08102017 Column

Long Beach Poly football coach Antonio Pierce and his Jackrabbits have a make or break season coming up.

The Long Beach sports community is walking a tightrope.

Recently, local schools and programs have been forced to balance diminishing funds and support in order to survive. Reaching the other side safely would be a historic resurgence for a proud city, but almost everyone from the Moore League to Long Beach State is working without a net.

I think in a decade Long Beach sports fans will be looking back at 2017-18 as a turning point for the city’s athletics. Facility improvements from the Long Beach Unified School District and Long Beach State are a perfect example of how bright the future is if we can get there. Construction has already suffered delays in both cases. Will that be a footnote on facilities that carry Long Beach sports into the next generation, or will it sour any chance for improvement?

Here are some other teams, programs and events that will either use this year as a catapult, or crumble under its pressure.

Long Beach Poly Football

Poly hasn’t reached the CIF-SS semifinals in three years, but NFL All-Pro and fourth-year coach Antonio Pierce has a trio of talented transfers in the mix along with 13 Division 1-offered players who could put the Jackrabbits back on the map. Transfer quarterback Matt Corral, receiver Jalen Hall and safety Aashari Crosswell helped earn the Jackrabbits the No. 10 ranking in the country according to MaxPreps.

A return to the top four teams left in CIF-SS Division 1 will prove Poly can remain relevant in a changing CIF landscape. If this year isn’t successful, where does Poly football go from here? How long does Pierce stay? And what does that mean for other football teams in Long Beach?

Long Beach State Men’s Basketball

It is impossible not to look at a season as a turning point after a decorated 10-year coach loses four returning starters to transfer in the offseason. Coach Dan Monson said in a recent interview, “it’s scary to have so many new people,” in his program, but he doesn’t have a choice. However, Monson and his staff did choose to fill the holes with long, athletic and experienced players. This will be Monson’s biggest team with 6’7” forwards Gabe Levin and Temidayo Yussuf as returning starters.

Success in the Big West Conference and at the year-end tournament will bring heaps of praise down on Monson and his resurgent program. Anything less likely will spell the end of the Monson era at LBSU.

Wilson High Water Polo

Both Wilson boys’ and girls’ water polo programs are looking for identity. The boys have won a CIF playoff game for nine consecutive years, but they were moved down to Division 2 and eliminated in the second round last season. The Bruins look at themselves as a Division 1 program, as they should, but they have to be successful in Division 2 before they can be that again. Another second-round playoff exit for Wilson will dig that hole a lot deeper.

In June, Wilson girls’ water polo hired new coach Barry O’Dea to take over the program. O’Dea was boys' water polo and swimming coach at Corona del Mar from 2005-2017, and he brings a hard-nosed style to the pool deck. The Bruins haven’t won a playoff game in three years, but return the Moore League Most Valuable Player in sophomore Brooke Gruneisen.

Long Beach State Women’s Volleyball & Basketball

Speaking of new coaches, can Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer and Jeff Cammon come back to LBSU and build on success, or is this the first year of a rebuilding effort? McKienzie-Fuerbringer has some talent coming back, but will face a very difficult schedule. Cammon has a much tougher road after the departure of a decorated senior class.

St. Anthony Football

The Saints are coming off one of the most successful seasons in school history with a CIF-SS title and first CIF State appearance. What are the expectations for this program? When will Clark Field reflect the quality of this program? The only way to find out how a group responds to success is for them to have some.

Moore League Baseball

The league is 6-24 in the last six CIF-SS postseasons, and haven’t shown any signs of improving after dropping down in divisions and going 0-4 last year. Another season without a playoff win for the league could be the final straw, and the entire Moore League could all end up in lower divisions before the current freshmen are seniors.

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

Despite numbers released by the Grand Prix Association, everyone who attends the Long Beach Grand Prix will tell you attendance has been dropping in recent years. It was extra obvious on Saturday this year without the pro/celebrity race. Some local dignitaries believe the event does great business for Long Beach, while others feel the weekend need a tweak to return to prominence. A switch to Formula 1 has been a rumor for years. It will continue to be if attendance keeps dropping.

Everyone in sports fears the unknown or unexpected, and there are simply more question marks surrounding Long Beach sports than ever before. However, everyone in sports also knows that every day is another chance to turn it all around. Long Beach is at that turning point right now.

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