Conrad Delgado was in grade school when he started attending athletic events at Torrey Pines High School.
The atmosphere at football games was electric. Basketball games were also fun to watch.
But it was the new sport nobody in town knew much about that captured his attention.
Lacrosse didn’t attract huge crowds, but playing established programs from the East Coast was a novelty, and rivalry games against La Costa Canyon had people talking.
“Me and my friends would be on the track behind the stadium and we’d be playing catch and messing around and watching the game at the same time,” Delgado said. “I feel like it really drew me to the sport and to the Torrey Pines lacrosse program.”
Delgado and his friends have been playing together on local programs since they were in first and second grades. They currently forge the nucleus on a Torrey Pines program that in recent years has emerged as one of the West Coast’s most dominant.
Delgado, an incoming senior defender who recently committed to Notre Dame, is among a half dozen or so members of his class who already have or are expected to commit to four-year programs soon.
Left-handed midfielder Miles Botkiss and crease attackman Christian Rasmussen have committed to Harvard and Brown.
The Falcons graduated nine seniors from last season’s Open Division championship team who’ve committed to four-year colleges.
The program’s success in creating opportunities for athletes is especially noteworthy considering the sport wasn’t even sanctioned by the San Diego Section until 2003.
This year’s senior class is the first that has been playing together on the youth program that current Torrey Pines coach Jono Zissi has been involved with since its inception.
“We just kind of grew up playing together so we all have a really good chemistry and that obviously helps out on the field,” Rasmussen said. “We’re all just really good friends, so when somebody makes a bad play we all pick each other up. We’re all just one really tight family on and off the field.”
Botkiss has emerged as a leader on the team with a tireless work ethic that Zissi said rubs off on teammates.
“He is a kid who has just willed himself to being great,” Zissi said. “He has out-worked everybody in our program. He was the guy who would show up one hour early every single day this spring and work on his game by himself. He was just so determined and committed, he earned everything he’s got.”
Botkiss will be following the footsteps of his older brother Beaux, an incoming senior on Harvard’s lacrosse program who was a co-captain at Torrey Pines in 2016.
“We’re both very competitive,” Botkiss said. “(Beaux) was naturally born with lacrosse talent and I just knew that in order to compete with him I would have to go another path, and that path was out-working.”
Rasmussen, a prolific goal scorer who Zissi compare with Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson for his ability to play without the ball so effectively, has feasted in the Falcons’ system.
Delgado is an athletic 6-foot-5, 220-pounder with exceptional reach.
“He has an incredible wingspan, so even if you’ve run by him, you haven’t ever gotten by him because his wingspan is so long,” Zissi said. “He’s hard to get by.”
Delgado has excelled in the classroom too, compiling a 4.7 GPA.
Despite having so many teammates who will continue playing after high school, collegiate lacrosse isn’t much talked about at Torrey Pines.
For a team that lives in the moment, it would be a distraction, Botkiss said.
“We’re all so invested in Torrey Pines lacrosse, that’s our main focus right now and I think that’s what builds such a strong culture,” Botkiss said. “I just feel that if we were all caught up in our future, we would all lose focus on what’s really important in the moment, which is this upcoming season for Torrey Pines. If we were focusing on the future instead of where we’re at right now, it would be tough to have that same culture”
Delgado credits the players who started the program with establishing a culture that persists.
“Right now, we’re trying to continue building on the foundation that earlier players laid,” he said. “We definitely take pride in the fact that we’re a very highly-ranked team and we’re pretty good, but I think most of the credit has to be attributed to some of the early teams in Torrey Pines’ past history that beat some of those East Coast schools back then and put our school on the map.”