GDS Student Athletes Reflect on College Sports Recruitment During Pandemic

Once graduated, GDS’ best student athletes often go on to play sports at the college level. To get to that point, they must navigate the college recruitment process, which differs dramatically from athlete to athlete. 

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll. The Bit recently interviewed three GDS upperclassmen—juniors Arjun Narayan and Joyce Simmons and senior Ruby Kaplan—on their experiences navigating their college recruitment journeys.

According to Narayan, Simmons and Kaplan, there were seven members of the senior class who have been recruited to play college athletics. Ayana Curto is committed to play soccer at Carnegie Mellon University; Alex Gulino is committed to play baseball at Roger Williams University; Danielle Burke is committed to play soccer at Dartmouth College; Ella Gillespie is committed to run at Tufts University and Jeremy Jensen and Kyle White are committed to play baseball at Swarthmore College. 

Kaplan, who runs on GDS’ women’s varsity track & field team, is committed to run at Washington University in St. Louis (WashU). She plans to run the 400 meter hurdles primarily, in addition to the 400 meters and 800 meters occasionally. For her, college recruitment started junior year.

Kaplan said, “I didn’t think I was going to [want to run in college] until [the] end of sophomore year or junior year.”

Yet for some individuals, the process starts as early as freshman year. Junior Arjun Narayan is currently in the midst of his college recruitment process for soccer. He currently plays for Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Next League. “Starting freshman year, you start emailing and spamming [college] coaches,” Narayan said.“You send them every update, all your games. You email them your scores, your grades; you suck up to them.”

“From freshman year, I’d have a list of 20 schools,” said junior Joyce Simmons, who plays for Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) along with GDS’ varsity women’s soccer team. “I’d send each of them the same email to get on their radar.” 

Some athletes interested in being recruited must fill out athletic interest forms on different schools’ websites. Prospective athletes have to then email the college coaches to let them know they are interested as well. Kaplan filled out a number of the forms and emails throughout her process before engaging in one-one-one conversations with interested coaches. 

For soccer, college coaches are only allowed to speak to prospective athletes after June 15 of the athlete’s sophomore year. Only then, coaches can tell the athletes that they’ve seen the prior emails, ask for links to film and ask for game and performance updates. However, the NCAA prohibits in-person recruiting until May 31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“They [college coaches] would be able to come to your games, and you can go to the coach to officially meet the coach,” Narayan said. “Ninety-nine percent of the recruitment comes from the coaches watching games and camps. Now, they can’t see your games in person.” 

For Kaplan, the DIII process for applying for an athletics program consisted of coaches doing a “pre-read” of her application. All of her credentials, including test scores, times and transcripts, were sent to the school early. Then, the coaches went through to gauge if she had a good chance of getting into the school. Since she did, the coach was allowed to support her application by flagging it for the admissions office, letting them know that the coach wanted Kaplan on their team. After being supported, Kaplan only had to apply to WashU in October of last year. 

Narayan and Simmons share struggles in the process this year in particular, especially being juniors. Colleges just finished recruiting the current high school seniors a few weeks ago and only now can they start focusing on the current juniors. “If everything was perfect and COVID did not exist, you’d want to be committed by March or May of your junior year,” Simmons said.

Narayan agreed. “I’d definitely have a very decent idea of where I was going by now. If there wasn’t COVID, colleges would be done [recruiting] by or before now,” he said.

 “They’re really not committing anyone,” Narayan said. “If you look at schools that have committed people, they’re only committing people from the area because that’s who they’ve seen.” He explained that assistant coaches from local colleges and universities are able to come to practices due to their proximity to campus. 

“All the seniors this year [at the colleges] are eligible for an extra year, so that kind of messes up the dynamic because it’s up to them whether or not they want to stay,” Simmons said. “The numbers get thrown off and depending on how many seniors they have staying, they don’t know positionally how many people they can commit.”

As Kaplan heads off into her final season of spring track & field in high school, she looks forward to racing next year at the collegiate level. As for Simmons and Narayan, they are unclear about their future. They are making the most out of every game and showcase, trying to get noticed. 

Sophie Axelrod ’22