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COLLEGE COACHES ADAPT TO NEW NORMAL IN RECRUITING

(Marist College baseball coach Chris Tracz)

Postponement Of High School Sports Breeds Improvisation

By Rich Thomaselli
HVSR Staff

Everybody has been thrown into a new, increasingly difficult world now that high schools have been closed through at least April 30 and the spring sports season postponed through the same date – with a likelihood that there might not be enough time to bring back what has traditionally been the shortest high school season.

And that has changed the dynamic for area college coaches who rely on recruiting players, especially in person.

Hudson Valley Sports Report spoke to coaches from Division I Marist College, Division II Pace University and St. Thomas Aquinas College, and Division III SUNY New Paltz, covering baseball, lacrosse, basketball and track, to talk about the new normal.

The consensus was near-universal – as they feel heartbroken for their own players who are missing a spring college season, as well as high school players who face the same situation, recruiting has suddenly become a different animal.

“We feel terrible for the high school athletes and that’s something we take pride in – watching the high school games. Club lacrosse and travel lacrosse has kind of devalued the high school season and we don’t like that. We like watching the high school games,” said Marist College men’s lacrosse coach Keegan Wilkinson, who guided the Division I program to a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship in the spring of 2019.

Wilkinson said there are two main recruiting periods for college lacrosse, with the first window being between May and the end of July. Right now, there is uncertainty about that window – which is a shame, Wilkinson said, because he recruits heavily in the Hudson Valley.

 

Tom Mariano, head men’s lacrosse coach at Pace University, said his recruiting process has now shifted to film evaluation and finding recruits on social media.  There are many sites that are putting out highlights for recruits from around the country, and he also is utilizing his relationship with area high school coaches that he has developed over the years.

But Mariano stressed that not only does this situation hurt current high school seniors, but current juniors as well.

“At this point we are using emails, texts and will also utilize FaceTime to connect with recruits. I do think that missing their junior year is not ideal for the 2021 class,” the coach said. “Hopefully there will be will some summer recruiting to help this class.  The key thing for recruits right now is to take the time to develop relationships with the schools that they are interested in.  Reach out and let schools know that they are interested, also letting the schools know about their background and what they have accomplished on and off the field.”

He added that the pandemic won’t change what he’s seeking in recruits.

“Schools will still be looking for very good players on and off the field,” Mariano said. “High character, competitive young men who are striving for success on and off the field.”

Another issue for college coaches to sort out, in addition to the changes in recruiting, is roster management. The NCAA canceled all spring sports but did give athletes the chance to have an extra year of eligibility – all athletes, not just seniors.

Marist College baseball coach Chris Tracz already said his next recruiting class will be smaller.

“Our seniors can come back for next season (2021), but our juniors can come back for a fifth year, our sophomores can come back,” he said. “We need to not only figure out what the 2021 roster is going to look like, but 2022 and 2023, too.”

Tracz said everything he’s doing now in terms of recruiting is electronic.

“Emails, texts, Twitter … we’re just trying to bridge the gap because unfortunately we can’t tell them, ‘Hey, we’re coming to see you play on Tuesday,’” he said. “And to be blunt, we don’t feel like we’re in a place having to make a decision on a guy just off video. Video only tells you the first part of the recruiting story. It doesn’t give you the whole picture on a kid. We can talk on the phone and send emails, but there’s something to be said for that face to face visit.”

Tracz said it’s also important for him to use the picturesque setting of the Marist campus as a recruiting tool.

“We bring in the kids and their parents, even on unofficial visits, and for us that campus visit is pretty huge,” he said. “That’s the moment where they can picture themselves here. I’ve said this for years – I don’t think people leave here and say they didn’t like it. They might not choose us or our program, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t like Marist College.”

“The loss of campus visits really hurts, but all campuses are feeling the same effects so at least we are all on an equal playing field,” said SUNY New Paltz assistant men’s basketball coach Tom Bell, himself a former high school boys basketball coach at Spackenkill and former girls coach at Poughkeepsie. “We spend a lot of time texting and speaking with recruits and our current players as well, and our athletic department has done an amazing job keeping tabs on the student-athletes as well. Newer recruits have sent film and we have spoken with lots of AAU coaches as well as high school coaches to obtain as much information as possible on the newer recruits.”

To that end, Bell said he and head coach Keith Kenney and staff have been utilizing virtual tours, highlight videos and video meetings to stay in touch with recruits.

     

And for these college coaches, it’s not all business. Not in the least.

“I feel so bad for seniors in both in high school and college who lost their senior seasons and great final few weeks of college,” Bell said. “Hopefully, we get back to somewhat normal sooner than later.”

For some coaches, the impact has been tepid.

“In terms of the recruiting process, we were on the tail end of the 2019-2020 recruiting cycle so the impact there is minimal. In terms of future recruiting cycles, the loss of this outdoor track season is tough and I feel for all those athletes,” Marist track and cross country coach Pete Colaizzo said. “But fortunately in our sport, prospective student-athletes were able to post times and mark in advance of the potentially shuttered spring track season. So it’s full steam ahead in recruiting the 2020-2021 cycle. We reach out to recruits the same way as always, predominantly email, phone/text. Videos take on a lesser role in our sport – times/marks are what they are, we don’t need to SEE how they were achieved, although it’s always nice to see it.”

Another highly successful track coach, St. Thomas Aquinas College’s Ray Kondracki, said his online recruiting is continuing.

“With the availability of MileSplit I am able to review past performances up to the beginning of March, and I can reach out to many athletes,” he said of the popular track website. “It’s an ongoing process. We are in some interesting times, but as we work our way through this process, we hope to continue our strong academic and athletic tradition in the fall.”

“Just like every coaching staff around the country we are adjusting and adapting to the situation,” Pace baseball coach Hank Manning said. “We can still call, email, text, and video conference with recruits. Our admissions office has also done a great job with developing a virtual tour that showcases our beautiful campus and facilities, and other virtual recruiting events.”

Manning, a 19-year veteran coach of the Setters, has one important piece of advice for high school student-athletes.

“Hit the books,” he said. “I feel for the senior class, but while we are in limbo just stay in the best possible shape you can be in, while still staying safe. Once playing opportunities resume, no matter what they are, you will be ready.”

 

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