Freshmen athletes navigate virtual recruitment process

By Gustavo Castillo, March 8, 2021

Faith Buford, a recently recruited freshman for CPP’s volleyball team, is, essentially, her own coach. Twice a week, she drives down to her old club AZ Epic to rally with other members. She lifts, runs and has an influx of volleyballs laying around the house to practice her setting skills on all house walls. All accomplished not in California but, rather, Arizona.

Buford’s story describes one of many other recently recruited student-athletes at CPP. According to the NCAA, nearly 8 million students participate in sports at the high school level and 1 million go on to compete and play at a college level. However, with collegiate sports programs across the nation on hold due to the ongoing pandemic, recruited athletes’ transition to CPP has never been more different.

“I’ve only seen the campus in pictures and that’s about it,” Buford said with a laugh. “I met my coach Traci Dahl over Zoom. I still haven’t met her in person. I’ve probably met five of the girls on the team because I drove down last semester to play a couple open gyms, so I’ve really only met a few of my teammates.”

Faith Buford was a senior at Verrado High School in Arizona before getting recruited. (Courtesy of Faith Buford)

In a sign of the times, Buford was recruited virtually by CPP via a website called SportsRecruits, where student-athletes can post past performance highlights — an unconventional recruiting process she described as “a leap of faith.”

Athletes like Buford across the United States are trying to train in hopes of getting the experience necessary to showcase their talents to impress college coaches and secure a position on the team and a scholarship. NCAA Divisions I and II schools provide more than $3.6 billion in athletic scholarships to 180,000 students, so financial assistance is another competitive factor to fight for in terms of affording school.

There is still a glimmer of hope for high school athletes at the California Interscholastic Federation level to display their talents despite many high school programs across the state being halted as well. On Feb. 10, an update to CIF Bylaws waived the longtime restriction on students being allowed to participate on a high school team and a club team at the same time.

Rebecca Brutlag, media relations officer for CIF, said, “We want these student athletes to play, and we don’t want to hinder them anymore, so we have waived this bylaw for this school year.”

Now students in high school have more opportunities to showcase their talents. However, the difficulties of the recruiting process are also felt by collegiate sports programs.

Danelle Bishop, head coach for women’s basketball, acknowledged that creating a bond with her 13-player team virtually is not easy during a pandemic.

The 2020 Verrado Volleyball Team Faith Buford played for. (Courtesy of Faith Buford)

Regarding the current and ever-changing recruiting process, she said, “The (NCAA) pushed it back to April or May. We do not know what that is going to look like. You can recruit with some video, but you really need to see them in person.”

Bishop added that her team is not meeting in person. Instead of playing on the court, the team holds optional virtual strength training Zoom meetings. Their central focus has now become wellness checks and academic progress. Team huddles occur every two weeks where the athletes and coach talk about sports, family and life.

Buford described team building as one of the biggest challenges regarding all sport teams. She described volleyball as being “a psychological sport that requires team chemistry over anything else, so it’s been interesting trying to create that over Zoom.”

While some parts of the recruitment process have adapted to a virtual environment, college athletics programs nationwide still await the return of competition.

Bishop urged students to “keep being positive, stay motivated and please wear a mask so we can play.”

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