The Top 13 Long Beach Sports Moments of 2013: Part One

As the year draws to a close, we’re engaging in every sportswriters’ favorite pastime—making a list, checking it twice, arguing about it for an hour, and then checking it a third time. It felt like 2013 was an uncommonly successful one for Long Beach teams—Roschon Prince being named Gatorade State Player of the Year and Taylor Crabb winning NCAA Player of the Year both missed the cut—but then we realized, we’ve said that every year we’ve done one of these.

Come back tomorrow for the second half of the list! And then the day after for our predictions for what's big on the horizon in 2014.One thing is clear: we should probably stop expecting it to be easy to put this list together. The Long Beach teams and players always make it hard on us.

13. Flugtag Brings Crowd, Sets Record

This event organized by Red Bull is quite the show and in September it was in Long Beach where a world record was set. Flugtag drew 110,000 spectators to Rainbow Harbor to watch 28 teams hurl their homemade flying machines off the makeshift pier. After the requisite crashes and dances, a team of aerospace and mechanical engineers from Northern California called The Chicken Whisperers showed that a job could also be a hobby. The craft looked like a futuristic plane wing and glided for almost 15 seconds and flew 258 feet, a new world record that obviously earned them first place. The 85-pound craft was made out of foam, aluminum tubing and balsa wood. The Chicken Whisperers broke the previous world record of 229 feet set by a German team from a 2012 competition in Mainz, Germany.

12. A Moore League Softball Reunion

Lakewood took back the Moore League title in 2013 and has now won six of the last seven. In the CIF Division 2 playoff bracket, the Lancers ran into their league rival Millikan in the semifinal, their third appearance in the last four years. A phenomenal crowd came to Millikan High for this matchup that felt like the culmination of recent league dominance in the division. On the field, Lakewood senior Janel Hayes dominated in the circle and came up with a big hit in an 8-1 Lancer victory that qualified them for their first CIF final since 1995. Off the field, the moment was not lost on those involved.

“This is great for our school, our sport and our league,” said Millikan head coach Don Harper after the game. For the Rams, it was an end of an era with a decorated senior class of eleven graduating. The Rams made it to the quarterfinals three straight years before breaking through to the semis this year. If recent history is any indication, these teams will be back atop the division polls in 2014.

11. Jacob Orozco, King of Pain

If 2013 was a year that a lot of history was made, Lakewood’s Jacob Orozco definitely earned himself a seat at the table. The senior was a specialist in the 800-meter, a difficult, challenging race to run with its blend of sprinting and endurance. Orozco, the self-styled “King of Pain” because of his ability to run through whatever he’s feeling. In the CIF Southern Section Finals, Orozco looked like he’d mis-timed his push, and was fading down the back straightaway. But he was in fourth with 200 meters left, and went for it—he surged ahead and won the championship. It was the fist CIF title for Lakewood since Oswaldo Pina won the 3200 in 1999.

For Orozco, the championship meant a lot not only to him as an individual, but as a representative of Lakewood as well. “It just shows that you don’t have to be Poly to do well,” he said.

10. LBCC Claims Water Polo Crown

There were probably more impressive championships won by Long Beach teams than the Vikings’ 11-9 overtime victory over their rivals, Golden West—but there likely weren’t many more improbable. Golden West led Long Beach 3-0, and 5-3 , but goalie Lazar Andric came up with a penalty shot save, and the Vikings rode that momentum to a 6-5 halftime lead. However, they fell behind by a goal with less than two minutes remaining, and didn’t tie it until Marino Fatovic equalized it with 26 seconds left.

After a scoreless first overtime, LBCC took control in the second extra frame to grab control.

9. That Good JuJu

Poly football player John “JuJu” Smith not only led the Jackrabbits to a title in 2012, and was the face of the city’s most historic and widely recognized team in 2013, but he did it with a rare class and humility. In between weekends spend being flown around the nation to Alabama and Ohio State, Smith signed autographs for teammates’ younger siblings, posed for endless pictures, and generally dedicated himself to making sure nobody felt like he was big-timing them. After a game midway through the year, he spent fifteen minutes playing three flies up with fifteen young Jackrabbit fans on the track at Vets.

Poly has always had highly-recruited football players, dating back to the days when Al Davis was recruiting the area for USC. Few of them have done as good a job of not letting it get to their heads as Smith, a feat given that he was a top ten recruit in the nation, the most highly sought-after talent from the city since DeSean Jackson. Fox Sports pointed out he was possibly the best, safety, wide receiver, and running back in the state—they could have mentioned that, in between highlight reel plays, he was also the best teammate.

8. Transpactacular

Long Beach business owner John Sangmeister and his Tritium crew finished first in the July 2013 Transpac race, but they didn’t break the historic speed record they were chasing. The 73’ trimaran finished the 2,225 nautical miles sailing sprint from Long Beach to Hawai’i in five days, 11 hours, 52 minutes and 33 seconds, the second fastest time in the history of Transpac.  That was obviously good enough to finish first, but the crew will always wonder what could’ve been if they hadn’t hit massive debris six different times during the race.

“We hit a telephone pole at about 24 knots (appx. 26 MPH) and cut right through it,” said Sangmeister. The devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011 resulted in nearly 5 million tons the debris washed into the Pacific Ocean.

"This was an extraordinary journey and I couldn’t be prouder of the amazing crew of world-class sailors, our terrific partner Lending Club and this truly remarkable yacht that we were fortunate to race," said Sangmeister, who plans on chasing the record again in 2015.

“There are always more boats out there.”

Sports Guy Mike Guardabascio has been writing professionally for a decade, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards and is the author of the historical book "Football in Long Beach."

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