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As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, coaches at Labette continue to adapt recruiting practices to keep their programs afloat through the stoppage of athletics.
The NJCAA, alongside the NCAA and NAIA, has suspended all on-campus and off-campus recruiting through the coronavirus pandemic. The NJCAA’s current target date to resume visits and off-campus recruiting is May 15.
Haley Miller, the head coach of the Labette volleyball program, said some prospects rebuked after being barred from coming on campus for a tour.
“We’ve had about three kids that weren’t interested anymore because they’re not able to come to an on-campus visit,” Miller said. “Obviously I didn’t get to make some contact with other kids in some of the last few large tournaments. So this is putting a damper on how many kids I can see in general.”
Coaches are still permitted to contact recruits over the phone and online. That communication is the only lifeline for coaches trying to fill rosters.
“Weekly we’ll reach out and try to help them with anything. I’m not one to sit and nag people,” Miller said. “We’re trying to do our part and let them know how badly we want them at Labette.”
Prospects are still allowed to commit and sign letters of intent. Mitch Rolls, the head coach of the Labette women’s basketball team, signed five recruits in the two weeks after the NJCAA halted athletics.
“We put in a lot of work about a month before the virus really hit,” Rolls said. “Towards the end of the season, I was hitting the phones hard. When it finally hit, a lot of kids made their choices and we had already put a lot of work in.”
Rolls has 12 recruits — 10 incoming freshmen and two transfers — signed to his class. Seven of them were committed prior to the pandemic.
He feels that recruits that were uncommitted prior to the pandemic were rushed into decisions once the country became the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis.
“That goes back to the legwork we put in before,” Rolls said. “In my mind, whoever the kids were feeling was the No. 1 school was before the shutdown became the school they chose. The virus pushed everybody to the edge to make a decision.”
Coaches at Labette have focused on improving their online presences through the shutdown. Miller put together an extensive presentation that she shared with other coaches at Labette as well as her recruits.
“I tried to go in order of how I do my on-campus tours,” Miller said. “I wanted to cover all my bases. I put on coach bios. We talked about the main campus and put a link for the virtual tour. Then we talked about the Villas and on-campus housing. Then we attached our program philosophy.
“You’re going to have kids that you recruit out-of-state and don’t have the opportunity to come to campus before making a decision. Having that presentation and have a more solid online presence will be huge.”
Rolls taught himself to produce graphics of commitments and signees for social media by learning Photoshop on his own.
“That’s helped with the visuals. Because we can’t do visits, I felt like we needed to do more to announce signings. That’s what made really focus on all the graphics to have something they can share,” Rolls said.
“I try to be really active on social media. That’s going to be our biggest tool. It helps to have a big-time social media presence. I’m constantly putting up pictures and articles and that helps people know about Labette.”
The summer is traditionally one of the biggest recruiting periods for college athletics through club, travel and AAU circuits. Basketball, baseball and softball in particular will be hit the hardest if summer seasons are canceled.
“It’s complete chaos,” Rolls said. “It’s either going to be a great thing or a bad thing for programs. Because it’s not normal, it affects everybody’s cycle. Some coaches will adapt well and some won’t.”
Ultimately, Labette coaches are in the same boat as everybody else shuttered because of the coronavirus — waiting for answers and for the pandemic to pass.
“It’s just different times. We’re all waiting for May 15 to get here,” Miller said. “Right now, we’re just waiting for the NJCAA to fill us in about what we’ll be able to do.”