UC Santa Cruz’s athletics department is becoming renowned nationwide, and even globally, for its success in sports such as men’s volleyball and tennis. A growing number of high-school athletes are reaching out to Slug coaches with hopes of calling Santa Cruz their new home.
“You get a lot of letters when students are interested in Santa Cruz,” said men’s tennis head coach Bob Hansen, “… and in tennis a lot of players are foreign. It’s such an international sport.”
Hansen pointed out several players over his nearly-30-year career coaching at UCSC, including senior and assistant head coach Justin Dorfman, who is from Hong Kong.
“I definitely feel like sports has brought a lot of international students to the U.S.,” said Dorfman, who contacted Hansen after hearing about his reputation for player development during a visit to a tennis academy in Boca Roton, Fla. “Tennis has grown a lot and other countries don’t really have college tennis. But in other sports you see a bunch of people from other countries starting to go [to the United States], like basketball and swimming.”
The rest of the student athletes who end up considering UCSC are recruited by coaches.
“Recruiting is the lifeblood of the program, and the focus is to match our goals as a program with the goals of prospective student athletes,” said men’s volleyball head coach and UCSC alumnus Jonah Carson.
There will be several talented athletes entering the freshman class this fall, such as volleyball league MVP Erik Liederbach and Erich Conan, a tennis player who is ranked 221st in the country out of roughly 1,600 high-school seniors.
A coach can hear about a player in several different ways, such as perusing high school athletics websites and scouting games. The recruitment process varies, however, depending on the sport.
“With some sports like golf and swimming, you don’t have to see them because you know times and scores,” athletics director Linda Spradley explained. “If they golf 100 you know they’re not going to make the team, but if they golf 80 you grab ’em.”
Some coaches also take advantage of the usefulness of technology as they look for possible recruits.
“I would say the manner in which kids are recruited now versus before has changed, but it is still basically the same goal: to get the best UCSC-eligible athletes,” said men’s tennis assistant head coach Bryce Parmelly. “Most recruiting these days is done online.”
For men’s tennis in particular, there is a recruiting site (www.tennisrecruiting.net) which gives extensive information about players, from their rankings by section and nationally to what colleges they’re interested in. “It’s all pretty precise and easy,” tennis head coach Hansen said.
Yet recruiting is by no means a simple process for coaches.
“Coaches spend a lot of time recruiting,” Spradley said. “It’s very time-consuming and difficult. We may get 500 students who want in and coaches have to answer all of them.”
Spradley added that recruiting occurs year-round, not just around college decision time. This means coaches have to juggle looking at prospective players at the same time as managing their current ones.
This is made all the more difficult by the lack of finances dedicated to recruitment.
“Coaches have no recruiting dollars,” Spradley said. “None. No budget for it, no distinct money set aside for them, and most teams don’t reimburse a drive to Southern California [to recruit a student].”
Spradley also points to the fact that there is little money in the athletic department in general as the more overlying issue.
“We need money and we don’t have it,” she said. “Our ability to recruit depends on money.”
In addition, because UCSC is a Division III school, it cannot give out athletic scholarships. Whether or not this plays a significant factor is debatable. But Spradley believes the general consensus is that an athletic scholarship shouldn’t make or break a student’s decision if they really love UCSC.
“I’m sure there are students who need financial aid or feel entitled to an athletic scholarship because they’re a good athlete, and will go to a school irrespective to location or major,” she said.
Volleyball head coach Carson added that the lack of athletic scholarships is not synonymous with a lack of talent.
“It’s still important to remember we’re a championship team with elite athletes,” he said. “Just because we don’t have scholarships doesn’t mean we’re not a good school. In fact, I think it makes us better.”