Since he was a little kid, Urbana sophomore Dominic Savoy has yearned to earn a scholarship to play for a high-level college lacrosse team.
Fortunately for him, blueprints for fulfilling that long-held goal are easy enough to find. Several of Savoy’s older Hawks teammates have already committed to high-level college lacrosse programs.
“They’re kind of like my leaders, and I look up to them,” he said. “I could see myself going to schools that they’re going to, and I’m just trying to follow in their footsteps.”
But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, Savoy’s path toward getting a lacrosse scholarship might be considerably more difficult than it was for his older, college-bound teammates.
Savoy will be a rising junior this summer, and that’s the beginning of a crucial period for high school lacrosse players looking to draw interest from college coaches by competing for club teams, participating in high-profile tournaments and attending prospect camps.
“I’ve learned through others that have gone through it, the sophomore year going into junior year — the summer and the fall — those are the two most important times,” Savoy said. “You need to have all your stuff because coaches are on the prowl. I would say this is the biggest time for a lacrosse athlete if they want to go to a good college.”
But with practically the entire American sports world shut down because of the health crisis, it’s unclear if players like Savoy will get to spend this summer catching the eyes of college coaches, who often offer lacrosse scholarships in the fall.
Club team games, tournaments and camps might not be held on time — or at all — this summer, depending on whether stay-at-home orders and social-distancing protocol still need to be observed. And lacrosse players aren’t the only athletes forced to navigate this uncertain environment en route to getting recruited by colleges.
This summer, leagues, tournaments and camps for high school athletes in every sport are in flux. Many will likely be postponed, others might get canceled. That includes football camps where college coaches watch high school underclassmen perform, tournaments where college coaches watch high school softball or basketball underclassmen play and countless other avenues high school athletes take to help continue their careers at the collegiate level.
Terry Burdette, the head coach of the 18U Heartbreakers Junior Olympic travel softball team, mentioned a national tournament his team qualified for, the kind of event college coaches flock to.
“They’re going to make a decision on June 1 on whether they even hold that because it’s scheduled for late July,” said Burdette, noting how players set to graduate in 2021 could be really affected. “I really feel for the 21s, especially, because it really limits your opportunities.”
Athletes who play spring sports haven’t had to wait until summer to see their opportunities limited, either.
If the high school spring sports season gets canceled, something Maryland private school leagues have already done and the MPSSAA is likely to do for public schools, athletes will be robbed of a chance to showcase their skills to college scouts in competitive events.
For instance, Burdette, who is always on the lookout for talent as Hood College’s softball coach, likes to see high school players perform in playoff games, which are the most meaningful of the season.
Walkersville baseball coach Mike Minch thought a lost season would hurt juniors particularly hard.
“That’s a whole season, 20 games where coaches can come out and see [players]” he said. “But it also affects some of those seniors. We have a kid, a senior right now that we think can play at the next level, but he really hasn’t gotten looked at, and we were looking at the spring for it to happen.
“It’s just very unfortunate,” he said. “But it affects a lot.”
Aside from preventing upperclassmen from turning in performances that might give them an edge in the recruiting process, a lost spring season threatens to hinder the development of younger players who also hope to eventually get recruited.
And some local baseball players will have at least one less place to develop and get exposure this summer because Maryland’s American Legion Baseball season was canceled.
Still, college coaches will award scholarships. And even if they can’t observe prospects in person, technology can help connect them to potential signees.
Highlight reels, culled from game film, can be sent to recruiters via email or social media. That invaluable visual résumé was stressed to Savoy when he picked the brains of older Urbana college-bound teammates like Eric and Jason Kolar and Jack and Jason Jozwiak.
Their advice was clear-cut. Make a list of 15 schools he hoped to play for. Gather as much highlight film of himself as possible. Start sending out that film by his freshman year.
Ideally, lacrosse players wil draw some sort of interest from colleges before their all-important junior seasons.
“A highlight tape going into the summer is really crucial to get out to the college coaches before the summer tournaments,” Urbana coach Gavin Donahue said. “That way, you get on their radar, and then they come to your tournaments and watch you play a little bit more.”
Most years, anyway. Donahue said such tournaments are typically held in June. But with restrictions in place because of the health crisis, it’s not clear if those tournaments can be played in June, at a later date or at all, which could disrupt the recruiting calendar.
“Hopefully, in the fall of your junior year, if you’re a high-level player, [that] is when you get your offers, kind of like the two sets of twins [the Kolars and the Jozwiaks] did this year,” Donahue said. “It’s going to be interesting how this affects the recruiting process as a whole.”
That same statement could apply to other sports, including basketball.
Middletown girls basketball player Meghan Shipley got to play most of her junior season before the shutdown hit in March, adding to a body of work she hopes will lead to a spot on a college team. Still, the guard planned to bolster her stock with her AAU basketball team this summer.
High-profile AAU tournaments are scheduled for July. It remains to be seen if they’ll be rescheduled. In the meantime, Shipley has taken the initiative.
“So far, I’m reaching out to as many college coaches as possible, sending them my film,” she said. “And if I get any interest, I try to call them.”
Shipley, who also plays soccer at Middletown, knows other aspiring college athletes who are struggling with such uncertainty.
“It’s not only basketball, it’s soccer, too. They play club soccer, it’s a time to get recruited,” she said. “And my baseball friends, they’re going through this, too. All of us who are juniors. This is our last year to get looks from colleges, so it’s really difficult because we might not be able to.”
One junior athlete who recently earned an athletic scholarship is Linganore football player Scott Hummel, an offensive lineman who committed to James Madison University.
Hummel’s recruiting experience sheds light on the value of being seen by college coaches in the summer and the ability to earn a scholarship if those opportunities are taken away.
When he was a rising junior last summer, Hummel planned to attend numerous football camps. The first one was for offensive linemen at the University of Maryland.
“At the Maryland camp, I ended up tearing a ligament in my knee,” Hummel said. “I ended up doing physical therapy throughout the summer instead of going to all those camps.”
Still, his brief camp experience was fruitful.
“I got an offer from Monmouth. Their offensive line coach was at the camp at Maryland,” Hummel said. “That was the one school that kind of recognized me at that camp.”
But Hummel had also reached out to coaches at James Madison University, where his parents went. And after enjoying a fine junior season with the Lancers in the fall, Hummel was offered a scholarship by JMU in April.
No matter what hurdles they face trying turn college coaches’ heads this summer, Hummel advised football players hoping to eventually impress scouts to stay in peak physical condition.
“So once all this kind of ends, they’re able to just pick up where they left off,” he said. “If they have somewhere where they have weights they can use, realize how lucky you are to have that because some kids don’t. If you don’t, you do as much stuff as you can, push-ups, bodyweight squats, whatever you can just stay in the best physical shape.”
Shipley planned to stay prepared. She hasn’t played a basketball game since the Knights beat Liberty in the Class 2A state quarterfinals on March 6. The MPSSAA has yet to cancel the remainder of basketball’s postseason, but it’s unlikely Middletown will get to resume its quest for the 2020 state title.
“It’s just awful that we didn’t get to finish our season because we were really hoping to win this year,” she said. “I just hope this will clear up so I can get on the court and continue to get scouted. This will be the last year I’ll be able to play for AAU to get exposure.”