By Skip Pierce, Photos by S. Weiner
The Long Branch Women’s Lifeguard team won three of the six events outright and finished no worse than third in any event at the fifth annual Monmouth County All-Women’s Lifeguard Tournament.
Ten area beach squads competed in the tourney hosted by Asbury Park. Participating teams included Long Branch, Sea Girt, Spring Lake, Monmouth County Park System (Seven Presidents), Belmar, Asbury Park, Manasquan, Ocean Grove, Bradley Brach and Avon.
Long Branch picked up their first win in the second event of the day, the Surf Boat Race. The boat manned by Abigail George and Cassidy Stimpson got off to a good start benefiting from a strong launch by a quartet of male guards. The boats battled strong waves going out which created a tight race. However, the LB craft executed a perfect turn at the buoy to take the lead. The race concluded with University of North Carolina – Wilmington bound Stimpson emerging from the boat and sprinting up the beach to the finish. Spring Lake finished second followed by Bradley Beach.
The second LB victory came in the very next event, the Paddle Board Relay. There are three participants on each squad who individually navigate a course marked by buoys on a paddle board. Each competitor then hands off the board to a teammate who repeats the course as part of the relay.
Gwen Bencie, a newcomer to the Long Branch squad, executed the lead off leg and handed off to former UMass swimmer Hayley Masi in first place with Spring Lake and Sea Girt mere seconds behind. Masi held the lead around the buoys but Sea Girt’s Caroline Gmelich caught a good wave coming back to the shore to take the lead for her squad. LB anchor and Iona College swimmer Isabelle Pabon hit the water with determination and overtook the Sea Girt guard at the first buoy. Pabon extended her lead through the balance of the course for a comfortable victory. Sea Girt held on for second place and Avon passed Spring Lake for third.
Long Branch ended the day in upbeat fashion by capturing their third win in Beach Flags, the final event of the afternoon. This event is run in heats of two competitors who start by lying face down on the beach and at the sound of the whistle sprint 25 yards to finish and claim victory by
grasping a flag at the end. This is a physically challenging event with much jockeying for position during a driving sprint in the deep sand. With each heat the winner advances and the losers are eliminated.
Following all the elimination heats the final came down to LB’s MaryKate and Caroline Gmelich of Sea Girt. The pair battled stride for stride in the final with elbows swinging and sand flying behind the runners. The Ohio State-bound George gave up her body with a desperate dive at the finish to grasp the flag by the closest of margins.
Long Branch took a second place in the most versatile event, the Medley Relay. This relay is comprised of four components: beach run, swim, paddle board and kayak. LB led the event until the final seconds.
Samantha Hoagland finished the lead off beach run leg in second place. Lauren Joyce gained the lead for LB during the swim leg. Gwen Bencie then established a decisive advantage in the paddle board segment. Clemson swimmer Elesabeth Racioppi handled the final leg on the kayak. She maintained the lead throughout the course until the last push to the beach. The Sea Girt competitor caught a rogue wave that brought her kayak directly in front of the LB craft causing it to flip over and relegating Long Branch to a second place finish.
Long Branch finished second in the Swim Relay with a squad comprised of Malia Wolf (Lehigh University), Kayleigh Hoagland (Holy Cross) and Loyola bound Lauren Joyce. LB also took third place in the Line Pull manned by Malia Wolf and Cassidy Stimpson.