But that doesn’t mean the Peninsula Athletic League’s Bay Division lacks drama. The remainder of the division — Burlingame, Carlmont, Half Moon Bay, Hillsdale and Woodside — essentially forms its own league, with the winner earning a Central Coast Section playoff berth.

“We have specific games circled on our calendar that are games we are shooting for and it’s those four games,” said Half Moon Bay coach Justin Ferdinand, who guided the Cougars to a school-best, third-place finish in the Bay Division in 2016.

Menlo and M-A went 1-2 atop the Bay Division in 2016, while the rest of the league fell into place with the team above beating the team below. Half Moon Bay finished third with a 4-2 mark — 0-2 against the Atherton schools and 4-0 against the rest of the Division. Carlmont went 3-3, Woodside 2-4, Hillsdale 1-5 and Mills 0-6.

“In our mind, if we win three out of those games, you’re in the playoffs — potentially,” Ferdinand said.

The Cougars are going to have scratch and claw to stay in the race for a playoff spot this season as they graduated 11 from last year’s playoff squad.

It is in these situations that a true Bay team is measured. The biggest problem for teams that consistently bounce between the Bay and Ocean divisions is the lack of depth programwide. Teams at the top of the PAL food chain have developed a strong program from the freshman level through varsity. The true test for a Bay Division squad is: can it maintain the level of competitiveness to play against teams in the Bay while rebuilding?

“This year has the potential to be our most challenging season in the Bay,” Ferdinand said. “It’s close to that first year we first moved up into the Bay [in 2014].”

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Hillsdale. The Knights’ win over Mills last season —their first-ever in the Bay — kept them from being demoted to the Ocean for this season. Now they’re hoping to take advantage this season.

“We lost only one or two key players and are returning everyone else. [Last year] was a great setup [for this year] to play at that level,” said Hillsdale coach Ren Hodzic. “Now we know exactly what to expect.

“This is the year we were looking forward to the most because I have such a senior-laden team. But expectations are high, the ones we set on ourselves.”

Rejoining the Bay Division mix is Burlingame which, after a stint in the Ocean Division, is looking to add on to last year’s undefeated, Ocean-division winning squad. Carlmont and Woodside have developed into solid, stable programs over the last couple of seasons and will factor into the mix as well.

“We’re all pretty even,” Hodzic said.

But what has led the Bay Division to being one of the better water polo leagues in CCS? Coaches point to a couple reasons: coaches wanting to play against the best competition and players, actually playing against teams like Menlo and M-A, and putting in the work during the offseason.

“[Coaches] doing spring water polo, having kids do winter polo, running some kind of summer program, going out and coaching club and having your [high school] players join that team,” Hodzic said, ticking off the ways polo has changed on the Peninsula. “I think polo, as a whole, is taken a lot more seriously.”

Ferdinand’s driving goal is show that his Cougar teams belong playing with the best the PAL has to offer.

“For me, it’s about playing at the level of the competition,” Ferdinand said. “I just want to make sure we’re playing up to the level of our competition, no matter who that is.”