Trinity Classical Academy girls basketball reached Division 2A while playing in a church’s gym

Trinity Classical Academy girls basketball coach James DeMonbrun had been texting Notre Dame coach Jena Laolagi throughout the week leading up to the CIF Southern Section first-round playoff game between the two teams.

“I said hey, don’t judge us,” DeMonbrun said. “You guys come from the Mission League and you’re coming over here and we’re playing at Newhall Church of the Nazarene.”

Trinity might be the only team in Division 2A that doesn’t have a home gym of its own. It plays and practices at a church’s gym, except for on Wednesdays, which is when the church needs the gym for youth group meetings.

There’s quite a few things that set the Valencia K-12 school of 160 students apart from the rest, and yet here they are.

When DeMonbrun took over Trinity’s girls basketball program four years ago, there were 13 players on a team that was competing in Division 5AA. They went 4-0 in Heritage League play against teams like Lancaster Baptist and Faith Baptist — two teams DeMonbrun had never heard of before coming to Trinity.

The Knights won a CIF-SS championship that season as well as a SoCal Regional title, then reached the Division 3A semifinals and state semifinals the season after. The players had never had such a long playoff run before, and were unsure of what the success meant or how long the season would be.

“It used to sound like French to them,” DeMonbrun said. “And we don’t learn French (at Trinity), we learn Latin.”

They were in Division 3A the season after that and were placed in 2A this season.

The Heritage League, comprised of similarly-sized small schools, wasn’t competitive enough to prepare the Knights for the division the CIF-SS had placed them in, so DeMonbrun added nearby Foothill League teams Saugus and Golden Valley to the schedule.

They beat both teams by at least 19 points. Tournaments also exposed Trinity to higher-level teams than they’d see in league play.

A handful of college-bound players have also been an asset to the Knights throughout the years. Current Knight Emma Schaaf is headed to Vanguard University. She scored 18 points and pulled down nine rebounds in Trinity’s 69-45 loss to Notre Dame on Thursday.

DeMonbrun also coaches for Starting 5, a training facility in Valencia. He was training Lily Caddow, whose parents Liz and Wally founded the school, and was told the girls team needed a coach.

“Mrs. Caddow, before we had really signed on the dotted line, she said, ‘this is going to be different from anything you’ve ever done,’” DeMonbrun said. “And I’m going, how different could it be? Its high school basketball.”

Trinity Classical Academy does not offer PE classes. Rather, students earn PE credit by participating in a sport. One student was a cheerleader in the fall, a basketball player in the winter and will now get right into swim season for the spring.

DeMonbrun said the school doesn’t offer scholarships based on athletic ability, choosing to focus on academics and character first. He thinks that application process will keep Trinity from becoming a big-time basketball powerhouse.

“You’ll see too many times these small schools who sell their soul for a league championship or a CIF run and all the sudden … you start to lose your identity as a school,” he said. “Our school doesn’t want that.”

And so Trinity girls basketball continues without a summer program, without weight room workouts or a fall league. The players met for their first practice this season at Newhall Church of the Nazarene on Nov. 1 and played their first game on Nov. 13.

The CIF-SS is moving to a competitive equity system next season that takes into account the level of play for a team’s current season as opposed to the success of the previous season. That could favor small schools like Trinity, which might struggle to reload next season after seven seniors graduate.

The championship banners will still hang above the rubber multi-purpose floor of the Newhall Church of the Nazarene gym. The compact bleachers will fold out and courtside chairs will be lined up for games and supporters of all ages will watch, regardless of the playoff division.

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