The Scholarship Chase Chapter 2

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All over the Internet there are countless lists of things the savvy teen should do the summer before her freshman year in high school. Suggestions include going to a theme park and riding every roller coaster with your friends, eating only Dippin’ Dots and cotton candy for one day, or taking the plunge and getting that new, daring hairstyle.

Not surprisingly, however, none of these Internet lists suggest committing to a university to play Division I volleyball.

Undeniably, with the way early recruiting in collegiate sports like volleyball, lacrosse and soccer has burgeoned in the last decade or so, maybe committing to a college at age 14 will soon be right there at the top of the list.

Of course, many of those in the coaching profession––and a number of the parents of those potential recruits––hope the brakes will be applied to this trend, which seems to be overtaking collegiate athletics.

The AVCA was lucky to have another parent and her daughter speak openly about their experiences with the early recruiting juggernaut. Like in the previous blog, with respect for this mother and daughter and their anonymity, we will refer to them as Mrs. Jones and Mary.

Life Lessons

“The first time we were contacted [about Mary] was the summer before her freshman year,” Mrs. Jones states. “That summer at the USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships she was named an All-American. All of a sudden, right after that we started getting contacted.”

One might think that a student entering her freshman year of high school would be thrilled about the prospect of contacting college coaches, either speaking with them on the phone or by email.

Not Mary.

“She probably had a healthier perspective than I did,” Mrs. Jones explains, “but she said, ‘No! I’m not talking to any college! I’m not even in high school yet!’”

All Mrs. Jones could say at this point was, “This is crazy!”

Mrs. Jones admits she and her husband, “John,” saw the writing on the wall pretty early on and knew their daughter, a gifted setter, was going to be recruited –– but they weren’t aware she might actually be “hounded.” And Mary, being the carefree youth she was at the time, was simply not ready for all that came with the early recruiting game.

“We had to practically force her to go visit a couple of schools because she is a very conscientious student and was not happy with how much school she was missing,” Mrs. Jones explains.

That was the fall of Mary’s sophomore year, and the visit to the first school was absolutely miserable for everyone involved. Mrs. Jones describes Mary feeling like she was being railroaded into visiting these schools––and she was, in typical teenage fashion, “a bit snippy about the whole thing.”

“My husband and I kept asking ourselves, ‘What the hell are we doing?’”

Mrs. Jones, who also played volleyball in college, freely admits that she would love to have her daughter follow in her footsteps, but she says, “There is always that thing in the back of my mind that says, ‘Make sure you are not the mom who wants her to play just because you played.’”

Fast-forward a bit from the fall of Mary’s sophomore year to the club volleyball season immediately following in December/January. By February, the club coach revealed Mary was getting requests for contacts from coaches left and right.

“At that point, the coaches still couldn’t talk to her,” Mrs. Jones explains, “so they would send an email to her club coach and ask to have Mary call. It really depends on what kind of kid you have, but Mary is just shy. She was absolutely mortified about the idea of having to call the coach, so she didn’t.

“Calling an adult she doesn’t know…we had to force her to make these phone calls. Then I told her I would be on the phone with her,” Mrs. Jones explains, “because she wasn’t going to do it by herself. In fact, I got good reception from most of those coaches. This child was only 15 years old! In fact, a couple of coaches even expressed that they appreciated [the fact that I was also on the phone] because it is difficult for them, too. Everything is very awkward at this stage.”

Mrs. Jones goes on to explain that at this point, coaches were asking the same questions about what Mary wanted to major while in college, or what she wanted from a college and the athletic experience. Often times it was the proverbial sound of crickets and that’s it on Mary’s end.

“Some kids have the gift of knowing all that stuff early on, but I certainly didn’t ––and none of my kids do,” Mrs. Jones states.

The phone calls continued and some unofficial visits were planned. At this point, finding a weekend (or just a little chunk of time) whereby Mary was not playing in a club tournament was nearly impossible. Then, the first college gave her an offer in March…over the phone.

“That was totally crazy!” Mrs. Jones admits.

“But then they were telling us that they wanted to know [her answer] by May!”

Of course, there were still other colleges that were interested and requesting unofficial visits and calls, and Mrs. Jones says it was an uphill battle trying to get Mary to decide where she wanted to go visit…if at all. But the most frustrating part of the entire scenario was not just the amount of time it took for it all, but the cost!

“I would think a lot of kids probably can’t [make a lot of unofficial visits]. Fortunately, we were able to do it. [For example], one of the schools was in Florida and we live [in the Southeast, but several states away]. We had to buy plane tickets for $400 apiece and had to pay for lodging and meals while we were there. I don’t know what happens to the kids whose parents cannot afford it. The college ends up paying for nothing.

“We will have actually bought her college education by the time this is all over,” Mrs. Jones laughs.

Basically, Mrs. Jones said they had gone on possibly three visits total, and two of the schools had offered her a full scholarship––and wanted answers.

