By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Empire volleyball teams largely face a tough road in the North Coast Section playoffs with Maria Carrillo, Cardinal Newman, Sonoma Valley and Anderson Valley gaining the most favorable seeds when matches begin Wednesday.
Sonoma Valley's reward for winning the Sonoma County League title and tournament is a first-round bye.
Yet should the Dragons defeat Novato in round two, they'd likely get a road match at top-seeded Campolindo.
"We look forward to taking each team we come up against with fight no matter what the outcome," said Sonoma Valley coach
Mindy Orth-Neves. "My team would like to be confident with playing strong against other strong teams."
In large school competition, Maria Carrillo is seeded third in Division 2 and is set up for a pair of home matches to reach the semifinals.
Playing in round one rather than getting a bye is a plus, said Pumas coach Jeff Nielson.
"It is really important. It should keep us in rhythm," Nielson said.
With three section championships, the last in 2008, Maria Carrillo will be challenged to take another title. The Pumas fell to second seed Northgate in a tournament, and the top seed is defending section champion Redwood.
Casa Grande, seeded No. 5 in Division 2, opens at home Wednesday against No. 12-seeded Concord.
"It is a tough field. But there is a lot of parity at the top," Nielson said.
North Bay and Sonoma County league tournament runners up Analy and Cardinal Newman face different paths.
Analy gets a home match with Del Norte. A win take the Tigers to second seed Bishop O'Dowd.
Petaluma, seeded sixth in Division 3, receives a first-round bye and will play at Albany Saturday night.
Leading the small school teams is Cardinal Newman with a second seed in Division 4. But the Cardinals must go on the road in round one Wednesday because John Swett was a league winner. Win and Cardinal Newman likely gets a home match with St. Helena.
The top Empire seed is two-time defending Division 6 champion Anderson Valley. Again ranked first, Anderson Valley would need to beat second seed Rincon Valley Christian — as they did a year ago — if the pairings hold to the finals.