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It’s hard to make history at Long Beach Poly, a school with 125 years of athletic domination in its history. The Jackrabbits boys’ water polo team is hoping to do just that over the next two weeks, as they seek to claim the school’s first CIF-SS water polo championship in 92 years. There’s still a long way to go for Poly, which is seeded No. 1 in the Division 4 bracket, but Tuesday evening’s playoff opener couldn’t have gotten things off to a better start, as they easily defeated Ayala 18-5.
“I’m pumped,” said Poly water polo coach Ish Pluton. “I’m pumped because we went into that game saying let’s play Poly water polo, and showcase what we’re all about, and that’s what we did. It was super awesome to be able to just see it, to see them play our brand of water polo.”
The game, which was played at Cabrillo, had “Poly win” stamped all over it from the beginning. The Jackrabbits were up 3-0 within two minutes, and dominated the entire pool as they won every quarter and got tremendous offensive and defensive performances.
Reece Hammond had four goals, two assists, and two steals in the win.
“We wanted to come out with a lot of energy tonight, have a lot of fun and start the playoffs the right way,” said Hammond. “I think we did that for sure.”
Poly led 6-0 before the Bulldogs got their first goal, and it was never closer than five goals after that. In addition to Hammond, three other Jackrabbits got a hat trick as Beau Wade, Tyler Oatey, and Markus Cruz each chipped in three. Oatey had three assists, four steals, and a block as well.
Wade said that the Jackrabbits have been thinking about making history this year since the Spring COVID season, which featured a lot of competitive league play water polo, but no playoffs.
“It’s been on everyone’s minds, and when we started climbing up the (CIF-SS) rankings that were coming out, just seeing our name moving up that list, we’ve never seen that before,” he said. “So we all knew we had a chance, and it just motivated us to keep working and getting better, keep the energy up.”
Energy is something that all the Poly players and coaches talked about, and it was obvious that it was a focal point. The team had 17 steals, and the bench and crowd got just as excited for those plays as they did for goals.
“It’s been two years since the last CIF,” said Wade. “So you have everyone screaming and going crazy, it’s such a good feeling. It’s crazy.”
The Jackrabbits also got tremendous play from goalie Charlie Lemmis, who had 10 saves and five steals. Lemmis was a vocal leader on the defense, and his play definitely brought that excitement out of Poly’s bench, especially after a play late in the game when he saved a penalty try by Ayala.
“I’m honestly so hyped about it,” he said. “I know it’s a huge boost when I’m playing well, and our defense is playing well. We can all feel that energy.”
The Jackrabbits will take their energy on the road for the second round, as they travel to Don Lugo Thursday for a 5 p.m. contest in Chino.