Hiring a varsity coach with little to no high school experience is usually a way to get a newcomer’s feet wet in a junior position while also assessing their aptitude for the long haul.
Yet that hasn’t been the path traveled by several recently hired Trinity League coaches.
The latest “rookie” is Jeremy Laster, a former Olympian who was hired in early April as an assistant boys’ water polo coach at Santa Margarita. Except for a brief stop at an independent college preparatory school in Northern California nearly 20 years ago, Laster’s coaching and administrative experience has been at the collegiate and national level.
Laster, who graduated from San Clemente High before becoming a two-time NCAA champion and three-time All-American at Stanford, also is a director on the board of USA Water Polo, the sport’s national governing body.
He has served as an athlete representative to the same board, coached the Stanford women’s team for a season and currently coaches the 14-and-under boys’ team for the OC Water Polo Club.
He’ll have his work cut out for him, as Mater Dei has won the last nine Trinity League titles in boys’ water polo, but Laster seems up for the challenge.
“I am excited to be a part of the Santa Margarita water polo program,” Laster said. “My stated mission is to make each boy in the program develop into the best version of himself as a water polo player and as a person. To accomplish this mission, we will train and practice hard and strive to improve every day.”
Santa Margarita also reached outside the high school coaching fraternity to hire their football coach last winter, hoping the roll of the dice will result in the program’s first Trinity League title.
Rich Fisher coached the receivers at Nebraska from 2011-14 and also spent time on the sidelines with Idaho, Oklahoma State and Colorado. His only high school experience was at an independent prep school in Massachusetts during the 2009 and ‘10 seasons.
He’ll try to turn around a program that rallied to win CIF-SS Pac-5 and Division I Bowl championships after finishing runner-up in the Trinity League in 2011, but has finished last in league play in two of the last three seasons.
The trend of hiring Trinity League coaches with little to no high school experience began four years ago, when Chuck Petersen beat out a pool of applicants, many with extensive high school experience, to lead the Orange Lutheran football program. Petersen had coached at the Air Force Academy for 17 years, starting as a quarterback and receivers coach before becoming the offensive coordinator.
The jury’s still out whether the move is paying off, as the Lancers are a combined 23-22 in four years under Petersen, including 5-15 in the Trinity League. They posted their first playoff victory under Petersen last season.
Two years ago, Servite hired Shawn Gilbert to run the baseball program, despite his lack of high school coaching experience. Gilbert had spent the previous four seasons as the hitting coach at Long Beach State and, before that, in a similar capacity at Fresno Pacific. The Friars finished last in the Trinity League in Gilbert’s first season a year ago, but had a strong start to 2016, winning 10 of their first 13 games.