Class of 2021 Athletes Stay Resilient Despite Lack of Season, Adapt to Changing Recruitment Process

For aspiring college athletes, the junior spring season is a time to play in front of college coaches, shine with more playing time, and improve in every game to send the best stats to colleges. It’s also a time to visit dream schools, meet coaches, and get a feel for new campuses. But in the time of COVID-19, missing the last season before applications means a different approach to the long-awaited recruitment process for spring Class of 2021 athletes.

Head coach of Wilton High School varsity lacrosse Steve Pearsall said that the pandemic will delay the process of recruitment for juniors and change the way coaches see players, which can create high stress.

“[The pandemic] definitely has changed the process because the juniors miss their spring season, which is a great period for development as well as for visibility to the college coaches,” Pearsall said.

Additionally, in a COVID-19 update in late March the NCAA released new guidelines for college player’s eligibility, extending spring-sport athlete’s eligibility an extra year to make up for the canceled season. Though the decision to play an extra year will be made on a school by school and player by player basis, Pearsall says it could potentially change the roster size, making a “funnel effect” in which current high school juniors and sophomores could potentially face a more competitive field with fewer spots available.

“It definitely has changed the landscape for [these players],” he said.

Navigating the New Landscape

Despite these changes, some juniors aren’t deterred.

Track and field sprinter Shelby Dejana said she spends “pretty much every day working towards getting better, getting stronger, and ultimately getting recruited and running at the next level.” Even quarantine hasn’t changed that.

Like lacrosse, track and field has become a sport where later recruitment has recently become more popular, making the cancellation of the spring season a particular disadvantage.

“Usually you start getting recruited your spring season of junior year, which would be right now,” Dejana said. Though she said she was in loose communication with coaches before the spring, this season would have been the time for her to make connections and be recruited heavily.

Nonetheless, even with the season on hold, training and working towards her goal doesn’t stop. “Training on your own brings a whole new mental aspect of pushing yourself,” she said. “When we were on the track with our team, I had a bunch of good teammates who would be in the lane next to me pushing me to sprint faster and work harder.”

Now, it’s all on her.

She’s swapped what would have been daily two-hour group practices with individual at-home strength work and long runs. With no track meets at which coaches could approach her, it’s up to Dejana to reach out to coaches herself.

Thankfully, even though recruitment looks different, college coaches have been receptive and supportive. Having one-on-one phone calls with college coaches, although odd, has been surprisingly successful, Dejana reported.

“We really have just gotten to build a relationship on more of like a personal level rather than talking about recruiting at times. Which is really cool, because I think a lot of the time the first few conversations are more about sports rather than getting to know you, but with the ability to talk about sports,” Dejana said. “It’s really cool getting to know coaches, and, you know, just doing whatever we can over the phone.”

Similarly, twin brothers Sam and Jack Rosen are juniors who both hope to play lacrosse in college. As lacrosse is a heavily recruited Wilton sport, junior year was their time to get more playing time and show their skills. But like Dejana, they are actively working to train and communicate with coaches in new ways.

“Since there’s no season, I’ve had to take a different approach in regard to how I’m going to talk to these coaches now because I can’t reference season stats and all that kind of stuff,” Sam said.

While they can’t practice with their team, the twins have worked to navigate the new landscape in different, creative ways. Practicing four to five times a week, they have been taping their drills and training sessions, and compiling the footage to send to coaches with the help of lacrosse mentor and coach Jeff Brameier. They have also been brainstorming new metrics they can use to describe their progress to college coaches in the absence of games and stats. Jack said this could include anything from weight gain, to whether his maximum bench press weight is increasing, to his training efforts.

“The main thing is you have to get way more creative with how you approach getting in touch with coaches,” he said. That includes posting their own highlight video on YouTube in the absence of online clip services like Hudl.

The brothers also Zoom with mentors including previous WHS varsity lacrosse coach John Wiseman, and their current coach Pearsall for extra support and advice.

Silver Linings Playbook

John McMahon has been playing baseball since he was five years old. He was counting on his junior year season to raise his stats and put him in front of college coaches, and says his spring feels “strange” without that opportunity. Now that he can’t play, he says a lot of the new process is just waiting, but he is optimistic everything will work out.

“I can pretty much play baseball all year long if I want to. So I think there still will be opportunities in the fall, if everything starts to open up again, so that’s what I’m looking forward to,” he said.

Additionally, Pearsall said this delay could even be an advantage to students because it gives them more time to figure out what they want.

“It’s hard to find the silver lining but lacrosse recruiting has been delayed, which is good in my opinion, because… I used to see kids in eighth grade being recruited by D1 schools because of their talents and they had no idea what kind of college they wanted to go to at that point and a lot of them were unhappy,” Pearsall said, adding that making the decision when you’re older, even though it could be more stressful, is not a bad thing.

And in this delayed period, Pearsall said that for players who are motivated this doesn’t have to be a break.

“Use this time to think about your weaknesses and try to address them. If you’re not the quickest player, work on your footwork; there’s so many things that you can do by yourself to make your game better,” he said.

Pearsall encouraged student-athletes to take this time to work on their schoolwork as well because the first thing colleges always ask him about is a student’s GPA. He said they can also thoroughly research the schools they’re interested in and take time to discover what they really want.

“What they have to do is to continue to look at this period as an advantage, not a disadvantage,” Pearsall added.

Sam Rosen said that if fellow athletes are feeling uncertain or confused, the best thing they can do is remember what’s in their control, and what the end-game is.

“I think the scariest part about this whole thing is the uncertainty aspect of it, not knowing… [so] just take control over what you can,” Sam said. “There’s a lot of things right now that are out of our control, like being able to play with our actual team. But whatever’s within your control, you should definitely take advantage of it. Like if you’re able to go for a run every day, go for a run. If you are fortunate enough to have bounce back or a net, definitely be using those regularly.”

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