University of Denver women’s coach Liza Kelly said that, aside from keeping an eye on the
Liza Kelly is in her third season as head coach of the University of Denver.
burgeoning Colorado scholastic scene, the majority of her recruiting work comes on the tournament circuit from May and June through December.
“It does,” she said. “It’s one-stop shopping. You can go to a club tournament and you can see some of the top players around the country without having to drive to New York or Massachusetts to catch some games. You’re going to miss a lot if you just count on the club tournaments, but I think it depends on where your program is.
“I think the spring kind of becomes the double check, like, ‘OK, let’s really take a last look at her.’ That’s when you’re trying to figure out how much money someone’s worth or if you’re trying to put a scholarship on the table.”
“Honestly, I believe the high school team is critically important,” Cornell women’s lacrosse coach Jenny Graap said. “It is meaningful to play on a strong high school team and win games and make your sectional finals and your state tournament. It’s phenomenal. It’s where these student-athletes are learning discipline and leadership, and that’s still the bread and butter of our sport.
“But if we keep going down the route of accelerating the process, it does seem to me like a club team becomes more important, because coaches need to make these decisions of watching in the summer and the fall, and that’s when club teams are really important.”
Graap said she likes to concentrate on her own team during the spring season. When the Big Red’s season ends, she’ll turn her full attention back to prospective recruits.
“I would prefer to focus in on my own team in our traditional season,” she said. “That’s where my priority needs to be. If there’s a day off … then I think trying to see some games locally is perhaps the only thing that I or my staff will be able to accomplish. But again, I don’t really think that should be our priority at all. We feel comfortable about who we saw in the early process, the ones we’ve already seen play. Watching them again, yes, it’s something we’d love to be able to do, but we can wait until our NCAA tournament is over and get out on the road in early June to the playoff rounds.”
Unlike the fall and summer, when college coaches flock to showcases, camps and club tournaments, recruiting during the spring scholastic season becomes intensely regionalized for those coaches who deem it a priority.
Rutgers men’s coach Jim Stagnitta calls the spring a secondary recruiting season for his program. During the summer/fall evaluation period, the Scarlet Knights’ staff identifies the sophomores, juniors and any remaining uncommitted seniors they want to pursue — a practice that Stagnitta said has changed drastically over the past five years — and then tries to re-evaluate those prospects in the spring depending on their geographic proximity to Rutgers’ central New Jersey campus.
Stagnitta said he and his staff will “see a lot of games in-state.”
“A game a day in-state,” he said. “Within a two-hour area, we’re going to try and get out and pick up our evaluations again, and do what you do in the summer. We’re going to see as many teams in the state as we possibly can. Guys in Pennsylvania and Baltimore are not a bad trip for us, or getting up to Long Island. We get out as much as we can to see guys still on our list. We try to fill those couple of spots that we’ve held.”
For a high school recruit intent on playing for a college program not close to home, added emphasis is being placed on club ball and tournaments, the distribution of highlight tapes and by letting college coaches know you have an interest in their program.
The popularity of club lacrosse has skyrocketed over the past decade, with the growing realization that showcases and tournaments provide the most visibility to college coaches who — either by choice or by the geographic realities of this still-growing sport — do little or no recruiting during the spring scholastic season. It has also created a competitive counterculture that benefits the wealthy.
“It’s money that drives this equation, and money comes into play for the families who have the means to pay for the club, pay for the tournament entry fees and pay for the coaching fees,” Graap said. “There’s maybe a few out there not charging a lot of money or doing it as a non-profit, but the majority of lacrosse clubs, it’s a business. People are supporting themselves on that business, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that, but some families aren’t going to be able to afford a club team because they don’t have the means.”