Devon Wills, Brooke Eubanks, Emi Smith, Molly Hulseman, Colleen Smith. All players who had terrific collegiate careers and are currently coaching at USC, Cal, UC Davis, Michigan, and Yale. They also honed their high school lacrosse skills in Colorado and Illinois. Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
As the Director of Statistical Analysis for the University of Denver Women’s Lacrosse team I have the privilege of working with players from 10 different states plus Canada including recruits from Utah, California, Colorado, and Washington. As a club coach and owner of Summit Lacrosse, I actively work on helping our Colorado and Illinois girls get recruited to programs all across the country. Think you’re not recruitable because you don’t live in Long Island or Maryland? Think again. You just need to work harder at it than your East Coast counterparts.
Every journey is different
I grew up a stone’s throw away from Homewood Field, and I intensely loved lacrosse from an early age. The dedication and drive I put towards the sport helped me make the team at Deerfield Academy, but I didn’t really grow until I was 16. Being under five feet tall and dealing with severe asthma certainly kept me out of the midfield. I was well aware that I lacked the physical stature and stamina to play at the next level, but nevertheless packed my stick when I headed off to attend school at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jenny Levy was hired partway through my freshman year to begin the Carolina program. I couldn’t believe the opportunity I had to try out for her team. I had to gain weight and I had to work ten times harder than my more skilled teammates. But our startup program ended up playing in two NCAA final fours, and I was elected captain my senior year. And, what I learned from Jenny and my experience playing NCAA sports formed me into who I am today. My journey is unique–but so is yours. Just because a top ten Division I coach isn’t knocking down your door in your 8th grade year, doesn’t mean it can’t happen for you. I always tell my players, if you want to play in college, you CAN!
Cast a wide net
I can’t stress this enough, cast a wide enough net early in the process. We encourage our players to target 30-35 schools beginning their freshman year. A Division I coach may look at 200 recruits for 6-8 open spots. If you keep your list too narrow and too small, the odds of getting recruited significantly diminish. Each year, there are several prospects that commit to schools they had never heard of at the start of their process. Visiting these lesser-known schools often show players how special the school is to them, personally.
Set realistic expectations
As players, parents, and coaches, we all think our players are the absolute best. While they may be the best player on their club team, high school, or even in their state, are they the best player nationally? Setting realistic expectations about where you are athletically will help define your target list. Ask your coach to give you an athletic reach school, realistic school, and safety school. And then compare those responses to laxpower.com rankings. That should give you a range of options that might make the most sense to target. One of our players had four Division I offers during the summer after her 10th grade year. Because she set her sights on the schools that were the appropriate athletic and academic fit, she had the luxury of four amazing choices. Had she insisted on looking at schools that wouldn’t have been a fit, she would be a very disappointed kid right now.
It’s all about fit
A large part of recruiting happens between the white lines, but there’s more to a recruit than just their athletic ability. College coaches look for three things when evaluating recruits – athletic, academic, and personality fit. In your target list, look at the middle 50% of GPA and ACT/SAT scores for each of your target colleges. Are you within that range? Above or below? If you are not an admissible student, it doesn’t matter how awesome you are on the field, your ability to be recruited by that particular college goes way down. How do you know if you’re a good personality fit? By spending time getting to know the coach, the team, the culture. How do you fit in? Are you coachable? Do you “click?” I believe that I did as well as I did at Carolina specifically because my personality fit into Jenny Levy’s culture of incredibly hard work and dedication. One of the most impactful conversations I’ve had as a club coach was with a college coach who ultimately did not want to keep my player in her prospect pool. While the player was a great academic fit, and a decent athletic fit, the coach worried that the player would not fit in with the team culture as it was. I was incredibly grateful that this coach had taken the time to think deeply about the fit of this player into her program. But, as Hartford coach Meg Decker said in a recent recruiting talk, “If you’re not the right personality fit for a program, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your personality, it just means you’re not right for our program.” Stephanie Allen, head coach of Binghamton University, just wrote a terrific blog entry on team culture. Spend five minutes reading it and you’ll understand why personality fit is so critically important in the recruiting process.
