs ranked eighth, in the quarterfinals.
If things go according to plan, the Guards wouldn't face another seeded team until the semifinals against No. 2 Frazier Mountain (21-2, 10-0).
"That's one of the bigger goals, to surpass what we did last year, but right now we are just taking it one game at a time," Segura said. "They're real confident and they're planning on making it to the championship. Obviously, we're taking it one game at a time, but they have high goals for this year and they want to go all the way."
Burbank, which earned a share of the Pacific League championship when it defeated Burroughs in its regular-season finale, hosts Valley Christian Tuesday. The Crusaders finished third in the Olympic League with a 4-4 in league, 17-6 overall, record.
"We had a great last week-and-a-half or so of league and hopefully we can keep that going," said Bulldogs Coach Sarah Brown, whose team went 18-3, 13-1 in the regular season. "I feel like playoffs is about who can stay mentally tough the longest.
"The girls are really excited about having a home match and I hope the school and student body comes out, supports us and we have a nice little home-court advantage."
The Indians may not be riding a wave of momentum into the playoffs after the loss to their cross-town rival, but through a wider lens their coach Edwin Real likes how his team's been playing recently.
"Over the last two weeks we've been getting better," Real said. "We played Arcadia tough and had a good showing in the CV Tournament — we took third. It was a disappointing match against Burbank, but we weren't really playing for anything. We were already locked into third [in league] and they were playing for everything. Without looking at Burbank, I'd say we're playing pretty good lately."
Burroughs (17-15, 10-4) hits the road to take on Cypress, the No. 2 team out of the Empire League.
"At this time, I don't know much about them, but I guess it's better to get a second-place team than a first-place team," Real said. "We treat the playoffs like a second season, so we have to put everything that happened before behind us. It's a whole new ball game."
An opening victory would likely put the Indians in a second-round rematch with third-seeded Oxnard. The Yellowjackets defeated Burroughs in the second round last year after dropping the first game, 24-26, 25-20, 25-22, 25-22.
The Tologs return to the postseason after a one-year hiatus under first-year, yet veteran playoff coach Ernest Banaag. They (15-15, 6-4) take on a familiar opponent with the sixth-ranked team in Division I-A, Valencia, on the road in the first round after earning the final guaranteed, third playoff spot out of the Mission League.
Sacred Heart is familiar with the Vikings (24-10, 9-1) after the two met in the Redondo Union Tournament just over a week ago on Oct. 26. Valencia, the Foothill League champion, defeated the Tologs in an abbreviated best two-out-of-three match, 25-22, 19-25, 15-6.
"The girls were asking me if I knew who we were going to play, and some of them were saying they wanted to play Valencia again because they wanted a rematch," said Banaag, who led Mayfield to CIF titles from 2008-10. "I had a funny feeling we were going to play them, too.
"I feel pretty good about it. Obviously [the Vikings] came in first in their league and we came in third in our league, but I feel like our league was a lot tougher than their league. We played them at Redondo and lost, but we didn't play our best. I think the fact the girls have seen them already and know they didn't play their best, as well, makes it a good story line."
Banaag said his young team went back to basics last week in practice to prepare for the intense playoff atmosphere it's going to encounter.
"I just tried to reinforce the idea that it's the technique, the fundamentals that are going to get them through the matches," Banaag said. "It's going to be loud and it's going to be crazy — they're going to have boys there — but the skills you have and the coaches are going to get you through it. … We have another shot at Valencia and hopefully second time's the charm."
The Pioneers (9-10, 7-4) are the only area school to open with a seeded opponent, as they'll travel to La Puente Tuesday. The fourth-seeded Warriors won the Montview League with a 17-10, 13-1 record, while Providence took fourth in the Liberty League.