Plenty of high school coaches would be satisfied just to keep the score close against Mater Dei.
You won’t find Chris Nordstrom in that group.
Nordstrom is now in his 12th season as head boys’ basketball coach at Orange Lutheran after spending the previous 12 as an assistant at Mater Dei. Coming into this season, he was the only Trinity League coach to defeat the Monarchs since the league was formed in 2006-07, living proof that they’re far from unbeatable.
That’s why Nordstrom seemed more disappointed than usual after a 72-61 loss to visiting Mater Dei in their league opener Jan. 5. Orange Lutheran spent most of the game closing the gap on the Monarchs, only to see them stretch it out each time and, ultimately, improve to 90-1 all-time in the Trinity League.
Most frustrating to Nordstrom, he felt the game was decided by circumstances within Orange Lutheran’s control.
“We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds in the first half and we missed a lot of free throws,” he says. “We can’t do that against a good team. It’ll kill you and, tonight, it did.”
Many would say Mater Dei is more than just a good team. The Monarchs won four consecutive Open Division state titles before losing in overtime while trying for a fifth last March.
Knocking them off takes a near-flawless effort, especially in Trinity League play. Nordstrom witnessed that five years ago this month, when the Monarchs–as they often do–strutted into Orange Lutheran’s gymnasium ranked No. 1 in Orange County.
Mater Dei had won 50 consecutive league games dating back to a Serra League loss to Santa Margarita in 2005, but Orange Lutheran had the best player on the floor in Gabe York, who scored 24 points in the 59-56 victory and now starts for the University of Arizona, one of the top teams in the country.
Nordstrom hoped that victory would finally crack the seal on Mater Dei, but it’s been back to the usual ever since. Orange Lutheran’s loss to the Monarchs earlier this month was its 10th straight in the matchup.
The most recent defeat looked better on paper compared to others. The Lancers stayed within single digits for most of the game and finished with at least 60 points, a mark they failed to reach in their previous seven losses to Mater Dei.
While that was little consolation to Nordstrom, he was happy with his team’s effort.
“There’s been times we’ve played them, when we haven’t competed,” he says.
Orange Lutheran’s determination had Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight pacing the sideline more than usual. McKnight joined a very small group when he won his 1,000th game as a high school coach last season, and he remembers every game against Nordstrom, his former understudy.
“He gets them to play hard,”
McKnight says just outside the Orange Lutheran gymnasium. “Every time we come over here, it’s a tough game.”
Probably most comforting to Nordstrom is the upcoming schedule, which includes another shot at the Monarchs on Feb. 9 at Mater Dei.
The Lancers were also invited to participate in the MaxPreps MLK Classic on Jan. 18 at the University of California, Berkeley where they’ll take on Northern California power De La Salle.
“We’re very fortunate to get invited,” Nordstrom says.
Beating a team like Mater Dei gets you noticed.