Pandemic athletes hustle for recruiters’ attention

Seniors regain drive after seasons upended due to COVID closures

Sara Dediu and Emma Zhang, Staff writers

 

Ella Johnson
soccer
Whitman College
Emma Fales
softball
George Washington University
Matthew Knudsen
water polo
California Lutheran University

The pandemic forced athletes with college aspirations to practice at home and communicate with potential coaches through emails, adding another layer of stress and uncertainty to the student athlete application process that no previous classes had ever experienced before.

The student athlete application process usually included emailing the coaches of colleges to see if they’re interested, having them watch you play at competitions and showcases or through a video, then getting invited to in-person camps where they can assess you in person.

Due to the pandemic and the discontinuation of many sports, the opportunities for colleges to assess an athlete decreased dramatically, placing more emphasis on recommendation letters, essays, and videos. According to NCSA Sports, communication to coaches through email increased nearly 26%, from 635,743 emails in 2019 to 825,519 emails in 2020, showing the alternate forms of communication coaches and potential recruits had to rely on during the unusual times.

Instead of traveling across the country with her softball teammates, senior Emma Fales, who will play for George Washington University in the fall, joined an online Facebook group put together by collegiate players where the members did a drill or practice video a day.

In her free time, she practiced on the tee in her backyard and played catch with her sister. She said that despite all of the time away from her time, the pandemic allowed her to focus more on individual skills, making her application more appealing to recruits.

“I always knew that I was going to find a way to play softball in college,” Fales said. “It was really just about the actions I took and my urgency to try to find a place to call home.”

Being away from the pool during the first part of the pandemic was draining for senior Matthew Knudsen, who has played water polo for roughly nine years. While he was still able to swim in a pool to keep fit, having such a big part of his life yanked away dramatically decreased his motivation.

Knudsen was a key member of Branham’s first boys water polo team last year, and led the squad to a league championship this season. Next season he will join California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

“It was weird being out of the pool, and away from my teammates for that long,” he said. “It was hard to stay focused on what I needed to do in order to continue playing my sport.”

For senior Ella Johnson, who will attend Whitman College, soccer has been a part of her life since she was four. Social distanced practice made her feel a lot less close to her teammates. Johnson is a captain of Branham’s varsity girls soccer team, and plays the midfielder position. She completed her final season as a Bruin with a CCS semifinal loss to Lincoln High School on Feb. 23.

“If you’re going to (practice your sport), you’re usually going to have to do it by yourself,” she said.

The application was a frustrating and stressful process for the three athletes, from emailing coaches and not getting a response back to navigating deadlines and various new requirements, praying that luck would get them through the uncertainty.

“It can be kind of diminishing when you’re looking at other people getting recruited and you’re wondering why you’re not,” Fales says she would tell future applicants. “You have to remember that it’s your own process, and what you’re working on is yourself and where you’re going.”

Although COVID initially weakened their relationship with their sport, it ultimately made them realize how much it meant to them and how much they loved playing it.

“That period of time away made me miss the sport and when I got back, I re-experienced everything that I loved when I first started playing the sport,” said Knudsen.

For Johnson, it was even a catalyst for her to realize she didn’t want to give up on the passion she’s been pursuing her whole life.

“[Soccer] has always been a part of my life, but I didn’t know if I wanted to continue,” she said. “Then when COVID hit and I couldn’t play as much, I realized I wanted to play for as long as I could.”

For athletes wishing to play in college, Fales said that resourcefulness and drive that helped athletes excel on the field are needed to navigate life post-high school

“(Becoming a college athlete) can definitely happen with COVID,” she said. “You just have to want it enough.