December 9, 2008

My Christmas Wish - Ivy League Volleyball

One the great things about volleyball, is that it can open so many doors for college. If a player can define themselves and their post-high school aspirations, then they can match a university to their desires. There are over 300 Division I schools and by being intelligent and proactive in the recruiting process, Prospective Student Athletes can find that best fit.

Hello Coach,

I find your website to be incredibly informative and would like your insight on what realistic options may be available to our daughter at an Ivy League school. She is a junior playing second string varsity on a team that just won their C.I.F (California) section as well as playing on a second team in a very competitive club. She has always played with highly talented players, many of whom are looking at the big PAC 10, D1 schools. She is a very academic student with a high G.P.A., among other things, who would very much like to go to an Ivy League school. The quandary we are in is that we are having a difficult time truly evaluating her skill level (as the talent pool she finds herself in is so good) to determine if it is good enough to play at an Ivy League as a walk-on. I read somewhere on your site that many 5’9 all-around good players are like Toyota Camry’s, which may be our case here, but I hope she’d have to have a little more “under the hood” to be able to get on a Division 1A CIF (southern section) champion-level team. I read the profiles of some of the players on the Harvard roster who played for high schools in Div 3 and 5. Would a second string player with no awards from a Division 1A school have a shot as a walk-on? And is it worth a try?

Thank you, Stephanie

This question/situation can be applied to a number of strong volleyball areas in the USA. Stephanie's daughter finds herself, as per the question, in a very strong volleyball high school which successfully competes in a demanding region of the country. In addition, if she is associated with a top flight club team, it makes perfect sense that she is on the second squad as a 5'9" outside hitter. If we were to examine the greater Chicago, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco areas, then we could probably find a number of these type of players - Good all around skills but because of their size and location, they may not garner the desired attention from select college programs.

I compliment the PSA/family for identifying exactly what she wants in college; elite academics and Division I volleyball.

The Ivy League is a unique conference in Division I athletics because they do not award athletic based scholarships. So, per the usual Division I terminology, all of their volleyball players would be considered 'walk-ons'. Another useful way to look at the Ivy League is to relate them to NCAA Division III athletics - no athletically based scholarships. Athletic scholarships are only one component of funding; academic, need based, merit (non-athletic achievements or community involvement) are viable financial streams to offset the high cost of secondary education.

What makes joining an Ivy League school, or any elite level school (Stanford, Cal, Rice, William and Mary, Virginia, etc.), is that there may be many PSA's willing to pay their own way in school, because volleyball can open the Admission door. At a previous school, we had a number of very good athletes, literally begging for the opportunity to walk-on to the program, just to be guaranteed admission to the university. The school itself, because of this situation occurring in all athletic teams, had to put a cap on the number of walk-on PSA's allowed per sport. The PSA's which were requesting a walk-on roster spot, would have easily been full scholarship volleyball players at so many other good DI programs.

Since the Ivy League is a walk-on, albeit a recruited walk-on league, I would guess that there are any number of solid volleyball players which are very intelligent and have the family resources to make an Ivy League school a reality for their future. Walking on at Harvard or Princeton, will not be as easy as walking on at State U!

The first thing I would advise Stephanie's daughter/family is not to sell themselves short. High school or club accolades really do not matter to college volleyball coaches. We want talent that fits our system, not information that looks good in the media guide. While awards are nice, college coaches understand that many athletes are great as juniors, but do not get any better or they received some award not by their abilities but by the politics of high school athletics.

I would stress the positives of the PSA's situation - She is from southern California which holds a certain eliteness within college volleyball recruiting, she plays on a traditionally successful high school program so she is mentally comfortable with winning, has been selected to an elite club team and as a 5'9" outside hitter she would not be expected to beat out 6 footers who are being courted by the PAC 10 conference. If she is playing, she is getting better, especially in club volleyball. Those small southern California regional tournaments represent top level competition that will only make players better.

My direct suggestion is to follow the Recruiting Plan for Juniors as explained on this site - don't approach the Ivy League any different that any other school/program. Get your information out to the schools which you find attractive, get your video out to them via YouTube, a direct e-mail link or DVD, be proactive in your communication and offer to come out for an Unofficial Visit after the NCAA Dead Period ends.

The feedback you receive from these contacted schools will allow you to understand if your daughter is a Toyota Camry fleet car or a Toyota Camry XLE with every option!!! College coaches are usually very good about evaluating video and will know if the PSA is appropriate for their program. Most programs will use a video to determine who they will see in person, rather than the data to make a final decision on a player. Part of your interaction with selected schools is to let them where and when you will be playing, so they can see you in person. The in-person volleyball evaluation is usually one full step up from the video version of a PSA.

The one thing that I would caution against, is that the Ivy League schools could also have limitations on their roster size. This combined with the program's specific needs (in 2010, Harvard may really need MB's and a setter because they have 5 underclassmen OH's), could easily cut the 'available' Ivy League schools in half. To this end, while the Ivy League has a certain academic attractiveness, there are many elite schools that also compete at the Division I level. I have listed a few already, but the US News and World Report does an annual ranking of colleges and universities which should allow you to add some elite institutions to your list. Who knows, you may find that you like the campus of Boston College or Duke better than any Ivy League school and would have better volleyball opportunities. Also, DO NOT discount those non-Division I schools which may rank higher than almost all the Ivy League because they could be your best fit.

Bottom line, trust your ability and don't discount yourself because you are not a 6'1" outside hitter being recruited by the Pac 10. Be proactive, get your information out and keep an open mind.

My belief is that you will be very happy with your future.