ATHLETICS ALWAYS HUNTING FOR NEW VIKINGS

MATTHEW HOUSIAUX

mjhousiaux12@ole.augie.edu

For a collegiate athletics coach, the season is never truly over. Even after the last game has been played, and perhaps a championship won, there remains the task of rebuilding a team for the years to come—known in sports parlance as “recruiting”

“Recruiting is ongoing—it never ends,” Augustana softball coach Gretta Melsted said.

Men’s basketball coach Tom Billeter offered a more colorful analogy for the process.

“Recruiting is like shaving,” Billeter said. “If you miss a day, you look cruddy. We recruit every day.”

The 2014 Vikings softball team has so far advanced to the NCAA Division II Super Regional tournament and could potentially play even further into the postseason. In the meantime, however, Melsted is waiting for official commitments from players graduating high school in 2015.

Melsted and her coaching staff begin pursuing prospective players when they are sophomores in high school and send out official offers when they are juniors.  Generally, she is informed about noteworthy recruits through “trusted contacts”—primarily coaches of upper-tier travelling teams—or discovers them unexpectedly.  Other prospective student-athletes simply recruit themselves.

While there is a method to recruiting, Melsted says it rarely adheres to a particular “pattern.”  This year’s softball team includes two junior college transfers (junior colleges being a recruiting avenue that Augustana coaches tend to avoid) and a freshman player who was signed in October of her senior year of high school—an unusually late commitment for college-bound student athletes.

“You get the whole gamut,” Melsted said.

For basketball, Billeter and his coaches begin scouting potential high school recruits when they are freshmen. This includes hosting basketball camps for players from the area, as well as attending their games.

While the basketball coaches focus mostly on the upper Midwest region during the school year, from June 15 through August 1 they are gone throughout the country.  According to Billeter, they also recruit “thoroughly” in England and Australia.

Coaches spend a great number of hours on the road evaluating prospective players.  Equally important, however, is a student athlete’s campus visit, where he or she will, in turn, evaluate a school as both an academic and athletic institution. This involves the assistance and collaboration of several Augustana personnel, including professors and administrators.

“We have had numerous situations where recruits can only be here on Saturdays or even Sundays and we will have a prof meet us to visit with the family,” Billeter said. “This is incredibly important for us.”

While Augustana’s athletic success in recent years is certainly a hallmark for recruits, assistant athletic director Jeff Holm believes a good education is equally attractive.

“For student-athletes looking to experience the best of both worlds (academics and athletics), Augustana is hard to beat,” Holm said. “The academic rigor prepares all students for success in an ever changing world, and the athletic rigor presents multiple situations in which student-athletes need to prepare, adjust and keep moving forward.”

Accordingly, the cornerstone of recruiting at Augustana is finding student-athletes who have sufficiently balanced their scholastic, athletic and personal prerogatives.

While not every single recruit will be an exemplary student, she said, “we [Augustana] attract the kind of student who cares about school, who wants to do a good job.”

By recruiting players who are “well-adjusted,” as Melsted puts it, she also hopes to avoid the “separatism” that can occasionally result between athletes and the rest of the college campus.

“When we recruit, we make sure our recruits are on tour with other prospective students,” she said. “We encourage that they are part of the campus .”

Further, “I want them to have a life outside of athletics.”