With a win over archrival Wilson in the regular season finale, Long Beach Poly ended last season tied atop the Moore League girls’ soccer standings. The Jackrabbits finished with the same league record as Millikan, who have won the league championship for the last three years running.
If you ask this current group of Poly Jackrabbits, that’s been long enough.
“We definitely want to take the title completely this year,” said Long Beach Poly head coach Anthony Perez. “We want to get it back into the trophy case over here, that’s the plan.”
Poly is looking to secure its first outright Moore League title since the 2015-16 season, and Perez is confident the Jackrabbits have the talent to make that happen, with a good mix of experienced upperclassmen and some exciting young talent. He expects to have 27 players on the varsity roster this season, with six of those players in ninth grade.
The Jackrabbits will need to replace key players up front and at the back, after the Moore League’s co-Offensive Player of the Year Kelsey Adams and co-Goalkeeper of the Year Kira Ybarra both graduated after last season.
One player in particular Perez expects to make a big impact this season is University of Portland signee Isabella Yakel. She was needed at center back last season, but will be put back to her natural position in the midfield and provide support for the Poly attack. Yakel said she is motivated by the tie with Millikan last season and has seen her team get even closer since returning to campus.
“I think with the tie, it’s really been pushing us to keep working harder to try to bring it back, so we can have it to ourselves,” Yakel said. “Also, I think being back together here at school has really helped with that. With all the other sports back, I think the culture of Poly has felt really normal again. So I think that’s really helped with the school spirit and bringing the team together.”
The Jackrabbits also benefit from the return of talented playmaker Olivia D’Anna, who was a big part of Poly’s offensive gameplan a season ago. Junior Misha Hebert was also a stalwart in the Poly midfield last season and she agrees that the team is more connected this year thanks to having a more traditional preseason buildup.
“I think spirit-wise, our team is pretty up there,” Hebert said. “This year, now that the quarantine is all over, we have time to actually create this chemistry. I think we are ahead considering last year’s circumstances. We didn’t get to know each other until the season came. But now in the preseason, we still have time to get to know each other pretty well.”
Perez also expects big things from junior Cynthia Ramirez, who was not on the field much last season but should be a key player at the top of the Jackrabbits attack. Fellow junior Cece Hallock also showed flashes of her speed and attacking ability last season.
Unfortunately for the Jackrabbits, exciting junior forward Kyla Gomez is out for the season with a knee injury. Key senior Sarah Eden Amara, who started at right back for Poly last season and provided her trademark long throw-ins, is also injured and out for the year.
One of the key lineup decisions for Perez this season will be who starts in goal for the Jackrabbits. The battle to replace Ybarra will come down to junior Kennedy Justin and senior Kamy Amaya. Perez has been impressed with both of them as they battle for playing time, and they should both get plenty of minutes during the non-league season to try to earn that starting spot.
Overall, the Jackrabbits should take on a more aggressive attacking shape with their formation this season. Perez had them in a 4-5-1 formation, but is planning a move back to a 4-3-3 look this season to have more players in an attacking position. He’s also hoping to see the Jackrabbits play a variety of styles this season to help keep opponents off balance.
“One thing that we’re trying to change is our deception in our play,” Perez explained. “I think last year, we got into this rhythm of doing the same thing. We would have that little bit of success, but we kept it going, and in a soccer game if you keep doing the same thing, defenses can get a rhythm of what you’re doing, then all of a sudden, they can start countering that.”
In order for Poly to achieve its goal of an outright Moore League title this season, the Jackrabbits know they’ll need better results against Millikan. Poly led 2-0 late in the first meeting against the Rams, but ended up settling for a 2-2 tie in that match. The emphasis for this season is to close out those marquee games against Wilson and Millikan and get back on top of the league–all by themselves.
“Those are the games that we really have to perform at, and we’ve got to finish,” said Perez. “I think that’s the key, we’ve got to finish.”