Time is Now for Mater Dei to Assert its Dominance in California


Nick Colignon is a four-year starter in goal and a three-year captain for Mater Dei.

When the current seniors on the Mater Dei (Calif.) High School boys’ lacrosse team joined the program as freshmen, the Monarchs were coming off a three-win 2018 season and looking at another rough year. After a particularly bad outing in a fall box lacrosse game, goalkeeper Nick Colignon stepped up and declared it unacceptable.

Coach Johnny Rodriguez looks back at his comments as a turning point. Mater Dei went 7-12 that first season and opened the 2020 campaign 3-1 before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports.

Last year, the Monarchs went 18-3 and lost to eventual CIF Southern Section runner up Foothill-Santa Ana (Calif.) in the semifinals. Now with a loaded class of 20 seniors and a deep roster, they believe this is the year.

“We took a brutal beating in a box game, and I just knew we were much better than how we were playing,” said Colignon, a four-year starter and three-year captain. “As a goalie, being a position of leadership, I stood up and said, ‘What are we doing? There’s no reason we can’t be the Boys’ Latin of the West Coast. We can do whatever we want to accomplish if we really want it.’ That resonated with the guys, and they all bought in.”

Mater Dei has been known nationally for its athletic programs — just about every sport but lacrosse. Football finished as the No. 1 team in the MaxPreps Composite Rankings this year. Lacrosse, which had one playoff win prior to last spring, was kind of the “laughingstock” of the school, according to Rodriguez.

Colignon said the players didn’t want to be the “black sheep of Mater Dei sports” anymore, so they committed to change. They stepped up their efforts in the weight room and in practices, and their squats, clean and jerks and bench presses are comparable to those of the football team now.

“It’s just time,” Colignon said. “Our freshman year, we needed time to build up, and then we added the talented 2023 class on offense. We matured, and with the talent from the younger age, everything clicked. Before that, we all had to buy in, though, and we all decided we wanted to be the best.”

The buy-in came to fruition last year, but the Monarchs suffered their three losses in overtime games against top teams in the state — Loyola-Los Angeles, Corona del Mar and Foothill-Santa Ana in the Section semifinals.

That experience was necessary to take the next step, Rodriguez said.

“There’s a brotherhood of understanding why we were short, to make those three losses into wins,” he said. “When they put their hearts into something, they wanted last year to win their first CIF [title], but had never played on that stage before. The program had won one playoff game prior to last year in our history, so to play in a semifinal game with the lights on and stands full was an eye-opening experience. Experience is important in games like that, and we didn’t play our best game. A lot of things happened that could have been prevented, and they have that image of Foothill running by our bench and celebrating in front of us.

“We’re expected to be here now. It’s comfortable. That was the best team in program history, and they came from nothing. It was a Cinderella moment, and we got caught up in the moment, didn’t have the experience to finish it out, and I think that knowledge and the lessons learned stick with you. Now going back in those situations, we know how to execute.”

Mater Dei graduated just three players and only one who started, so the pieces are in place to continue the climb. Among the senior and junior classes, there are 10 college commits with a handful of juniors still deciding on Division I opportunities. The sophomore class also is loaded, and a couple of freshmen could even get significant playing time this season.

The challenge is making the pieces fit seamlessly together and taking advantage of the deep bench. Among the other top players besides Colignon are senior short-stick defensive midfielders Samari Staten (Brown) and Blaze Perales (VMI) and junior midfielder Lucas de la Paz, who won 80 percent of his faceoff opportunities last year and was named the Team MVP. Junior midfielder Triston Jewell (Johns Hopkins) tallied 50 goals and 19 assists last season, and senior defenseman Andrew Crosby set the school record for caused turnovers.

“This is the year,” Colignon said. “If we’re going to win a CIF, the time is now. No more waiting, no more thinking about it. It’s go time.”

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