“We were just trying to push them off because we wanted to give other schools a chance to see her in tournaments and determine if anybody else was interested.”

Mrs. Jones said the month of May finally arrived and the schools were breathing down her neck, so as a former high school and club volleyball coach herself, she did what comes naturally: she pored through all of the Division I volleyball schools and their ranking, and went through school by school, trying to determine which one would be the best fit.

“Most schools will get a setter either every two or three years,” Mrs. Jones explains, “so I did a lot of research to determine what schools had girls that had committed. Mary is a 2018 graduate, so if there was a girl at a school that had signed for 2017, I just crossed that school off the list.

“So then I narrowed it down by that and then did some more, knowing she would not be playing for a top 15 school, or one in California or South Dakota [because Mary didn’t want to live there], etc. When I narrowed it down to the [barebones list], I sent them our last-ditch email because I knew we were going to have to respond to these other two schools. We shouldn’t have even had to respond because she was still just a sophomore!”

After all that, there were a few more schools that were interested, one of which is the school in the Midwest where Mary finally committed. Mrs. Jones said they were in the month of May at this point and she had been able to push those two original schools off until after nationals, which was in June. So they eventually made the trip to the Midwest.

“We went to College X and she liked it. She wasn’t totally in love, so we were kind of back to the drawing board because she eventually said no, she didn’t want to go to College X. There was a camp at another school so there was another trip to another university, packing on the expenses.

“It’s insane!” Mrs. Jones admits. “So [Mary went to College Y], we paid for her to go to camp, she stayed in the dorm for the weekend because I wanted her to see what it would really be like, and we found out they had gotten a setter transfer who is only a year older than Mary. The coach kept saying that he still wanted Mary, but my husband said, ‘What do you see as Mary’s role?’ The coach couldn’t give us a very good answer.”

Undeniably, College Y didn’t have a really clear-cut role for Mary, so Mrs. Jones said they declined the offer and accepted at College X.

“[Part of the problem] is these girls are committing early and I thought College X might wait. They said they needed to know because they had another setter who had a scholarship at another place and was waiting to hear if she was second in line. Mary was the first one and if she said no, then this other girl would take it. There was pressure to do it, so we had to.

“[In fact], we talked to one of her coaches [at College X] and he said, ‘Well, you can roll the dice. You don’t have to commit. But you know what, if you really need the college scholarship. … We also felt the pressure wondering, ‘What if nothing happens in the next year?’ So she went ahead and committed and I think in the long run she will love it because I know her.”

As Mrs. Jones admits, she, her husband and Mary are basically relieved it is over and the commitment has been made.

And Mrs. Jones is still hopeful that it could be the greatest thing that has ever happened to Mary. She remembers a story the AVCA’s very own executive director, Kathy DeBoer, told her when she was 17 years old and being recruited herself. Mrs. Jones did not end up going to the University of Kentucky, where DeBoer was coaching, but will never forget the advice she received.

“[The other school I was looking at] was building a program. Theirs was a much newer program; [at the time] I was on a call with Kathy, who said to me that ‘I have to be completely honest with you. You may not even see the court until you are a junior because there are girls ahead of you. You need to decide whether you want to be a big fish in a little sea or a little fish in a big sea.’ I hung up the phone and cried and told my parents I would go [to the other school]. I went kicking and screaming, just like [Mary seems to be], but it turned out to be the greatest thing because I went in there, started, and played all four years. That is the best life lesson ever for me because sometimes you think something is not going the way that it’s supposed to go and it is going to be horrible. It could end up being the greatest thing that ever happened to you.”

Unfortunately, the actual process of early recruiting for both Mrs. Jones and for Mary was certainly anything but the greatest thing that ever happened.

“Oh yeah, I am not going to sugarcoat it. It is horrible!” Mrs. Jones emphatically states. “It was awful on many levels. It was a very big strain on our relationship and was very frustrating for my husband and me during that time. I just wish there was some way that they could control this process. It would be great if they could make the only time you could visit a school to be during a particular dead period or during a time that we were not travelling and playing all the time.

“And the colleges should have to pay for [the recruits] to come to these places. Maybe the colleges would be more selective or think further about whom they tell to come for a visit. The colleges would take things more seriously if they had to pay for it out of their pocket. In addition, I think it would open up their scope of athletes…if they paid to have athletes come, it would be a greater pool [for the school].”

Mrs. Jones is all for some of the proposed curbs on the current NCAA recruiting process. Yet, she still has faith in the majority of humanity, asserting that she believes the bulk of potential athletes will follow the new rules, as will the school.

“There are schools and people that have integrity out there. I have faith that if [new rules are implemented], that is the kind of organization I would want her to be with anyway. I don’t want her to be with an organization that is willing to lie, cheat and steal. That’s my kid––I want her to go with people of integrity.

“This is a very broken system and I am really excited to at least be a part of some input for this problem. I really hope that we can make it better for the next group of girls coming through!”

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