The first weekend of July generally brings the promise of fireworks and hot dogs, but some swimmers in the area will be home-bound, tethered to their phones. Under NCAA rules, July 1st marks the first day that college coaches can call rising seniors. Some athletes will be bombarded with calls from interested swim coaches the entire day.
North Creek’s Ellen Anderson is filled with nervous
anticipation for this Friday, even though a handful of schools have already confirmed by email that they will call the rising senior at Gaithersburg. “It’s a bit overwhelming,” Anderson said at the thought of talking to coaches between work and practice.
“It is very exciting and stressful at the same time because you want to hear from college coaches but are also worried about which schools will call,” said Sully Station’s CJ Fiala, who went through the recruiting process last year and will be a freshman at UNC Wilmington this fall.
Both Anderson and Fiala started the college recruiting process long before July 1st. Anderson emailed coaches the summer between her sophomore and junior years and then whittled down her list of potential schools after the Tom Dolan Invitational in December. Fiala began even earlier – he filled out questionnaires and sent emails to prospective coaches during his sophomore year. “It’s never too early to start,” Fiala, an All-Met at Westfield, said jokingly.
Traditionally, July 1st marks the first day college coaches can call soon-to-be seniors. However, according to the College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA), a new NCAA rule was overturned on Monday that would have allowed coaches to contact swimmers a full year earlier. As of publication of this article, the official NCAA 2011-2012 recruiting calendar for sports other than football and basketball (find it here) has yet to reflect any changes, and still shows that coaches may call athletes who are rising juniors as of August 1st, 2011. While the swimming community led the override, according to Bob Groseth, Executive Director of the CSCAA, not all sports are in agreement. “We may see the issue again,” Groseth said.
Both parents and coaches of swimmers voiced concern. Parents were particularly worried about increased distraction during an already strenuous junior year. “For those kids who are on the cusp, I think that the added pressure is inappropriate,” said Amy Hsu, mother of Poolesville‘s Elizabeth Pepper, an All-Met who will swim for Florida State next year. “They are not ready!” Even though recruiting athletes a year earlier could potentially help coaches, many were worried about lifestyle changes accompanying the increased calls. “We don’t have time to recruit both juniors and seniors, while also coaching the athletes on our team,” said Carol Capitani, an assistant coach at the University of Georgia. “Coaches don’t want it.”
As in the past, athletes are allowed to fill out questionnaires (which are often posted on university websites) their freshman and sophomore years. They can receive recruiting materials, such as pamphlets and emails, directly from coaches beginning their junior year. Finally, during their senior year, they can meet with coaches off–campus and make a maximum of five official visits, which are paid in full by the school. Swimmers may pay for unofficial visits at any time.
But personal contact by telephone is important. Just ask Emily Lloyd of SPY Swimming in Severna Park, whose conversation with her now coach, Virginia’s Mark Bernardino, was a strong factor in her decision. “Some coaches kind of rambled on but when I talked to [Coach Bernardino], it just felt normal,” said Lloyd, recalling her July 1st experiences. “I laughed so much!”
Lloyd, a 2010 All-Met at Severna Park, approached July 1, 2009 armed with a set of prepared questions, a notebook in which she jotted down impressions of coaches, and her twin sister’s recruiting expertise. In the winter of her junior year, Emily went on unofficial visits with her sister, Sarah, who was going through the recruiting process for women’s lacrosse. Sarah, also a swimmer on SPY, had already verbally committed to Princeton before Emily began talking to swim coaches on the phone.
After the first week of calls, Lloyd sat down with the notes she took while talking to coaches and determined which schools she wanted to pursue. After three recruiting trips, she settled on Virginia.
While nerve-racking for athletes, July 1st is duly taxing on college coaches. “It is brutal!” Bernardino said with a laugh. Coaches begin calling recruits in the morning and do not stop until much later at night. Bernardino tries to assess three qualities when talking to a swimmer: character, interest, and enthusiasm. “In the sport of swimming, it is virtually impossible to touch base with all the recruits,” Bernardino notes. “July 1st is just a beginning.”
For most athletes, this Friday represents just one stop in a sometimes long and arduous process adding to the stress of senior year. The NCAA encourages athletes to apply the “broken-leg” test when deciding on schools: would you be happy there if you couldn’t compete? Keep in mind that a coach or school that is a good fit for one athlete may not bode well for another.
Even if a coach doesn’t immediately show interest, it’s okay to send updates on small time drops and new test scores. “My school didn’t even call on July 1st– I ended up calling them,” admits Fiala, who received a partial scholarship. Given the money and time at stake, college recruiting can be a business-driven venture.
“It was rewarding to hear from coaches but you have to keep pushing,” Fiala said. “You can’t just give up.”
Want to know more? Here are some helpful websites:
Danielle Schulkin is a rising sophomore at Harvard, where she swims for the Crimson.