5C students, faculty and staff are still adjusting to this year’s return to in-person campus life, and the consortium’s athletic coaches are no exception.
Shifting their attention to scouting the class of 2026, Pomona-Pitzer athletic coaches have had to adapt to new changes in the recruiting world, P-P assistant water polo coach Elyssa Hawkins told TSL.
“There’s definitely a lot of us [who] are very full steam ahead … there’s a lot more opportunity to see [recruits] in person,” Hawkins said. “But that being said, I think there’s still a good sense of communication through FaceTime or Zoom. There’s still much more of a balance nowadays to be able to do both.”
For those who prefer scouting potential team members in person, opportunities include tournaments, club championships and the Junior Olympics. But depending on where prospects are located, there are different restrictions on these showcases, according to P-P women’s tennis coach Mike Morgan.
Some regulations include having to notify tournament coordinators in advance about how many recruiters are attending. Additionally, there are indoor mask mandates in some locations while masks are encouraged outdoors.
The prospects are permitted to visit campus, but aren’t allowed to stay overnight in dorms or eat in dining halls. Still, these day visits are “better than nothing,” P-P swim coach Jean-Paul Gowdy said.
Before the pandemic, both the P-P men’s and women’s water polo teams’ coaches relied on attending major tournaments, Hawkins said.
“There was also a lot more emphasis on being able to have prospective student-athletes on campus for overnight visits,” Hawkins said. “When they visited, each prospect would be paired with a current team member serving as host and we would go through [an itinerary].”
On the other side of the pool, the P-P swim and dive coaches did not rely as much on tournament attendance for recruitment.
“We’re in a more objective sport where a time is a time,” Gowdy said. “So it’s a little less important in my sport to see someone play like it is in, say, basketball or something like that.”
Regardless of a sport’s dependence on observing live-action matches, the 5Cs’ campus closure in spring 2020 forced coaches to modify some of their recruiting methods.
“After planning to have our junior day for Class of 2025 two weeks after the shutdown date, we had to send a couple of letters to people that we had been sending invitations to announce our cancellation,” Hawkins said. “That being said, [we would] virtually send informational pamphlets about the campuses that they would have otherwise received on that junior day. And then from there, it was making a lot of Zoom calls.”
The class of 2025’s recruits met with coaches online. Other than brief periods where coaches met prospects off campus, what would normally be in-person meetups converted into week-long Zoom events, according to Gowdy. These were extended in an effort to get to know recruits as much as possible.
“Talent is one thing, but we were looking to recruit athletes who are going to contribute to our community and our team in a variety of ways other than just swimming fast or diving well,” Gowdy said.
Even though scouting the first-year class was done online, the athletes were prepared for on-campus training during this school year. Hawkins noticed an increased desire among her athletes to improve their skills and make the most out of their experience on the water polo team.
“I call it a COVID curve in that our first-year players have kind of looked at how we practice, train, play and I think a lot of them have come to this realization of, ‘Oh my gosh, I missed out on so much development as a player because of COVID,’” Hawkins said. “To help, we kind of look to the returners to set the tone for the team; everybody puts their best foot forward and personality-wise, I feel like this is really one of our closest groups.”
No matter the differences from this year to last year, coaches have the same goal in mind: to build the best recruiting class possible.
“I think it’s important that we get on the road and get to know them as students and as people,” Morgan said. “The more we can do that, the more it fits Pomona and Pitzer’s recruitment standards. It helps us reflect what we’re trying to help with across the board.”