Recruited athletes overcome challenges during pandemic


Contributed by Aine Downey

Many seniors are having a hard time being recruited during the pandemic, but athletes have adapted to changes and found success in recruitment. Above, Senior Aine Downey plays lacrosse. She is committed to Connecticut College’s Class of 2025.

For high school sports stars, being recruited to college represents the culmination of years of hard work, discipline and motivation. This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into the works.

Some of the high school’s most successful athletes have adapted to changes caused by the pandemic and are continuing the recruiting process, which is now taking place online. Potential recruits have taken delays, cancelled seasons and virtual visits in stride.

Senior Hugo Harington is a prospective crew recruit. He said that the cancellation of in-person school visits was the largest disruption the pandemic caused him.

“Normally, the school pays for your travel and your dorm and you stay with one of the kids on the team,” Harington said. “You would find someone with your intended major, and you would attend a few classes. You eat with the team, probably have some fun with the team, and then you’d ride the launch, which is the motorized boat that goes along the rowing boats in practice. You can talk with the coach in-depth. You can talk in a phone call, of course, but it’s a lot better if you talk in person.”

Senior Michail Protopapadakis said that the cancellation of the spring season is another factor affecting recruiting. As a prospective cross country and long-distance track recruit, Protopapadakis had hoped to improve his set of Personal Records (PRs).

“I do think that coaches are readjusting their standards and how they’re picking recruits, because they’re aware that we didn’t have a season,” Protopapadakis said. “I wasn’t able to get all the times I wanted, but hopefully that won’t have too much of an impact.”

Senior Aine Downey recently committed to Connecticut College’s Class of 2025, where she will play Division III Lacrosse as a prospective neuroscience or psychology major. Downey said that she attended a series of virtual recruiting camps where college coaches could assess her skills. The recruiting camps were hosted by her club team, Revolution Lacrosse.

“On Zoom, we had college coaches come and we would go into breakout rooms with them. We would do drills, and they would watch us. It was so bizarre. It was also valuable because they were getting to see us play. It wasn’t in games, but it was still better than nothing,” Downey said.

Harington said that virtual visits are less comprehensive than their in-person counterparts, especially when it comes to learning about a school’s culture and environment.

“Earlier today, I was talking to some coaches and saying, ‘What am I supposed to do? Look at a bunch of buildings and say I like that building?’ It’s just like Google Maps,” Harington said. “I’ve tried to talk to a few kids from the teams. The coach would like you to see their team a certain way, but the students will give you a really good idea of what it’s like.”

Protopapadakis said that virtual visits tend to be less engaging but have upsides.

“It’s less exciting than in February when I got to go in person and meet a team. I saw their facilities and found out how they trained. I met the coach in his office, which was a really nice experience,” Protopapadakis said. “[Now] I haven’t been able to meet as many team members through Zoom as I would normally, since schools usually don’t gather the whole team to meet with potential recruits. I have been able to talk to individual team members, which is probably more helpful in some cases. I’m able to ask specific questions and it’s more personalized.”

Like Harington and Protopapadakis, Downey’s spring and summer seasons were cancelled due to the pandemic. She said that her club coach’s connections to college coaches gave her the precious opportunity to explore college programs during quarantine.

“With COVID, we didn’t play in the summer, we didn’t play in the spring. What was really valuable for me was my club coach’s connections,” Downey said. “They could set up a call between me and the college coach, even if I wasn’t familiar with the program. I would be able to email a coach and say, ‘Hi, I really want to learn about your program, can I speak with a player?’ things that you would generally be able to do in person. But because of the connections, I was able to do it virtually.”

Unlike Downey, Protopapadakis’ coach didn’t have the same connections, giving him less of a head start in the recruiting process.

“The timeline for committing to schools in general has been pushed back a bit. Over the summer, I was hoping to talk to more coaches and get to know more teams, but I didn’t really do that. Everything was still crazy, and people were trying to figure out how to do everything. I do think I’m talking to fewer schools than I would normally, but not by too many,” Protopapadakis said.

According to Harington, the school closures were no reason for student athletes to stop working hard. During quarantine, potential recruits continued to practice their sports and to stay fit.

“If college coaches like what they saw from before, if they saw you’ve been working consistently for three years, for what reason would you stop working during quarantine?” Harington said. “Obviously, we haven’t had the same access to resources. I haven’t been able to lift, for instance. I lost like ten pounds, which was really frustrating. But I think they understand that.”

For the 2020 season, the boys cross country team has resumed practices and dual meets. Since the cross country season will only be eight weeks instead of the usual 13, Protopapadakis said that he’s facing more stress to run faster times.

“I do feel increased pressure because we have less meets and fewer chances to race. We only have dual meets, so we have no invitationals or championship meets, which is where usually most people run their best times. I don’t have as much competition as I would have in a normal season. I have fewer chances to achieve the times I want. I have no idea how it might play out,” Protopapadakis said.

Despite the uncertainty of the past months, all three recruits affirmed that they love the sports they currently play, which is why they will be continuing in college. The choice to be recruited was easy for Downey because lacrosse has become a pivotal part of her life.

“I think sports in general have always been an outlet to help take away the stress from school or anything else that’s been going on in my life. You can have your time to go out on the field and play your own game,” Downey said. “I want to continue lacrosse in college just because I can’t really see my life without sports.”

Senior Michail Protopapadakis is a prospective cross country and long-distance track recruit (Contributed by Michail Protopapadakis)