By Dan Arritt     4/18/2017

The Trinity League is known for its great athletes, top-notch athletic facilities and superior teams, but don’t overlook the coaches.

They’re more popular than you might think.

National honors continue to roll in for Trinity League coaches this school year. Over the winter, Mater Dei football coach Bruce Rollinson was recognized as the National High School Football Coach of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association.

And last month, Mater Dei boys’ basketball coach Gary McKnight and Santa Margarita girls’ swimming coaches Rich and Ron Blanc received the same national award, as well as a couple others.

McKnight, who has coached at Mater Dei for 35 seasons, received the Guardians of the Game Award for advocacy, education, leadership and service from the National Association of Basketball Coaches at the annual NABC Guardians of the Game Awards Show in Phoenix on April 2.

McKnight is 1,084-98 in his career at Mater Dei, leading the Monarchs to 11 state championships. They came up short this season, losing last month to Bishop Montgomery in both the CIF-SS Open Division final and the Southern California Regional final.

McKnight has also received the Morgan Wooten Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement as a high school basketball coach. McKnight was nominated for inclusion in the Naismith Hall of Fame for the second consecutive year, but didn’t make the final cut.

The NABC awards show was first held in 2002 as a way to recognize coaches who have a considerable impact on their players and their communities. The award is considered among the most prestigious awarded by the coaches’ association. McKnight was honored along with Lanny Van Eman, who has coached collegiately, professionally and internationally, T.J. Otzelberger, the coach at South Dakota State, and legendary Oklahoma Christian men’s basketball coach Dan Hays.

McKnight was also named National High School Basketball Coach of the Year by the NHSCA.

Santa Margarita coaching brothers Rich and Ron Blanc were also named National High School Swimming Coaches of the Year by the NHSCA, the third set of coaches from the Trinity League to earn that honor this season.

The Eagles won their 15th consecutive Trinity League championship last year and the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 team title.

The brothers also received the Outstanding Service Award from the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (NISCA). The Blancs are the first coaches from California to win the award since former Mission Viejo coach Mike Pelton in 1996.

“There were a few other people that also got the award, but most of them had retired,” Ron Blanc told the Orange County Register. “We felt like young chickens, but it was quite an honor.”

The duo has led Santa Margarita to four CIF-SS championships, including the past three in Division 1. Under the Blancs, the boys’ and girls’ swim programs have combined for 27 league titles.

The award ceremony was held in Indianapolis in late March, the same time as the NCAA Division 1 men’s swimming and diving championships. That allowed the Blancs to attend the meet and cheer for former Santa Margarita star Grant Shoults, who graduated from Santa Margarita last year and currently competes for Stanford. He won the 1,650-yard freestyle on the final day of the meet.

“It was one of my bucket list items to go to the NCAA Division 1 championships,” Ron said. “The crowd noise was unbelievable. It was deafening.”