Dartmouth coaches adapt to recruiting restrictions

by Ethan Strauss and Benjamin Ashley | 4/24/20 2:05am

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Softball coach Jen Williams has adjusted her recruiting tactics due to the NCAA's restriction on in-person recruiting due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Source: Courtesy of the Dartmouth Athletics Department

During a normal spring term, athletic recruits visit Hanover and Big Green coaches travel around the country scouting for potential recruits. But this is not a normal spring term.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA has canceled all in-person recruiting until May 31. This new standard has drastic consequences for recruiting. Coaches must now resort to alternate forms of communication, like Zoom and FaceTime, to stay in touch with their prospects and convince potential recruits to choose their school.

“Right now, it’s put a monkey wrench in recruiting for not only the coaches, but even for the players because a lot of the 2021 recruits were hoping to be seen throughout this spring and summer time,” men’s soccer head coach Bo Oshoniyi said.

These changes have forced Dartmouth coaches to get creative with their recruiting. Because Dartmouth’s biggest attractions include its picturesque Hanover setting and its sense of community, coaches are trying to replicate an intimate Dartmouth in virtual form.

Women’s basketball head coach Belle Koclanes has been getting creative in adapting to the new virtual reality. After asking about a recruit’s Easter holiday and discovering that the recruit’s favorite part was her family’s seven-layer salad, the coaches worked to assemble a presentation on the seven distinctive layers of Dartmouth.

Oshoniyi and his staff have also created a thorough presentation for recruits that aims to capture the beauty of Hanover and introduce potential recruits to Dartmouth’s various traditions.

“We’ve put together a very, very detailed presentation that definitely shows off the picturesque views of Dartmouth,” Oshoniyi said. “One of our slides in our presentation is part of the Homecoming [celebration] ... which I think is unique [from] a lot of different schools with the bonfire and things like that and how the whole Hanover-Dartmouth community comes out to support that.”

Another vital aspect of recruiting, particularly at this stage in the spring, is getting to know the recruits and their families and making them feel comfortable committing to Dartmouth for the next four years. Koclanes said that her staff has been using FaceTime for years to connect to her recruits before they visit campus. 

But due to social distancing, Koclanes has had to transition her normal routine for campus visits into a virtual experience.

“We're trying to create some type of normalcy in this truly unimaginable time,” Koclanes said. 

Recruiting this term has centered around developing long-distance connections with recruits. Coaches are aiming to get to know recruits and their families as if they were meeting them in person.

However, the challenges imposed by the coronavirus pandemic will not end at the close of the spring term. Summer recruiting, an essential time frame for nearly every Dartmouth sport, will also be drastically affected. Even if stay-at-home orders end, NCAA-imposed guidelines and travel restrictions will continue to change how coaches strategize.

Softball coach Jen Williams foresees a change in tactics continuing throughout the summer months, even if the pandemic improves.

“I would be surprised if June recruiting occurs, period, and even if it does it's going to be on a limited scale — I would imagine on a state-by-state basis,” Williams said. “I think one of the biggest changes we will see is that club ball teams … won’t be able to afford to travel [and] big tournaments may not be allowed to happen.”

The ability to see players in-person was an essential aspect of many teams’ summer recruiting strategies. Even as restrictions are loosened, parents, students and coaches will be reluctant to travel, and camps will likely be canceled.

“If you think there’s going to be an event and we can’t go to it, well, no parents are sending their kids to these events right now,” athletics director Harry Sheehy said. “I think that you’d have to be wacky to send your young man or woman to an all-star camp that lasts for a day and a half just so [they] can play and be watched by coaches.”

Williams, however, is still optimistic that some smaller events may take place during the latter half of summer. These would potentially allow coaches to travel to events close to Hanover or to set up camp in a recruiting hotspot. These strategies depend on the progression of the virus over the summer, but all hope is not lost for the chance to see a few prospects.

For prospects who have already committed to Dartmouth, the process of integration with the team can begin over the summer months. Video chatting provides an opportunity for new players to meet the team.

Williams expects that video chatting has been normalized to the point that it may become an essential aspect of recruiting throughout the year.

“[I]t’s a huge advantage being able to see their faces and being able to do the same in return, and I think that’s really valuable,” Williams said.

The main concern for coaches past these summer recruiting changes is the resumption of sports and school in the fall. If the fall term is delayed or canceled, additional seasons could be lost, and starting a freshman class remotely would affect team chemistry and development. However, coaches will continue to adapt to whatever challenges come their way.

“Obviously, if the fall is delayed, that will have a huge impact on us the same way it will on everyone,” Williams said. “I think that in all coaches in all sports right now, regardless of what season you are, there is this fear of starting your current rising freshman class remotely. But we will make it work if that’s what we have to do.”

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