Ten sports stories we’re looking forward to in 2020

Is there a stupider thing to do than to try and anticipate a year’s worth of stories in a world that lobs breaking news events at you every 30 seconds?

We know that many of the biggest stories in the year to come will be unexpected, but there are also some great ones already on our calendar. With that caveat in mind, here are, in no particular order, 10 stories we’re looking forward to in 2020.

We limited our Best of 2019 list to stories that actually happened on a field. There’s plenty happening in 2020 that will be decided in a council room, or perhaps a backroom somewhere.

First of all, what to do with the Elephant Lot? We know the Angels aren’t going there, but Mayor Robert Garcia has hinted several times at the possibility that some kind of sports venue could occupy the space. Perhaps a mid-size arena that could hold the Sparks or the Lakers’ G-League team? We feel confident that a year from now, there will be plans for the Elephant Lot to be more than just a parking lot with a great view.

Next up: how about we rebuild the Belmont Plaza Pool already?

Five years after the historic Olympic pool was demolished, the City Council has approved a new scaled-down replacement. The Belmont Beach Aquatic Center will face a few key votes in 2020, as well as the usual legal challenges. Long Beach’s aquatic community is hoping the pool clears those hurdles in the coming months so that we can look forward to groundbreaking in 2021. Fingers crossed.

Another major off-field story that we should ALWAYS expect to be writing about is Long Beach State’s mascot situation. Last May, LBSU students voted to adopt “Sharks” as the school mascot. Athletic director Andy Fee clarified that the Shark won’t represent the school’s sports teams, however, 2020 will be the year that the physical mascot begins appearing at events, probably starting with the school’s graduation ceremonies. We’re excited to see if the Shark is spurned by “49er” diehards or if the student body embraces the new wave? (Personally, we usually opt not to embrace sharks).

Speaking of Long Beach State, we’re wondering who the head coach of the basketball team will be to start the 2020-2021 season? Dan Monson is the winningest coach in program history but the team is struggling again this year, and the school’s restructured contract with Monson reportedly includes a low buyout number, leading to a fourth (or fifth, we forget) consecutive year of rumblings that this might be Monson’s last hurrah.

New Dirtbags Coach Eric Valenzuela. Photo by JJ Fiddler.

There are, of course, some games we’re excited for. We’ll stay at Long Beach State, where the Dirtbags have us champing at the bit to get back to Bohl Diamond at Blair Field to see first-year coach Eric Valenzuela’s squad. The coach turned around St. Mary’s in a hurry, so we’re interested to see if 2020 is a better season for the Dirtbags or if it takes a little time for him to right the ship.

There won’t be a bigger event all year than the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, where Long Beach athletes figure to be a big part of the action. The men’s volleyball team should be stocked with recent Long Beach State alums, and LBSU track associate head coach LaTanya Sheffield will be the national team coach for the sprints and hurdles.

Of course, most of our time (and most of the city’s attention) will be on high school sports, as is usually the case. In the winter, right out of the gate, we’ve got three Division 1 CIF-SS soccer teams in Wilson, Cabrillo, and Millikan, all of whom are in the chase for the Moore League title. On the hardcourt, we’ve got a top 10 team in the nation in the Long Beach Poly girls’ basketball team, ranked No. 6 in America this week by MaxPreps.

Rachel Glenn. Photo by John Napalan.

In the spring, there will be the usual baseball and softball excitement, but we’re excited for the track and field action on the oval. Wilson and Poly have superstars in Rachel Glenn and Jade McDonald, who should compete for individual state titles and help lead their teams in a race for team championships as well.

In the fall, we’re interested to see who will take over at quarterback at Long Beach Poly, Wilson, Millikan and St. Anthony. All four schools graduated QBs who led their teams into the playoffs, and the race for QB supremacy should be our biggest story heading into the season.

The fall will also be marked by some big fireworks in the girls’ volleyball schedule, where Long Beach Poly and Lakewood both figure to be ranked highly in the State, and possibly the nation. Both teams return exceptional talent and their matches against each other on 9/1 and 9/24 should be among the best league matches in the country.

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Mike and JJ go together like mac and cheese: they’re best friends, business partners and Long Beach sports experts. They’ve been working together for over a decade covering Long Beach local sports and now run the562.org, a community-funded nonprofit media outlet.
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