Game On

JEFF BRAMEIER
LACROSSE | Darien High School

Jeff Brameier, who has been named National Coach of the Year, has coached lacrosse, football and boys swimming and diving in his thirty-five-year career.

NATION Darien High School lacrosse is the No. 1 team in the country.
LOCAL The Blue Wave has been Connecticut Team of the Year and topped the FCIACs numerous times.

For high school athletes, the college recruiting process can be daunting. On the surface, it’s akin to the sizing for baby and toddler apparel—the process could play out in 0–12, 12–24 or even 24–36 months. Athletes need to weigh many variables, including whether they even want to play college athletics. From the time students enter high school and play athletics, they have to weigh factors about college participation that include academics, geography, what level of college athletics (Division I, II or III) in which they want to compete, finances, team chemistry and success, and their level of commitment. There is no right way or wrong way. The process may even be different for boys and girls, depending on the sport, and the timeline for finishing the jigsaw puzzle varies for each student.

“To me it’s no different than buying a house or a car,’’ says Jack McFarland, the coach of the Staples High School baseball team, which won the Class LL championship last spring. “If you want the Mercedes, you have to work for it. I tell the kids to shoot for the stars—but if it doesn’t work, you better have a Plan B. I don’t have a problem with players who want to play at a school like Boston College. They just have to have a plan if it doesn’t work out.”

All coaches feel the driving decision should be education. “Our message is: Don’t let the tail wag the dog,’’ says Doug Scott, the boys’ basketball coach at Greens Farms Academy in Westport. Three players from this year’s team will play basketball in college, including Sunday Okeke at Wake Forest, a Division I school in one of the premier conferences in the nation: the Atlantic Coast Conference. Sixteen former GFA players have gone on to play college basketball since 2011. “If playing your sport has reduced the quality of academic school that you would have otherwise gone to, then don’t play your sport in college.”

THE HEAT IS ON
You’ve heard of the lazy days of summer? That’s not the case for high school athletes, particularly those heading into their senior year. Between athletic showcases, college visits, competition and skill development, the crunched timeline from mid-June through late August goes a long way toward steering student athletes to their eventual college destination. For those considering playing sports in college, there is precious little time for beaches, making memories with friends and vacationing with the family.

Summer camps and showcases are among the most pivotal ways for athletes to draw the attention of college recruiters. Those outlets allow athletes to display skills in front of a wide range of college coaches, give them time on campus and see how they measure up against their peers.

“We encourage players to get on to a couple of campuses for summer camp,’’ says Jamie Brower, the coach of the field hockey team at Greenwich Academy, a perennial powerhouse. “It’s hard for them to know what they want. We tell them to go watch a college game and understand what level they’re talking about. A lot of times, they don’t understand how big the jump is from high school to college.”


JACK MCFARLAND

BASEBALL | Staples High School

The Staples High School Baseball Team, under Coach McFarland’s watch, is ranked No. 1 in Connecticut and won the 2017 Class LL Championships.

EYE ON “Proper technique, effort and executing to desired outcome.”
LESSON “Your performance in games is the direct result of practice habits and executing to a desired outcome.”
PLAYER TO WATCH Chad Knight, top-ranked pitcher in his class in the state.

Understanding the options is key. Sharon Kriz, director of rowing at Saugatuck Rowing Club in Westport, encourages athletes to send a message to college coaches to get on their radar. “My advice is to do research,’’ she says. All twenty of her seniors in this year’s program will row in college. “Get a list of every rowing program in the country. Narrow it down. Where do yo u want to find yourself? Big school, little school? What do you want academically? At the end of the day, rowing is not paying you after college. Tell them about your grades, and see if you’re in the ballpark. You have to be able to get into that school.”

The challenge for coaches is to set realistic expectations for their athletes. Some athletes set a high bar without the skills, size or athleticism to play at a Division I level. Others don’t realize how far they might be able to go in the college game. Boys are especially late bloomers and can be difficult to project. Some boys bloom beyond high school.

“A young man working for me now came to us in eighth grade. He could barely sit up in the boat,’’ Kriz says. “He was all over the place. I was afraid for him. But he went on to have a good career in college. He’s a perfect example of what rowing can do for you.”


JAMIE BROWER

FIELD HOCKEY | Greenwich Academy

Coach Brower works with sophomore Grace Schulz. “She has a knack for finding spaces and passing lanes that others may not,” says coach. GA’s varsity field hockey team has won thirty consecutive FAA Championships and four New England Championships.

