Trinity League athletes make their mark near and far

By Dan Arritt     10/4/2018

You might be surprised where former Trinity League athletes congregate these days. 

Sure, the big-time college programs within driving distance of Orange County have long benefitted from the league’s copious skilled athletes. None more so than the USC football team, where five quarterbacks from the Trinity League have appeared in 13 of the past 21 seasons. 

But scan the Princeton men’s water polo roster, or Penn football, and you’ll find enough former Trinity League athletes at these Ivy League schools to fill a minivan. 

What these programs have discovered is that their athletes can also be their best recruiters. Trips home for Thanksgiving can be like reverse recruiting visits, their athletes excitedly sharing their college experiences with their hometown friends. 

Take the JSerra football team, which has quietly become a West Coast feeder program for Penn, a private research university established by Benjamin Franklin in the 1740s. 

“It started with Sam Philippi,” Conor O’Brien told the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Philippi headed to Penn in the summer of 2015 after a stellar run at JSerra. He not only had an immediate impact as a safety for the Quakers, but also enjoyed the entire college atmosphere. 

He couldn’t wait to share his experiences with his former teammates at JSerra. The more they listened, they more they liked what they heard. 

“People started thinking about it and it just started a pipeline,” O’Brien said. 

O’Brien committed to play for Penn the following year. He’s also become a full-time starter in the secondary for the Quakers. 

Since then, former JSerra quarterback Nick Robinson transferred from Saddleback College to Penn, O’Brien’s younger brother, Riley, headed east, and punter Jake Haggard arrived as a freshman this season. 

“The opportunity just to have a chance to go to a school like [Penn] is one in a million,” said Robinson. “This is such a difficult school to get into.” 

Penn coach Ray Priore is happy to see the snowball effect at JSerra. 

“We built a relationship with [JSerra] and the kids kind of feed off themselves,” he said. “One brings the next best one in.” 

That seems to be the case at Princeton as well. 

Matt Payne (Mater Dei) and Ryan Melosini (Santa Margarita) headed east to New Jersey after graduating in 2015. Sean Duncan (Mater Dei) followed the next year and two more Monarchs, goaltender Billy Motherway and center Wyatt Benson, joined the Tigers this fall. 

All five have made a significant impact for the Tigers. 

Duncan and Payne were two of the top scorers for Princeton last year. Duncan has been sidelined with an undisclosed injury to start this season, but Payne picked up where he left off, scoring a team-high of 21 goals through the first nine games. 

Benson has earned extra playing time with Duncan’s absence and he’s taken full advantage, scoring 11 goals on just 22 shots through the first nine games. 

Even the goalie competition has come down to two former Trinity League stars. 

Melosini was a part-time starter last season, but still broke the school single-game record with 22 saves against Salem International. 

He’s been joined in the cage this season by freshman Motherway, who was coming off a stellar career at Mater Dei. 

Neither had gained an edge over
the other through the first nine games, nearly splitting the game action down the middle.