When she interviewed for the job of athletic director at Mater Dei High School, the first question asked of Amanda Waters was simple. What do you know about Mater Dei?

“I said, ‘I know I don’t want to play you,'” Waters said.

Amanda Waters Photo provided by Amanda Waters

Fans of Skowhegan and Husson sports might remember Waters by her maiden name, Pomerleau. Waters was a standout basketball and softball player at Skowhegan in the early 1990s, before moving on to excel in both sports at Husson University. Waters was inducted into the Husson Sports Hall of Fame in 2017. She knows from experience the effort it takes to excel as a student athlete.

Still, Mater Dei is different. There’s no Maine equivalent that could be inserted here to give perspective. Mater Dei’s Santa Ana campus is a Catholic School, but you can’t call it the Cheverus or St. Dom’s of Southern California. Mater Dei is on a higher athletic plane. That’s neither good nor bad, it just is.

It’s there on the school’s web page. One hundred and 11 California Interscholastic Federation championships. Nine national championships. Nineteen state players of the year. Five national players of the year. Eight Olympians are Mater Dei alumni. Two Heisman Trophy winners —  1964 winner John Huarte of Notre Dame and 2004 winner Matt Leinart of USC.

That is the athletic pressure cooker Waters stepped into when she became Mater Dei’s athletic director July 1. Overseeing athletics at a school of approximately 2,100 students where success is expected like a sunrise. The pressure could give you a permanent migraine if you’re not ready for it, so Waters leans into it using the words of Kissy Walker, the basketball coach at Husson, as inspiration.

“(Walker) said ‘You can’t change your past but you can change your future.’ For me, it’s lots of hard work and wanting to get better. I was a pitcher, and I kind of enjoy pressure. You’re not really truly learning unless you’re growing,” Waters said.

Waters arrived at Mater Dei this summer after a dozen years at Carlsbad (Calif.) High School, the last six as athletic director. Starting a new job at a place were success is a matter of course would be tough under any conditions, but Waters took over in the midst of a pandemic. Covid-19 hit Southern California hard. Fans of Maine high school sports may not like how the fall season played out, with seasons aborted by outbreaks, no volleyball, and football replaced by it’s vanilla 7-on-7 flag football cousin, but the season went on. At Mater Dei?

“We haven’t played yet. We’re teetering on a lockdown. I think we will at least play at the end of January,” Waters said, remembering how much she cried after her final college game, despite knowing it was coming. Sports changes lives. Waters knows that. So many students now played their final game without realizing at the time that was it. A pandemic doesn’t make plans. It tears them apart. “There are 800,000 student-athletes in California. I hurt for them. I feel for them.”

Waters has a football schedule in place, with games set to begin Jan. 15. She knows that might be more hopeful than realistic. This season had potential to be huge for the Monarchs football program. Mater Dei was in the discussion to be No. 1, Waters said. In California?

In the country, she said.

Waters knows she and Mater Dei are not on an island trying to figure out how to handle high school athletics as a pandemic rages. In March, Waters and Ira Childress, athletic director at Gulliver Prep in Miami, Florida, formed the National Athletic Directors Resource Network (www.nationaladresource.com). Throughout the spring and summer, they hosted weekly Zoom calls in which they discussed issues facing high school sports. Since school began, the calls have been once a month. Guests have included Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly and George Lombard, who was the first base coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers over the last few seasons until recently taking a job as bench coach with the Detroit Tigers.

“It’s been great to see how many leaders are out there,” Waters said.

At Mater Dei, Waters is surrounded by leaders, coaches and teachers who have built a culture of achievement. It’s daunting to be a part of, but Waters loves it.

“I’m seeing the programs from a different lens. I want to hire people who have the same influence over their student athletes Kissy had over me,” Waters said. “It’s not just about sports. It’s about raising young men and women who will become adults and leaders.”

Mater Dei will be back about its business of winning games soon. For now, the focus for Waters is on the student-athletes waiting for the chance. For now, as always, the focus is on winning their lives.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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