This Thursday, October 17, Long Beach Poly’s Ron Palmer Pavilion will host a clash of the Moore League titans as the Jackrabbits welcome in Lakewood with a championship on the line. The two teams have long controlled the league trophy, with the last seven championships won by either Lakewood or Poly.
What’s rare about this match, however, is that it’s a true winner-take-all championship. Usually, because they’ve been the two top teams, the final meeting between the two of them is deciding whether or not the championship will be shared between them or not, as it was in 2015 and 2017 when the teams split their regular season meetings.
“It’s a match that doesn’t need a lot of building up,” said Poly coach Leland McGrath of the rivalry. “Everyone in our area knows about it, they know it’s a big deal–I’m usually more worried about keeping the kids from getting too excited about it.”
Poly certainly played plenty excited the first time the teams met this year, when the Jackrabbits handed the Lancers a three-set defeat, led by sophomore Adonia Faumuina’s triple double with 10 kills, 12 assists, 10 digs, five blocks, and an ace. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy as the teams square off again.
“I think we’re at our best when we’re playing great defense, when we’re blocking the ball and passing well,” said Lakewood coach Mike Wadley. “They’ve got some great players, and the way we compete in matches like that is playing with a lot of emotion and energy.”
Lakewood’s advantage is their back row, with senior libero Alwen Pila leading a capable group of passers. The team’s freshman setter, Fatima Hall, will be a Division 1 NCAA setter in four years, and she’s got plenty of weapons in sophomore Laura Williams and freshman Samarrah DaCoud outside, and senior Makayla Sorenson and sophomore Keke Hall in the middle.
Poly’s strength is the wide array of firepower that the Jackrabbits boast. Faumuina and senior Pearl Tuliau are the team’s setters in a 6-2 rotation, which stars Faumuina, Aniah Cutler, Elle Requejo, and Kamy Anaya hitting on the pins, and Kaia Brown and Rylie McGinest in the middle. Grace Abdoo and Nikayla Iamaleava have been the team’s most consistent passers.
One of the reasons this rivalry is special is because of the deep respect between players and coaches. Several of the teams’ best players are teammates in the club world with Mizuno, and Wadley and McGrath’s friendship goes back several years as both are veteran Moore League coaches.
The other thing that makes this so special is that these teams are among the best in Southern California. Most Moore League rivalries no longer have that top-division luster, but both Poly (No. 9 in CIF-SS Division 1) and Lakewood (receiving votes in Division 1) are in the top 20 in the CIF-SS, proving that big public schools can still compete with the best of the best.