The Central Coast Section soccer playoffs get under way this week for 10 local team, nine of which will open either Tuesday or Wednesday. The Menlo School girls will be the lone exception after earning a first-round bye.
Thus, while the other nine are battling for survival, the Knights will be making their final tuneups to defend their CCS Division III championship.
Second-seeded Menlo won't get going until the quarterfinals next Saturday, taking on the winner of No. 10 Pinewood (14-4-2) and No. 3 R.L. Stevenson (12-4-4), who meet Wednesday in Pebble Beach at 3 p.m.
Menlo offers one of many story lines for the CCS playoffs. Can the Knights defend after winning the first outright section title in program history?
Other things to think about: Can the Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo School boys win their first CCS match since Division III moved from the fall to winter in 2009?
Can the Palo Alto boys and girls make the successful transition from the SCVAL El Camino Division and compete against the teams that put them in the lower league in the first place -- and find success after missing the playoffs last season?
And, can the Menlo-Atherton boys and girls plus Pinewood girls make the most of their at-large berths?
Most of the questions will be answered early in the week when first-round play gets under way.
In girls' Division I action Wednesday, No. 6 Palo Alto (13-4-2) will play host to No. 11 San Benito (11-3-4) at 6 p.m. At the same time, No. 7 Menlo-Atherton (9-6-5) will host No. 10 Leland (11-4-2).
Should Paly advance, it will meet No. 3 Los Gatos (14-3-2) in the quarterfinals next Saturday. Should M-A win its opener, it will face PAL Bay Division rival and No. 2 seed Woodside (17-0-3), which went 1-0-1 against the Bears in league matches this season.
In girls' Division III openers Wednesday, No. 8 Sacred Heart Prep (9-4-6) will play host to No. 9 Live Oak (9-8-2) at 3 p.m.; No. 10 Pinewood heads to Pebble Beach to take on RLS; and No. 12 Priory (9-6-5) visits No. 5 Santa Catalina (12-1-4) in Monterey at 3 p.m.
Should all three local teams survive, Pinewood will face Menlo School, Priory will take on either No. 13 Kings's Academy or No. 4 Scotts Valley, and Sacred Heart Prep gets No. 1 Santa Cruz (12-2-5) in the quarterfinals.
If there is an odd seeding in the girls' Division III bracket, it's the No. 12 received by Priory. The Panthers finished second to only Menlo in the West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) and ahead of third-place Sacred Heart Prep and Pinewood, which won the Skyline Division but lost a playoff match to King's Academy.
Priory obviously deserved a much higher ranking, unless the CCS committee got wind that Panthers' scoring leader Mariana Galvan would be absent while training with Mexico's Under-20 National Team. Nonetheless, should have been seeded higher than both SHP and Pinewood.
In the boys' playoffs, Sacred Heart Prep will get the earliest start by opening on Tuesday in Division III. The No. 5 Gators (15-2-3), who have won five straight WBAL titles, will host No. 12 Carmel (9-3-6) at 3 p.m.
On Wednesday, No. 9 Palo Alto (13-5-2) received an at-large berth in Division I and will visit No. 8 Evergreen Valley (14-2-2) at 4 p.m. Menlo-Atherton (9-7-3) also earned an at-large berth and will visit No. 5 Mountain View (15-2-3) at 3 p.m.
Should both teams advance, Paly will face No. 1 Alisal (17-0-3) in the quarterfinals while the Bears will meet either No. 13 Santa Teresa or No. 4 Alvarez.
In Division III, WBAL runner-up Menlo School (12-5-3) received the No. 10 seed and will visit No. 7 Burlingame on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Should Menlo advance, it will face No. 2 Soledad (14-3-3). Should SHP win its opener, it will face either No. 13 Santa Cruz or No. 4 San Mateo on Saturday.