Kenny Diekroeger was sitting in the stands at the San Jose State Event Center a year ago, watching the Menlo School boys' basketball team as it defeated Palma for the Central Coast Section Division IV title. Diekroeger regretted his position as spectator, but knew full well where he would be in 2008-09.
"I knew I'd be with the team," said Diekroeger, who spent last season concentraing on his baseball career. "I just hope we can get back to the CCS championship game."
Diekroeger wasn't the only interested spectator last season. Then-junior Alex Smith was on crutches after suffering torn meniscus in his knee -- sidelining him for much of the season. Smith and Diekroeger made successful returns to the team this season and the Knights are right back in the hunt to defend their title.
Menlo (20-3) received the No. 1 seed for the CCS Division IV playoffs and a bye into the quarterfinals this Saturday at Hartnell College in Salinas. The Knights will face the winner between No. 8 Harker (19-7) and No. 9 Gunderson (15-12).
"I am happy with the No. 1 seed," said Menlo coach Kris Weems. "That was one of our team goals this season and the guys came through.
"The bracket is favorable for us because there are several programs that we have seen and had success against. It's also great for our league to have four teams represented in D-IV, as well as Eastside (Prep) getting the No. 1 in D-V, not to mention Priory and Pinewood having a legitimate chance to do damage in the playoffs."
Menlo leads three other West Bay Athletic League teams into the tournament. The others are No. 6 Sacred Heart Prep (16-9), No. 12 King's Academy and the aforementioned Harker, which at one point led the WBAL before suffering losses to Priory, SHP and Menlo and winding up tied for third with Eastside Prep.
Sacred Heart Prep will host a second-round game on Thursday (7 p.m.) against the winner of No. 11 Carmel (13-13) and No. 14 San Jose (10-14). The Gators are in the bracket opposite Menlo, setting up a possible you know what.
"I think there's a solid chance of a rematch of Menlo and SHP," Weems said, "but we have to take care of business on our end. We'll worry about the opponent if we get the opportunity."
Should Menlo and Sacred Heart Prep reach the championship game, it'll be held March 6 at Santa Clara University at 4:45 p.m.
The Knights defeated the Gators twice during the WBAL season, the most recent victory a 60-50 triumph last Friday when Menlo senior Will Tashman scored 25 points.
The boys' Division II finals also will be held on March 6. Getting, there, however, won't be easy for any of the three local teams. Palo Alto, Gunn and Menlo-Atherton all have plenty of roadblocks ahead.
Palo Alto (13-11) received a No. 11 seed and will host a first-round game on Tuesday against No. 14 Sobrato (20-6) at 7 p.m. A victory will earn the Vikings a shot at host No. 6 Mills (16-11) on Thursday, also at 7 p.m. Should Paly advance to Saturday's quarterfinals at Foothill College, a familiar opponent will be waiting -- Gunn.
The Titans (22-5) received a No. 3 seed and two byes to the quarterfinals. That means only two victories will put the Titans in the section finals, perhaps against No. 1 St. Francis (25-2). In Gunn's half of the bracket, however, is No. 2 Mitty (16-10), a potential opponent in the semifinals. Only the section finalists advance to the CIF NorCal playoffs.
In the bottom half of the Division II bracket is No. 5 Menlo-Atherton (16-10), which was ousted in the opening round of the PAL playoffs by Terra Nova last week. The Bears will open Thursday at home against the winner between No. 12 Westmont (14-13) and No. 13 Wilcox (16-9) at 7 p.m.
In the CCS Division V playoffs, Eastside Prep (16-8) was rewarded for its competitive play and third-place tie in the WBAL (with Harker) with the No. 1 seed. The Panthers have a bye into the quarterfinals Saturday and will face the winner of No. 8 St. Lawrence (14-9) and No. 9 North Valley Baptist (12-12).
For Eastside Prep, the bracket is most favorable for reaching the section finals on March 7 at Santa Clara University at noon. A possible semifinal opponent is No. 4 Pinewood (10-13), a team Eastside Prep defeated twice during the league season. Should the Panthers reach the finals, they could face No. 3 Priory (14-9), another team Eastside Prep twice defeated in league play.
Priory has a bye into the quarterfinals and will face either No. 6 Marina (17-7) or No. 11 San Francisco Christian (12-10) at West Valley College. Pinewood will take on No. 5 Mid-Peninsula (14-7) on Saturday, also at West Valley.