Img 5194
Football Long Beach Poly

Long Beach Poly Girls Flag Football Grab Runner-Up Trophy at Inaugural Championship

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Poly alum Jayon Brown and PlayFair Sports Management.

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by JuJu Smith-Schuster and the JuJu Foundation.

Of course it came down to Long Beach Poly and Serra.

After a decade of classic games between the two schools’ football teams, the Jackrabbits and Cavaliers’ girls’ flag football teams met in the inaugural League of Champions Southern California, hosted last weekend at Redondo Union High by the Chargers and Rams. The rest of the state is likely to formally add girls’ flag football as a sport this Friday, and the vote should be easy after fans got a chance to see the caliber of talent on display at Redondo.

After a pair of exciting semifinals, Poly fell to Serra in the championship game, 20-18.

“It was a great season, it rejuvenated me around coaching,” said Poly athletic director Rob Shock, who was co-head coach of the Jackrabbits alongside Poly football coach Stephen Barbee. “These girls, their energy–it was a great opportunity for them. There’s no ego with these girls, we changed some positions today, and they just wanted to play and represent their school. I know they’re hurting that they came up short but they accomplished some amazing things this year.”

Support The562.org

Chief among those amazing things might be a thrilling comeback win over Redondo Union, which saw Poly win the game literally with no time left on the clock on a converted extra-point try.

The Jackrabbits and Sea Hawks have been neck and neck all year, and they were in the semifinal as well, with the game in a scoreless tie at halftime. Redondo got on the board first in the second half with a pick-six that was returned from Poly’s end zone.

But the Jackrabbits bounced back, tying the game up on a long touchdown pass from Aaya McLyn to Leilany Castro, then taking a lead on a two-point conversion pass from McLyn to Janelle Morris. Redondo struck back, though, taking a 13-7 lead with 1:16 remaining in the game.

McLyn found Lauryn Zwerner for a huge first down conversion at midfield on the last drive of the game, then hit Aniyah Wilson on a long bomb with no time left on the clock, tying the game. The Jackrabbits avoided overtime with an incredible toe-tap catch by Zwerner on the extra-point try, on another dime by McLyn. That gave Poly a 14-13 victory, and sent their team rushing onto the field for a huge celebration.

In the championship, it looked like it was going to be all Poly, as they got interceptions on Serra’s first three drives (one by Neferteria Williams and two by Denise Herrera) and scored touchdowns on passes from McLyn to Neela Bagley and Castro to build a 12-0 lead.

Poly didn’t convert any extra-point tries, which ended up looming large in the second half. Still, Poly led 18-13 late and needed one more stop to win it--but Serra was able to score to go up 20-18. Poly got down to a first and goal, but had the potentially game-winning touchdown pass deflect just out of reach on the last play of the game.

The players took the championship loss hard, but still had some perspective on how historic their season was, and how well they performed as a roster of soccer, softball, swimming, and basketball athletes who decided to give football a try.

“It meant a lot to get to be the first to do this, I’m just proud of our team,” said Wilson. “I want to continue to pursue the sport and help pave a way for other little girls who want to play football.”

Wilson is being recruited by college programs who have started girls’ teams, and may be the first player from Long Beach to sign a girls’ flag scholarship.

Shock said more than anything, he appreciated getting to coach girls who were so excited to try something new.

“Everyone really embraced it and gave it their all, and we had some of our boys players Luke Buggs, Valentino Saenz -Castruita, and Ezekiel Orozco come out to help coach and teach which was special,” he said. “Obviously we wish the last game had gone differently but these girls did something special. I know there’s little girls watching them and watching the videos and thinking about playing football in high school.”

PHOTOS: Long Beach Poly Girls Flag Football
VIDEO: Long Beach Poly Girls Flag Football
Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.
http://The562.org