Don’t sit back and wait for a college coach to notice you. It’s so easy to communicate, yet many recruits don’t know how or where to start. Start with an e-mail introduction! Every college coach’s email address can be found on their athletic staff directory page. We suggest communicating at least once a month, and no more than once every few weeks. Short and sweet e-mails with a link to your video highlights are all it takes to get the conversation started. As part of my job at DU, I often sort the incoming communications from prospective student athletes. The most important information is your email address, graduation year, position, state, and club team as well as a link to your highlight video. If you don’t communicate your interest and invite the coach to see you play at a tournament how will they know you’re interested in attending their college? They won’t! College coaches have a specific plan when they head out to a tournament. They have a list of kids they want to evaluate and they stay on a very tight schedule. If you didn’t email the coach prior to the tournament, you cannot get on their radar.
Be open to new opportunities
If you are trying to get recruited from a non-traditional lacrosse area, be open to new programs and schools that perhaps you haven’t heard much about. Meg Decker at University of Hartford, Amanda Barnes at East Carolina University, Cecil Pilson at Butler University, and Sara Tisdale at Central Michigan University are all phenomenal coaches building new programs. Did you know that Kent State is starting a new Division I program in the 2018-2019 academic year? What a terrific opportunity to help define the culture of the program, to be part of something new and special.
Until much needed legislation is passed putting the reins on early recruiting, the reality is you’ll hear and read about players committing to programs their freshman year and think there’s no hope for you. Six of our 2017’s committed to Division I programs as rising seniors. While definitely not the norm, there are coaches who are willing to take another look at a player who develops later, started the recruiting process late, or even had shifts within their recruiting class.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice in the college recruiting cycle is don’t stop, even after you’ve committed. Too many players think the end goal is committing to a program; that’s when the real work begins. To be competitive in college, you have to continue to play and work on self-improvement. As club coaches we often struggle to field full teams of rising seniors, but if we don’t give our college bound athletes the opportunity to stay competitive and continue to work on development, we’ve failed as club directors and we’ve failed their college coaches who recruited them. Don’t have enough athletes to fill a team? Be creative. Think about creating small group training for your seniors, attending 5v5’s, creating mixed graduation year teams, combine efforts with another club team in the same dilemma. Recruits – can’t find a team to play on? Join a house team at any IWLCA tournament, check the player board for teams looking for guest players, continue to keep a stick in your hand. Your club coach and your college coach want you to be a rock star in college, that work starts now and continues through your senior year in high school.
It can happen to you
Not only is it possible to be recruited from a “not-hot-bed-location,” many coaches are looking for players beyond traditional lacrosse geographies. These players not only play lacrosse, they also play field hockey, tennis, volleyball, basketball, row, ski, run cross country and participate in more sports than I can list. In short, they are athletes. And that’s what makes them exceptional recruits.
I’ve seen an increase in the number of college coaches that have rosters filled with players from all over the United States and Canada and I’m incredibly excited to see how the game has grown. These head coaches are the real stars here. They looked beyond geography and recruited the very best athletes for their program. When we talk about growing the game, these coaches not only talk the talk, but walk the walk too. They didn’t care if the recruits’ resume listed Colorado or Illinois as their home state. They came, they watched, they recruited.
If you’re a player or a coach, keep an open mind as we head into President’s Cup this weekend. Play hard but most importantly have fun. Great things are in store for you!
Editor’s Note: The author is the owner/director of Summit Lacrosse Club. Twenty-two players from the 2017 team have made college lacrosse commitments to the following schools:
Butler University (2)
East Carolina University
Notre Dame University
Stanford University (2)
University of Colorado Boulder
University of Denver
University of Michigan