York College coaches get creative with recruiting during pandemic
It was the best year for York College’s softball team since 2011. Athletes were riding the high of a spring trip in Florida and on their way to a doubleheader at Lebanon Valley College when Coach Kaitlyn Dulac had to get on a mandatory call with college officials. When she returned to her players, she had bad news. The season was over. Campus was closing. COVID-19 had changed everything.
“It’s never a good feeling to have to end a season where everyone was having such fun, seeing so much success, and have to let it all go,” Kaitlyn says. She was especially torn for her senior pitcher, Ginger Lewis, who was 13 strikeouts away from a school record with 28 games left in her senior season. “She would have broken that record and surpassed it. There’s a lot of grief that comes with that loss.”
While the season was cut short because of the COVID-19 outbreak, it meant a lot more changes were coming down the line. Not only did Coach Dulac and her team have to let go of a winning season, but the coach, still feeling out her first year in the position, would have to start recruiting.
The toughest part of recruiting in a pandemic is not getting to see players in action, Kaitlyn says. She prefers to see a pitcher on the mound, not just to observe the player’s skillset, but to see how they interact with teammates, their coaches, and even their families. “Finding skill is easy,” she says. “Finding someone with the right character is where the challenge comes in.”
Kaitlyn cites one recruitment trip as an example: A talented player’s parents bought her a Gatorade after a game and instead of thanking them she complained about the flavor. “It was a red flag to the type of attitude this player might have when they’re on the team,” she says. “Those are things you can only uncover by observing someone.”
While recruiting for the next season will require Kaitlyn to rely more on videos of athletes, other coaches are finding themselves in a similar position.
Wrestling: Duane Bastress, who’s the Head Coach/Strength and Conditioning Coach of the wrestling team, would typically be inviting students to campus now, some for their second trip. With 20 to 25 new recruits needed for the season, Duane says, that’s a lot of missed opportunities to get one-on-one time with prospective students.
He’s been using a GroupMe account to connect with his current athletes, and he plans to add new recruits to that app to help foster team relationships. “It’s not ideal, by any means,”Duane says. “But, we have to find ways to be creative and adapt, or we’ll miss opportunities to bring on some really talented athletes.”
Field Hockey: Katie Fost, Head Coach of the field hockey team, has also been moving to a digital format for recruiting student-athletes. Sending workouts to current athletes and helping them work through some of the challenges of working out at home has kept communication open, she says. “Recruitment isn’t just about attracting athletes to the College or the program,” Kate says. “We also want to develop relationships with these students, and that’s the part that might be really challenging right now.”
Men’s Soccer: Evan Scheffey, Head Coach of the men’s soccer team and an ’09 graduate, felt fortunate to have his fall recruiting class locked into place before campus closed earlier this year, but he’s feeling the challenge to develop new connections as tournaments are canceled. Evan has jumped on more phone calls with high school juniors to continue to let them know he’s interested and wants to keep conversations open. Memorial Day weekend, usually a big recruiting weekend for soccer, is also off the books.
“A lot of recruits are asking some very in-depth questions about the campus and even majors, so we’re trying to connect them with faculty and students in programs, so they get a complete picture of all YCP has to offer,” he says. As a former student-athlete himself, Evan has tried to impart some of his own experience to prospective athletes. “It’s certainly a unique perspective and something that helps spur conversation as we try to connect in new formats.”