By Ray Hamill — Now that we’ve all had a chance to catch our collective breath after such an exhilarating regular season in H-DNL soccer, we can turn our attention to the North Coast Section playoffs.
Two of the three leagues were not decided until the final day of action, capping a very competitive season for the boys and the Little 4 girls.
The three league champions — the Eureka and St. Bernard’s girls and Del Norte boys — all receive an automatic berth for the playoffs and should all host their playoff openers, at least.
The Loggers, who will be playing for a third consecutive NCS crown, are ranked No. 1 in what is a diluted pool of teams for NCS fall soccer with just 20 girls teams split into two divisions (Divisions 1 and 3).
Fortuna is ranked No. 2, with Arcata No. 4, St. Bernard’s No. 7, McKinleyville No. 8 and Ferndale No. 10.
The St. Bernard’s girls will be competing for a fourth straight Division-3 crown and should receive a top two seed considering Mendocino is the only Division-3 team ranked ahead of them at No. 6.
According to to NCS rules, to be playoff eligible a team must have a .500 or better record either overall or in league or against teams in the same division.
Last week, longtime Arcata head coach Patrick Stranahan said his team would not be accepting a playoff spot after finishing third out of four teams in the Big 4, but his players convinced him to change his mind.
“Since we spoke the team had earnestly asked me to pursue and compete in sections with them,” said Stranahan, who is stepping down after this season. “I will. That’s what a teammate does.”
There would be no more fitting way for Stranahan to close out a storied career coaching the sport here on the North Coast than to win a first-ever NCS title with Arcata, and a victory over Eureka in their regular season finale suggests they could do just that.
Ferndale, meanwhile, will be included in the Division-3 bracket, and the Wildcats could be in line for a top-three seed in what likely will be a four-team playoff field, along with Mendocino, St. Bernard’s and Technology out of Rohnert Park.
No other Division-3 team appears to be playoff eligible.
The pool of NCS fall teams for the boys, meanwhile, is substantially larger with 46 teams in three divisions.
All of which makes me question the rankings.
Either way, both the Warriors and Huskies should make the 16-team Division-1 field for schools of 380 students and up, along with Arcata, Eureka and McKinleyville.
The Panthers, who defeated Willits 7-3 on Thursday, are the 13th ranked Division-1 team in the NCS, according to MaxPreps.
South Fork also appears to be playoff eligible in Division 2.