Editor’s note: This story kicks off a new partnership between The562.org and the Post. Read more about it here.
Long Beach has the most eclectic sports community in the United States. No American city has produced more professional football players, baseball players or aquatic Olympians, and the recent youth sports success is more evidence of local athletic diversity.
Five Long Beach youth sports organizations offering five different sports are competing in multiple national tournaments this summer. Two of them have already won national championships, and they’ve all followed blueprints of success laid out by championship Long Beach teams of the past.
The Long Beach PONY’s 14-Under All-Stars had their backs against the wall for two straight days at the West Zone tournament last weekend in West Hills, but the local boys fought off four straight elimination games to qualify for their fifth PONY League World Series in the last 12 years.
Long Beach starts the 10-team international tournament on Sunday in Washington, Pennsylvania.
“It’s such an honor to be able to lead these young men back to the World Series,” said Ken Jakemar, All-Star manager and Long Beach PONY president. “They don’t know what excitement awaits them next week. But I do, and I’m very excited for each and every one of them. These will be lifelong memories.”
Jakemer managed Long Beach to PONY World Series championships in 2008 and 2012. He said he was confident this All-Star team had the pitching depth and power hitting to win the three summer tournaments necessary to reach the World Series.
After dominating the District and Super-Region tournaments, Long Beach dropped its first game of the summer to Maui, Hawaii in the West Zone tournament. Jakemer said his team took the loss hard, knowing that one more defeat would spell elimination.
“We were pretty down,” Jakemer said. “But after a good night’s sleep, the boys came out confident and ready to get back on the field. I knew then, that day was going to be special.”
Long Beach proceeded to win twice and Saturday, and twice on Sunday to take the tournament. Brendan Wilkinson, Myles Patton and Ryan Skjonsby all had four RBIs each on Sunday. Pitcher Jack Dhein only gave up one run in six innings in the championship game. The 14U All-Stars have a 13-1 record this summer, and have outscored their opponents 174-41.
“Ken (Jakemer) is always very positive,” Ryan Skjonsby’s father, Mike, said. “He allows an environment where everybody is included and important. I think that’s been a big part of their success.”
Klaus Barth, Ricardo Azevedo and Rich Foster revolutionized American water polo when they established Shore Aquatics in 1993 as the country’s first year-round youth water polo club that still emphasized swimming.
“When we grew up we were swimmers first, then water polo players second,” said current Shore water polo Director Chi Kredell. The Wilson High and Long Beach State alum is one of Shore’s 27 Olympians produced since 1996.
“My wife, Kristin, runs the swimming side, and not a lot of clubs offer that,” Kredell said. “When you pay to play water polo with Shore, you also get swimming.”
That dedication to being stronger swimmers has helped shape the way Long Beach plays water polo. The city is known for its defense-first mentality that leads to devastating counter attacks with faster swimmers in the open water.
Earlier this month, the Shore 10-under girls’ water polo team used that strategy to win a Junior Olympics national championship. Coach Brendan Patterson, who played water polo at Wilson and with Shore, realized before the season started that his undersized squad was perfectly suited to play the Long Beach way.
“We knew we needed to win with counter attacking and movement,” Patterson said. “It’s a Long Beach tradition. Shore swimming is not just conditioning.”
The Shore 10U girls won all nine of their JO games in Palo Alto, and defeated Vanguard 5-0 in the final thanks to an MVP performance from defender Katherine O’Dea. Patterson put her one-on-one with the biggest player from Vanguard, but O’Dea wasn’t intimidated.
“She isn’t the biggest, and she was getting dunked the whole game by this girl, but she didn’t complain,” Patterson said. “She gave us all we could ask for.”
O’Dea said of defensive strategy: “Whenever she grabbed me I’d put my hands up, or stay back and keep my hips up. My dad taught me that.”
Katherine’s dad is Barry O’Dea, who coaches girls with Shore and at Wilson. He helped the Bruins win their first CIF Southern Section championship this season in his first year as head coach.
“Patterson has done a phenomenal job with this group and getting them to buy into the team atmosphere,” O’Dea said. “They all just support each other so much.”
Also at the Junior Olympics, the Shore 14U boys finished fifth in the nation, and the 12U girls’ team was 16th overall. The club will be hosting a free session Aug. 20-24 from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Belmont Outdoor Pool.
The Beach FC 15-Under Girls’ Development Player League team won a 2018 US Youth Soccer National Championship late last month because of its playing style. Despite only having 10 players on the field after a red card, Beach FC wore down Cleveland FC in the championship game by keeping possession of the ball. When coach Robert DeMelo brought in fresh legs off of the bench in double overtime, Amanda Scott scored the game-winning goal with about five minutes left to play.
“By letting the ball do the work it’s less running and less physicality,” DeMelo said. “So, when you get to that sixth game (of a tournament) you still have a little bit left. If you chase for five games, you get to a final and you’re done.”
Barcelona FC has become one of the most successful professional soccer clubs in the world by playing that patient ball-control style, and that’s what Beach FC wants to look like. By keeping the ball away from the opponent while building from the back, Beach FC can create offense all over the field against a tired, spread-out defense.
“We have urgency, but at the same time we’re more calm, collected and together than other teams,” said national champion Sophia Cole. “Our movement is probably what makes us stand out the most. I think that’s why we won. Sometimes other teams are just kicking it forward.”
The distinct style has helped Beach FC win five national championships since LBSU women’s soccer coach Mauricio Ingrassia established it in 2008. Ingrassia coaches the same style at LBSU, but said it wasn’t his plan to have it influence Beach FC.
“It kind of evolved,” Ingrassia said. “That style of play was built more by inspiration than command. Our coaches saw it be successful. Now, if the two teams playing weren’t wearing jerseys, you’d still know which team is Beach FC.”
In order to hoist the national championship trophy, Beach FC won five games in three days in Frisco, Texas by a combined score of 10-2. Goalkeeper Zora Standifer delivered the shutout in the championship game, and Sydney Saypack was named tournament MVP with six goals.
“I wouldn’t call it a team, I would call it a family,” Cole said. “They’re literally my sisters. Everyday I’m like, ‘wow, I’m so lucky to be a part of this team’.”
Two Los Altos Youth Baseball & Softball teams reached uncharted territory this summer.
In June, the 12-70 All-Star baseball team hosted and won the Cal Ripken Southern California Championships. It also hosted the Pacific South West Regional last month. Last week, the 12U All-Star softball team reached the Babe Ruth Cal Ripken World Series in Florida after winning the Pacific South West title.
Some of the games in Florida were broadcast on ESPN.
Belmont Shore Rugby
Belmont Shore Rugby Club is sending two of its amateur college-aged teams to New York this weekend for the 2018 USA Rugby Club 7’s Championship.
Belmont Shore Rugby is the only club in America to send multiple representatives more than once. Its 15’s team won the Pacific Rugby Premiership in the spring, and lost a national championship game by one point.
Free news isn’t cheap.
We believe that everyone should have access to important local news, for free.
However, it costs money to keep a local news organization like this one—independently owned and operated here in Long Beach, without the backing of any national corporation—alive.
If independent local news is important to you, please consider supporting us with a monthly or one-time contribution. Read more.