All City Basketball Football Long Beach Poly St. Anthony

All-City Gritty Performers of the Year: Sone Aupiu, Nala Williams

A certain level of toughness and grit is required to play any sports, but every year an athlete or two catch our eyes and distinguish themselves as having found another gear. That’s true of both of this year’s honorees, who played through injury and led their teams both emotionally and in terms of production.

Sone Aupiu, St. Anthony Football

The famous President Theodore Roosevelt quote, “Speak softball and carry a big stick” is the perfect way to describe how St. Anthony running back Sone Aupiu plays football.

Aupiu is one of the quietest superstars we’ve seen in Long Beach over the last decade, but his hard-nosed rushing style carried the Saints all the way to a CIF Southern Section championship game.

When asked how he felt about leading his team deep into the playoffs, Aupiu said, “I’m just trying to do my part and put in the work.”

Not only did Aupiu rack up over 2,000 all-purpose yards during the season, he did it all after coming back from a major ankle injury. He then re-injured himself before league play started, but stayed on the field for the Saints while being the major focal point on offense and leading the defense as middle linebacker.

Aupiu is also an elite rugby player with Belmont Shore Rugby Club, and will continue his football career at New Mexico State.

“I keep telling the recruiters that if these guys were at Poly with me all four years, by the time they were seniors they would be top guys,” St. Anthony and former Poly coach Raul Lara said.

Nala Williams, Long Beach Poly Basketball

Long Beach Poly senior Nala Williams stood between her team and history this year. The Jackrabbits girls’ basketball team had not lost a Moore League game since a lone defeat to Millikan in 2008, but the Jackrabbits were vulnerable this year as they returned almost no varsity experience besides Williams, and had a starting five that was learning to play together on the court, in big league games.

The postponement of the front half of the Moore League schedule due to COVID-19 led to some pretty weird moments, including Poly playing Millikan and Wilson on the same day, a Saturday, to make up the games. Williams scored 27 points in an overtime win over Millikan at 11 a.m., but badly sprained her ankle late in the game. She stayed in and was able to lead her team to a 48-42 OT win, with more than half of her team’s points.

She then came back with 14 points that night in a 58-37 win over Wilson, with her team stepping up so that she could get some more rest throughout the game. 

“She understands what it means to play here and to wear ‘Poly’ across her chest,” said Poly coach Carl Buggs after the win over Millikan. “She willed us to a win today.”

Williams said the decision to play through injury was easy.

“It’s the ankle I’ve hurt before so I could just immediately feel that pain again,” she said. “But I looked up at the scoreboard and we were only up by three and I said there’s no way I can come out. No way.”


All City

As athletes begin to specialize in a sport or even a position within a sport at earlier and earlier ages, the era of the multisport star has largely come to a close. It's no longer the norm for the city dominant high school athletes to earn Player of the Year consideration in multiple sports the [...]