A little more than five weeks ago, cross country brought high school sports back to Long Beach with no guarantees that a full season would be possible, or that a league final would ever take place. Those circumstances alone would have made this a memorable campaign, but the 2020-21 cross country season delivered a number of unforgettable moments, culminating in a thrilling league championship meet on Saturday afternoon at Cabrillo.
Ultimately, the defending champions retained their crowns, with the Poly boys’ team claiming a 14th consecutive Moore League title and the Millikan girls’ winning back-to-back team championships for the first time since 1983-84.
“The excitement comes with being able to finish the season,” said first-year Poly boys’ head coach Cameron Ford. “From a few months ago not knowing if we’d even be able to have a season all the way until now, it was wild for sure. But I’m happy we got a season in–the kids deserve it after being locked up for so long. To get the championship is a cherry on top, but the kids are all happy in the end.”
The girls’ race will certainly go down as one of the most unexpected finishes in city history. Even with high expectations after Poly’s one-point win over Millikan in their dual meet two weeks ago, the outcome of the race was still difficult to believe.
A false start due to a timing error forced the runners to start the race again, but the restart appeared routine enough with defending Moore League champion Camille Lindsay taking an early lead. The sophomore was running with an injury, however, and wasn’t able to maintain her signature pace. That allowed Millikan senior Bella Stockalper (last season’s runner-up to Lindsay) to take control of the race over the final mile.
Stockalper and teammate Anna Blocker were comfortably ahead of the field going into the final 100 meters of the race around the Cabrillo track. Both runners began to falter, however, with the warm, dry conditions taking a physical toll. Stockalper began to show major signs of fatigue and collapsed on the track, but was able to get back up quickly and labor around the final turn. Blocker was also struggling to carry on, and was forced to bow out of the race with about 50 meters left.
Stockalper valiantly pushed on, but ultimately collapsed about 20 meters shy of the finish. She was eventually able to get back on her feet and cross the finish with assistance of coaches on the field.
The unexpected twist of fate cleared the way for Wilson freshman Natalie Seymour to claim the individual girls’ title in a time of 19:42. Seymour had missed the early portion of the cross country season due to injury, and this was just the second varsity race of her life. She paid respect to the performances of Stockalper and Blocker, who were both doing well after receiving medical attention following the race.
“That was really a crazy finish and I think it’s really memorable, but it was a great job by both of them, they helped push me the whole time,” Seymour said. “I was really excited just to get out here because this is only my second race, so I was overwhelmingly happy when I finished, it was just crazy.”
Rebeca Perez finished second for Millikan in 19:45, Alexa Bryson was third for Poly in 19:52, and Lindsay crossed the line in fourth with a time of 20:05. Even with Stockalper and Blocker unable to finish, Millikan still had five of the top 10 finishers to help them secure the team championship. The depth of Erin Aguirre (5th), Hazel McIntosh (6th), Rebecca Ellens (8th), and Grace Vasquez (10th) proved to be the key for the Rams in defending their league title.
“It really does show everybody counts,” said Millikan head coach Angela Ibarra of her team’s performance. “I’m ecstatic and overjoyed. You really saw that they were determined, and whatever goals they had, it was the team included. They took that to heart and I’m just overjoyed.”
In the boys’ race, Millikan freshman Jason Parra claimed the individual title with a time of 15:06. Parra held off the challenge of teammate Scott Kirchoff in second (15:16) and Poly’s Cameron Rhone in third (15:17). A little over two weeks ago, Rhone caught Parra just before the finish during the Poly/Millikan dual meet, but Parra said he was determined to not let that happen again.
“I was thinking about something one of my teammates told me, he said ‘Quitting is permanent, but pain is only temporary,’” said Parra after the win. “So we have to make the best of all the opportunities we have. I thought I heard some footsteps when I got onto the track–those were probably mine–but that reminded me that I needed to pick it up, so that’s what I did and I made sure the win was secured.”
Poly countered Millikan’s 1-2 finish by placing five of the next six runners, with Rhone followed by Robert Guerrero (15:36) and Luke Larson (15:39) in fourth and fifth, respectively. The battle for sixth was the closest finish of the day by far with Millikan’s Ramon Lopez holding off a charging Kyle Johnson of Poly at the finish line by just four-thousandths of a second. Lopez finished in 16:10.086 with Johnson literally on his hip at 16:10.090.
Nicholas Mejia was the fifth finisher for the Jackrabbits in eight place, securing a narrow 27-28 victory for Poly in the league meet and an overall season championship. The Jackrabbits have not only won14 straight Moore League boys’ cross country titles, but have now won 24 of the last 25.
With high school track season set to begin in April and cross country coming back in the fall, there’s plenty of action ahead for Long Beach’s distance runners, but it’s safe to say this Moore League cross country season is one for the history books.