The high school sports scene has burst back into life in Long Beach in fits and starts, with cross country meets and water polo games paving the way for Friday Nights Lights at the end of this week. The dual cross country meet between Long Beach Poly and Millikan on Wednesday afternoon on Poly’s campus was the most thrilling event of the restart thus far, with two tight races on Poly’s 5K course, including one decided by a single point.
The Poly boys won 22-38 and the Poly girls won 28-29 in a battle between the Moore League’s two top cross country teams this year, setting up what could be an absolutely wild team championship race at Moore League Finals on March 27.
The atmosphere was incredible, with fans cheering loudly from the stands as runners charged past each other in the final few hundred meters, changing the team results.
“It was so much fun, I could feel the hype,” said Poly sophomore Camille Lindsay, who easily won the girls’ race with a time of 19:34. “You could hear the cheering all across the school–it felt good to have an exciting race. It felt…normal. Which is the best thing you can say right now. It felt normal.”
The Poly girls race featured drama that’s anything but normal. Lindsay finished first by 12 seconds, but teammate Maile Quinn coming in second was just as important. Quinn passed Millikan star Isabella Stockalper in the final few hundred meters. Stockalper led a Millikan pack with Hazel Mcintosh and Rebeca Perez, but the win came thanks to Poly’s Sasha Johnson and Alexa Bryson, who both moved up one spot into sixth and seventh overall in the final 300 meters, giving Poly the additional few points they needed to overtake Millikan, with four of the top seven finishers.
“We knew it was going to come down to the finish and just, who can push the hardest?” said Poly girls coach Gabrielle Bournes. “That was the most exciting, seeing them take control and push.”
It was a remarkable race for a Poly team that is mostly freshmen and sophomores on the varsity team, as they banked valuable experience for the league finals. Last year Poly topped Millikan at the league’s first two cluster meets, but lost at league finals, which the Rams won along with the tiebreaker to seize control of the league title.
“We haven’t had as good competition lately,” said Millikan coach Angela Ibarra. “I told them today it’s more important that they just compete, and it was really exciting.”
In the boys’ race, Millikan was certainly thought to have an edge coming into Wednesday. Rams freshman Jason Parra hadn’t been caught yet this year, and Poly had seen a few different runners finish at the front of a very tight pack. But despite fast starts from Parra and Scott Kirchhoff, the Jackrabbits hung in there and stuck together, correcting a mistake their coaches said they made against Wilson when Poly runners tried to go out too quickly with Bruins’ lead man Nico Colchico.
The strategy paid off, as Poly sophomore Cameron Rhone tracked Parra down over the final few hundred meters, passing him on the final turn into the finish chute to take first place with a time of 16:07; Parra was just behind at 16:08.
“That was the plan the whole time, just stick with him and then get him at the finish with my long stride,” said Rhone. “I think we told every Moore League team that we’re not going to lose this year.”
Rhone is the son of Clarence Rhone, a successful distance runner at Poly himself and a longtime assistant coach with the school’s girls’ basketball team. Cameron said that joining the Poly legacy he’d been aware of his whole life was a big motivation for him this year–along with besting his dad.
“I’m just trying to follow in the steps of my dad, he ran here and had a lot of records,” said Rhone. “So I’ve just been trying to beat his times, and I did already.”
After Rhone and Parra were Poly’s Luke Larson, Millikan’s Kirchhoff, and then four Poly runners (Robert Guerrero, Mason Lindsay, Brandon Perry, and Nick Mejia) as their pack pushed through to finish together. Ramon Lopez was the next finisher for the Rams.
First-year Poly boys coach Cameron Ford was glad to see his team’s strategy pay off, and to see a fellow “Cameron” win the race.
“It’s a great name,” he said with a laugh. “We have one senior on varsity, we’re a really young team, but we’ve used our time with these young guys to figure out okay where’ your move, what’s the plan? They executed it perfectly.”