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Mater Dei, Sage Hill and Orangewood girls basketball teams to collide in Open Division playoffs

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Orange County girls basketball fans will be treated to their own competition within arguably the toughest playoff tournament in the nation when the CIF-SS Open Division tips off.

Mater Dei, Sage Hill and Orangewood Academy — the top three team in the county rankings — were all selected to the prestigious Open Division on Sunday and placed in the same four-team pool, along with defending champion Sierra Canyon.

A cluster of three Orange County teams hadn’t occurred since the Open Division shifted to two pools of four teams in 2018-19.

Orangewood Academy guard Audrey Chow is surrounded by Fairmont Prep Academy players after getting a loose ball in a San Joaquin League girls basketball game at Fairmont Prep Academy. in Anaheim on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)Orangewood Academy guard Audrey Chow is surrounded by Fairmont Prep Academy players after getting a loose ball in a San Joaquin League girls basketball game at Fairmont Prep Academy. in Anaheim on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

“Great for fans and bragging rights,” Orangewood coach Leslie Aragon said. “We think this is a great accomplishment and are honored to be mentioned in the same breath with anyone in the Open.”

Fourth-seeded Mater Dei (22-6), ranked No. 1 in Orange County, opens the tournament Saturday by playing host to No. 5 seed Sage Hill (24-2), ranked second in the county. Eighth-seeded Orangewood (21-6), ranked third in the county, opens at No. 1 Sierra Canyon on Saturday.

Mater Dei defeated Sage Hill 74-64 in the teams’ only meeting this season at the Troy Classic. But since that Dec. 8 game, the Monarchs lost reigning O.C. player of the year Addison Deal to a season-ending ankle injury while the Lightning added transfer Aurora Elder as a key reserve. Elder is a 6-foot-3 senior post.

“(I) figured we would get Sage,” said Mater Dei coach Kevin Kiernan, whose program has been part of the Open Division each season since it debuted in 2014. “They are much deeper than they were the last time we played and we frankly are not.”

“We have adjusted to not having Addie and the kids have stepped it up but now we need to take it another level,” he added. “I can’t think of another state, much less a section, that has this kind of competition 1-8.”

Mater Dei will play host to Orangewood Academy on Feb. 14 as the pool-play continues. Sage Hill will play host to Orangewood — its former San Joaquin League rival — on Feb. 17.

Sage Hill coach Kerwin Walters agrees that fans will enjoy the county matchups but expressed mix feelings about the seeding.

“I thought we did the work all season playing strong opponents to have better seed considerations but we will have to just focus (and) do our part from this point on,” he said.

No. 2 seeded Etiwanda is in the other Open Division pool with No. 3 Ontario Christian, No. 6 Bishop Montgomery and No. 7 Corona Centennial.

Orange County is well-represented throughout the other divisions.

Orange Lutheran's Kelly Garrity drives around Mater Dei forward Kaeli Wynn in a Trinity League girls basketball game at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)Orange Lutheran’s Kelly Garrity drives around Mater Dei forward Kaeli Wynn in a Trinity League girls basketball game at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

Defending Division 1 champion Orange Lutheran (18-7) earned the No. 4 seed in Division 1 behind Brentwood, Windward and Corona Santiago. The Trinity League runner-up is seeking to reach a third consecutive section final having won Division 2AA in 2022.

Orange Lutheran plays host to Canyon of Canyon Country (14-13) in the first round Thursday.

Esperanza (24-4) and San Juan Hills (18-10) also will host first-round games in Division 1 on Thursday. The Crestview League champion Aztecs, ranked eighth in the final Division 1 poll, play host to Valley View (15-13). The Stallions, co-champion of the South Coast League, play host to Rosary (18-8), ranked 12th in the division.

Rosary recently lost senior guard Kayla Borgelt to a knee injury.

One of the best Division 1 openers could be Portola (21-5), ranked 16th in the division, at No. 10 Paramount (21-7).

In Division 2AA, San Joaquin League runner-up Fairmont Prep (20-8) claimed the No. 4 seed and opens at co-league champion Beaumont (16-10) on Thursday.

Freeway League champion Buena Park (19-9) is seeded fifth in Division 2AA and could face Fairmont Prep in the quarterfinals.

One of the county’s most exciting divisions appears to be Division 3A. JSerra (18-9), St. Margaret’s (22-6), Villa Park (17-10) and Dana Hills (24-4) are seeded first, second, fourth and fifth, respectively. The Lions, featuring several freshmen, earned the top seed as one of the county’s eight at-large selections.

Savanna (21-6), the runner-up to Anaheim in the Orange League, secured the county’s other No. 1 seed. The Rebels are seeded first in Division 5AA and are seeking their first section title.

Anaheim (26-1), with the best winning percentage in the county, is seeded third in Division 3AA.

Tustin (15-13), the fifth-place finisher in the Empire League, applied for an at-large berth in Division 4AA but didn’t receive a bid, Tillers coach Claire Gocke confirmed.

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