Long Beach Poly and Wilson weren’t separated by much throughout the Moore League girls’ swimming finals at Cabrillo High on Thursday evening, and the 2019 league title ended up coming down to the final race of the meet.
The Jackrabbit quartet of junior Josie Liebzeit, sophomore Georgia Buffington, sophomore Allison Knapp and freshman Trinity Salcedo took first in the 400-yard Freestyle Relay to help Poly edge Wilson 527-492 and win its fourth consecutive Moore League championship.
“These girls love stepping up to the pressure,” Poly coach Kalani Caldwell said. “We’ve had a hashtag ‘4 Moore’ all year for our fourth in a row. They dug deep today. They wanted it.”
Poly is the first team other than Wilson to four-peat in the Moore League. The last non-Wilson team to three-peat was Lakewood in 1983-85. The Jackrabbits matched that feat last year with a roster full of experienced seniors, and had to reconfigure its young lineup this season.
“It makes it so much more meaningful,” Caldwell said of her young squads success. “Yesterday we had a meeting where the 11th and 12th graders were telling the younger girls, ‘You guys don’t know how hard it was because last year was super easy. So you think we just beat Wilson all of the time. No. It’s not like that.’ They said they wanted to go into today with confident urgency.”
“That meeting was really important,” Liebzeit said. “We knew that Wilson was headed into this meet really strong, so we had to have a sense of urgency while still being confident because we’ve won the last three. We had to fight, so we went in as underdogs.”
Liebzeit took home gold in the 400 Freestyle Relay, 200 Medley Relay, 200 Individual Medley and 100 Backstroke. The junior broke the 200 IM meet record set by Katie Rowe in 1986 with a time of 2:07.75.
“Josie is amazing,” Cladwell said. “She’s being recruited heavily and that’s super exciting.”
Liebzeit said she likes to stay active during her demanding meet schedule.
“I like having a long warm-up and warm-down,” Liebzeit said. “I also think it’s really important to cheer between your events because it gets you in the right mindset.”
Poly opened the meet with a victory in the 200-Yard Medley Relay as Liebzeit, sophomore Kate Cassiano, sophomore Victoria Quach and senior Emily Lester posted a 1:48.81 to automatically qualify for CIF Southern Section Division II competition.
Wilson also qualified in the relay, but the Bruins fell further behind the Jackrabbits in the overall point total when Poly’s Buffington and Knapp took second and third in the 200 Freestyle. Lakewood senior Maelynn Lawrence won that race (1:53.40) and qualified for CIF.
Lester won the 50 Freestyle (24.83) but Wilson junior Delainey Whelan and sophomore Ellie Sherlock finished 2-3 to give the Bruins a slight 199-196 lead at the break.
Poly quickly retook the lead when Salcedo (1:00.14) and Quach finished first and second in the 100 Butterfly. Buffington (53.34) qualified for CIF in the 100 Freestyle, just edging out Lester. That result gave Poly a 300-296 lead.
In the 500 Freestyle, Lawrence qualified for CIF with a 4:57.80 in her second victory for the Lancers.
Although Poly got victories in the 200 Freestyle Relay with Casino, Lester, Buffington and Knapp (1:39.72), in the 100 Backstroke with Liebzeit (57.56) and in the 100 Breaststroke with Cassiano (1:07.10) for CIF qualifying times, Wilson held the 492-487 lead headed into the 400 Freestyle Relay.
“I was so nervous, but I was so excited and had so much faith in my team,” Liebzeit said of anchoring the relay team. “I knew we were going to pull through. We did a great job, and it was nice having a lead.”
Liebzeit, Buffington, Knapp and Salcedo (3:36.44) broke a meet record set by Poly in 2016 to cap the overall victory.
“It was really fun last year winning by a lot,” Liebzeit said. “Having to fight for it this year was really rewarding.”
The CIF meet is April 29-May 4.
Special thanks to Anthony Monica for helping with score updates.