DRILLS “We try to work fitness into our drills…try to keep them productive, challenging and fun.”
PRACTICE Every day. Games on Saturday. “These girls work hard balancing all of their academic work with a demanding sports schedule.”


SPORT VS. SPORT

The recruiting process differs markedly between sports. Field hockey and lacrosse coaches, for instance, look for agility, quickness and coordination. In basketball and baseball, coaches look for those attributes, as well as for players with the finer skills required to play the game.

“In baseball, skill development can come at different times,’’ says Mitch Hoffman, the baseball coach at New Canaan High School. “Baseball is so much different from other sports because once players get to high school, they’re not competing against players just in their age group. A player who’s really good in ninth grade might not work as much as the player who doesn’t quite have the skills. But the players who work at developing those skills will always get ahead by the time they are seniors.”

In basketball, players start working on skill development as early as third grade, according to Jay Conway, a coach with Fairfield-based Premier Hoops Development. “It gets pretty competitive,’’ says Conway, who had six players from this year’s graduating class move onto college basketball programs. “If the focus is to play in college, it’s hard to play two sports in high school—but it’s not impossible. Everybody has different goals.”

Lacrosse recruiting changed earlier this year with the adoption of regulations that prohibit colleges from asking for commitments from high school freshman and sophomores. The new legislation forbids college coaches from contacting athletes until September of their junior year. Darien High School’s Jeff Brameier—whose team finished the year ranked No. 1 in the nation this spring—says coaches started contacting players as freshmen and sophomores about eight years ago. One of his players, Case Matheis, committed to Duke University two years before he graduated.

“The changes are good in a way because the players will just be out there playing,’’ Brameier says. “But it’s bad in a way, too. There won’t be any communication. You don’t know where you stand. On September 1 of your junior year, your phone could be ringing off the hook or you could be pushed to the back burner.”


SHARON KRIZ & GORDON GETSINGER

ROWING | Saugatuck Rowing Club

Saugatuck Rowing Club’s Sharon Kriz, director of rowing, and Gordon Getsinger, head coach for the Junior Women run a practice. In a three-year undefeated streak, the Women’s Youth 8+ took gold at the 2017 US Rowing Youth National Championships, the club’s third straight national title.

FULL SPEED The Women’s Varsity 8+ at SRC set a course record at the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston last year.
WATCH IT Nearly 11,000 athletes are expected at this year’s Charles, taking place Oct. 22–23 (hocr.org).
VOTE ON IT Last year, Getsinger was a US Rowing Fan’s Choice Awards finalist.


BONUS ROUND

To enhance their college prospects, many young athletes work not only with their coaches, but also with private trainers to improve their athleticism, skills and even vision. For example, Performance 20/20, owned by Jennifer Stewart of Darien, opened in Stamford last year to help athletes improve eye-hand coordination, reaction time and athletic performance.

While most private trainers are not involved in the recruiting process, they do help athletes improve in areas that will draw the attention of coaches. For many, it’s just another piece in the process to get to the college of their dreams. “When they go to a showcase, I ask them to have fun and enjoy it,’’ says Jay Clement, vice president of Operations at BlueStreak Training in Stamford. “There are so many variables they can’t control. What they can control is what we focus on here. They have to trust their training and focus on their own skills. We want them to feel the reason they play a sport is because it’s fun. If they view it as a work day, they won’t get the same results.”

Matt Cole, who opened BlueStreak in 2007, agrees, saying, “The biggest thing we do is to focus on the positive. We’ve built BlueStreak into a place where we’re not going to focus on negatives. We push them to believe in themselves. We tell them if they do the things we ask them to do, step-by-step, they will see improvement.”


JAY CONWAY

BASKETBALL | Premier Hoops Development

Coach Conway’s son, Sean (below), is getting recruited to play Division 1 ball. Recruiters are also likely to keep an eye on other local players, including Qualon Wilkes, Noriega Davis and Chris Torres.

WORKOUT 90 minutes, skill work; 30–45 minutes scrimmage
SKILL WORK Ball handling, driving to the basket, shooting
HIT THE GYM Shooting machine, regular and weighted ball dribbling, using goggles to learn how to dribble with one’s head up, elastic bands for driving to the hoop


GO ALL OUT

While there is no right or wrong path to finding success in college athletics, there are similarities between those who eventually achieve their goals. The most important elements are dedication, planning, analyzing and competing to their utmost ability on whatever the playing field.

“We tell any kid looking to play college baseball to play every game like it’s your last,’’ says Hoffman, the New Canaan baseball coach. “Coaches want to see you hustle on and off the field. Athletes have to remember that someone is watching them every day, every play.”

 

 

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