Count the Notre Dame-Belmont girls’ basketball team among those squads that qualified for the Central Coast Section playoffs with a well below .500 record.
At 9-16, the Tigers join the likes of Milpitas (6-15), Willow Glen (8-15), and James Lick (9-11), among several others, as teams who many will question why they were extended an invitation with losing records.
CCS rules stipulate, however, that all a team must accomplish during the season is compile a .500 record in either non-league play, league play or overall. By virtue of its 8-4 non-league record, Notre Dame-Belmont qualified for the CCS Division IV tournament.
Unlike those other schools, which were either unseeded or earned a high number, the Tigers were chosen as the No. 1 seed in Division IV. A such, the Tigers received a bye into Saturday’s quarterfinals at home, against a team and a time to be determined.
“I knew we were going to be in the top four,” Notre Dame coach Josh Davenport said. “I’m not too surprised (we got the No. 1 seed).”
What gives? If people want to assign blame, assign it to the West Catholic Athletic League, arguably the toughest league in Northern California. To demonstrate just how strong the WCAL is, consider this: all seven schools in the league qualified for CCS. WCAL champion Sacred Heart Cathedral (10-2 WCAL, 19-6), is the No. 1 seed in the Open Division, and is joined by three other WCAL schools — No. 2 St. Ignatius (10-2, 23-4), No. 3 Mitty (8-4, 16-10) and No. 5 Presentation (5-7, 15-10).
Those seeding reflect where the schools finished in the WCAL standings.
The WCAL’s fourth-place team, St. Francis (6-6, 14-10), is the No. 1 seed in the Division II bracket. Valley Christian (2-10, 12-13), the sixth-place finisher in the WCAL, is the No. 1 seed in Division III.
To make a long story short, Notre Dame-Belmont is consistently thumped in league play by six of the toughest teams in Northern California.
“I started to realized over the last couple of years, no one outside the WCAL realizes how difficult [playing in the WCAL] is,” Davenport said. “All they know is our record is not very good. … All of our losses are quality losses. We get something from that. A lot of people outside the WCAL don’t comprehend that.”
Davenport knows this and tries to impart that knowledge to his team, while also impressing on them the competition the Tigers play in the WCAL more than prepares them for this time of year.
“It was always my concern: Am I going to be able to keep the girls motivated through the WCAL grind?” Davenport said. “We’ve been successful enough to keep them motivated to get to CCS.”
Besides, it’s not like Notre Dame doesn’t deserve one of the top seeds — if not the top seed — in their division play. A look at the Tigers’ history over the last several years shows that despite perceived subpar teams, the Tigers consistently finish among the top in their division year in and year out. They were knocked out in the quarterfinals last season, their worst showing since a quarterfinal loss in 2006. Between 2007 and 2012, however, the Tigers advanced to the semifinals six straight times, winning the 2011 Division IV championship in the process.
In their four of their other semifinal appearances, they lost to a team from — you guessed it — the WCAL.
“The year we won CCS (in 2011), I think we beat four section champions along the way and we got the No. 2 seed. Ultimately [the seedings] comes down to strength of schedule. People should walk a mile in our shoes. It’s preparing us for CCS,” Davenport said. “But I want to quiet all the doubters. I want the kids to play to the best of their abilities, and if they do that and we win CCS, that’s great.”