October 6, 2008

Oct. 6, 2008

Part One (Sept. 2008): Free Fall? | Peer Review: Shannon Smith
Part Two (Oct. 2008): Passport to Campus | Peer Review: Gordie Wells

Recruiting is a topic on which families, prospects, coaches and others expend considerable resources, time and emotion. Lacrosse Magazine will delve into many of the sub-topics involved in a series of articles, augmented by personal stories from young men and women that have recently completed or are in the midst of the recruiting process.

Part Two of the series examines the nature of college visits - official and unofficial - for high school recruits. This article appears in the October issue of LM, a US Lacrosse publication available exclusively to its members. Join today to start your monthly subscription.

by Nelson Coffin, Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

"I'm concerned kids don't have much time to make a decision," says Vanderbilt women's lacrosse coach Cathy Swezey. Swezey is among college coaches who assert that a prospect's official visit in fall of his or her senior year of high school has been made moot by the early recruiting cycle.

If recruiting is the lifeblood of any collegiate program, it's also one of the most difficult -- and important -- processes a prospect will face in the journey from the security of living at home to hunkering down in a dorm.

And there's no getting around the protocol of the mating dance between a high school player and the schools pursuing him or her.

Unofficial campus visits are the first steps in a weeding-out period. These introductory sessions are paid for by the recruit. Eventually -- if they are coveted enough -- recruits travel on a Division I school's dime while on official visits as a senior.

That's when they receive the red-carpet treatment, often spending an entire weekend on campus taking in the sights and figuring out if the school is the right fit. But with the accelerated recruiting timetable that -- rightly or wrongly -- has some prospects offering verbal commitments before they can even take official visits, their significance has come into question. Some blue-chippers simply use official visits as weekend getaways.

"Official visits for us this year are for kids who have already committed," said North Carolina women's coach Jenny Levy. "Things have changed dramatically in the past two falls.

"We signed three kids (verbal commitments) before June (of their junior years in high school), but those were kids who were proactive, who had been to our camps and knew they wanted to come. Usually, we wait so we can see a kid's grades through her junior year."

The changing role of official visits is not lost on Notre Dame sophomore midfielder Shaylyn Blaney, who's now on the other side of the recruiting process. She and her Irish teammates spend some fall weekends in South Bend, Ind., hosting recruits. Blayney, a native of Stony Brook, N.Y., said that most recruits on official visits "know whether they want to come here or not. We don't have much selling to do." But official visits aren't formalities for all recruits. There's much to be learned, and shared, for most prospects.

Blaney said activities on official visits range from going out to lunch or dinner, a football gameday with tailgating or "just hanging out in the dorm."

Afterwards, the Irish players let coach Tracy Coyne know if they feel the recruits have what it takes to be a member of the Irish program. Coaches tend to use freshmen and sophomores as hosts, given their proximity in age to recruits.

"We try to pair them with younger players," said Vanderbilt's Cathy Swezey. "And then we try to have a jam-packed weekend. We want to give the recruits a real taste of what it will be like to be a student-athlete at Vanderbilt."

Yet you can't blame a recruit if his or her head is spinning by the time it comes to signing a national letter of intent for an athletic scholarship in November.

"I'm concerned kids don't have much time to make a decision," Swezey said. Which means coaches don't have much time to evaluate which recruits merit scholarship offers.

"I had one kid tell me that she needed a decision right away because another school was waiting for her answer," Swezey said. "There's an awful lot of pressure on these kids."


By the time a recruit makes an official visit in the fall of the senior year, Swezey said most of the paperwork is already in the hopper.

"During recruiting, we look at the student's transcripts as early as possible to see if she can qualify," she said.

For some high school players, though, the recruiting trail can turn from a clear path to a tricky maze.

Take the case of Catonsville (Md.) High's Skippy Clary, an all-purpose faceoff midfielder who earned spots on several all-star teams last summer, including the Free State squad that challenged teams from Long Island.

Clary said he took unofficial visits to Ohio State, Delaware and nearby Loyola College, and thought he was headed to Columbus until Buckeye coach Joe Breschi left to take the job at North Carolina.

Since then, though, no offers have been forthcoming.

Now, Clary is looking at D-III schools in Maryland, such as McDaniel College and Stevenson University (formerly Villa Julie College).

The difference, he said, between D-I and D-III schools is significant in terms of a response.

"When I talked to a McDaniel coach, it was like, `I didn't think I'd hear from you.' It's kind of exciting to have a coach who wants you so bad," Clary said. Clary will probably never know if the reason he's not being pursued is because his high school is not among Baltimore's elite programs, most of which are private schools.

"I don't understand it," he said. "I was being recruited, and then it just stopped." That cuts both ways, said the University of Mary Washington's Dana Hall, who sometimes loses target recruits late in the process to better-known schools in the state, such as Virginia, Richmond or William and Mary.

Moreover, some D-III schools simply don't have the funds to pay for official visits -- a meal pass in the school's dining hall is the only perk Hall can offer. So her best opportunity to recruit comes on a selected fall weekend when invitations go out to players on her wish list.

"We want them to see the whole picture, what the place is all about," Hall said, mentioning mandatory study halls. "They have to buy into all of that before they come here."

How soon they opt to buy is another matter.

"It's cyclical," Levy said. "A lot of sports have gone to earlier and earlier commitments, but the situation will correct itself when coaches find out a top (high school) sophomore isn't the same player two years later."

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