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"For the FIRST TIME in Southern California, teams will no longer be classified by enrollment or on the basis of public or private school classification."
The landscape in high school basketball changed during the offseason in the CIF-Southern Section and the significant revisions could end up having as profound an impact on nine Santa Clarita Valley area schools as the shot clock or three-point shot.
For the first time in Southern California, teams will no longer be classified by enrollment or on the basis of public or private school classification. Instead, factors such as recent playoff success, strength of schedule and depth of league opponents were weighed more heavily in an attempt to produce the most competitive divisions from top to bottom in advance of the season, which begins November 21.
Basketball has continued to be the model of postseason evolution and innovation in the Southern Section, with the introduction of the Open Division playoffs in 2014 in an attempt to gather the 16 most talented boys and girls teams in Southern California regardless of enrollment, school classification or league with the goal of producing arguably the most competitive bracket in any state in the country.
Other sports have followed already this school year, with football, girls tennis and girls volleyball eliminating playoff divisional grouping by leagues and placing teams based on postseason performance in recent years, in addition to quality of opponents and strength of league. Boys and girls soccer have adopted a similar format in the winter, with baseball, softball, boys tennis and boys volleyball scheduled to follow their lead in the spring.
Although no Santa Clarita school has qualified for the boys or girls basketball Open division playoffs in the first three years the format has been used to determine the elite teams in Southern California, three local programs will begin this season in Division 1-AA, the deepest collection of talent the sport has to showcase in the entire state, represented by 44 teams in the division for each gender.
The Valencia girls were the only Foothill League basketball team in either gender to compete in Division 1-AA last season, losing in the second round of the playoffs. With plenty of depth and experience, led by Kayla Konrad and Kenadee Honaker, Valencia has an opportunity to potentially qualify for the Open Division or make a significant run in Division 1-AA.
Canyon, which reached the Division 2-AA girls final last season before losing to Newbury Park, has joined Valencia in Division 1-AA this year. The Cowboys, led by Talia Taufaasau and Rachel Bowers, advanced to the second round of the Division 3 state playoffs last season, but will face a much tougher challenge in the postseason this year.
Hart achieved the most success of any boys team in the Santa Clarita Valley last year, reaching the Division 2-A semifinals and advancing to the second round of the Division 3 state playoffs.
The Indians, faced with the challenge of replacing nine seniors, have also been elevated to Division 1-AA this year. Whitten Dominguez will lead Hart in pursuit of its fourth consecutive league title and additional playoff success in its new division.
Perhaps the biggest example of a Santa Clarita Valley team being affected by the playoff reconfiguration is the Trinity Classical Academy boys team. The Knights won a Division 6 championship in 2014 and competed in the Division 4-A playoffs last year.
Despite graduating its top four scorers from last season, Trinity Classical Academy is now competing in Division 3-AA, the same playoff grouping as Golden Valley.
The boys teams from Canyon and Saugus also find themselves together in Division 2-A after both competing in Division 2-AA last season, with West Ranch now in Division 1-A and Valencia in Division 2-AA. West Ranch moved up from Division 2-AA, and despite winning two games in last year's playoffs, Valencia was moved down from Division 1-AA.
Santa Clarita Christian, which reached the Division 5-A boys final in 2014 and remained in the same playoff grouping through last season, is now in Division 5-AA. Albert Einstein Academy, in Division 5-AA last year, is now competing in Division 5-A.
The Hart girls team, led by Nicole Benz, took a significant step up to Division 1-A after competing in the Division 2-A playoffs last year.
Saugus and West Ranch, both playoff qualifiers in girls Division 2-AA last year, will seek greater postseason success this season after being moved down to Division 3-AA. Golden Valley, which reached the postseason in Division 3-AA last season, also moved down to Division 3-A.
Trinity Classical Academy had its girls program remain in Division 5-A after qualifying for the playoffs last year. Albert Einstein Academy moved down from Division 5-AA to Division 6, the largest of any of the 11 girls divisions with 87 schools.
The Rockets will be joined in Division 6 by Santa Clarita Christian, which was also reclassified after competing last season in Division 5-A.