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How prep soccer players get recruited to college

More than ever, players are being proactive in the recruiting process

Posted: July 28, 2013 10:16 p.m.
Updated: July 28, 2013 10:16 p.m.

Canyon graduate Kaila Sargema found a way to get recruited to NCAA Division I Cleveland State by making her own highlight videos and reaching out to college coaches. Photo by Jonathan Pobre/The Signal

 

In March 2012 Canyon High’s Kaila Sargema was ready to show college coaches why they should recruit the then senior at the Las Vegas Showcase.

But things took a turn for the worse less than three minutes into her first game.

“I had five coaches on the sideline watching me and they all saw it happen,” she said.

What happened was a torn ACL that would sideline Sargema not just for the rest of the summer, but for all but five minutes of the ensuing Cowboys season.

What saved Sargema, and what has helped many high school seniors reach the college level, was essentially her sales pitch.

Sargema had reached out to hundreds of coaches through email and sent a homemade highlight video that would prove to be the only way college coaches would see her play.

And it worked — Sargema signed on to play college soccer for NCAA Division I Cleveland State this fall.

“I think it was very important; the reason I got there,” Sargema said. “I tore my ACL my last year in high school, which is when colleges look at you the most and when you get the most offers. I feel like it got me where I’m going today.

“I would say it’s one of the only ways you will get a scholarship, if you put yourself out there and treat it like a business,” she added.

That’s a trend that has started to take over the high school soccer world, according to local soccer coaches. The emphasis has moved over to the players to sell themselves and make college coaches aware of who they are and what they bring to the field.

“(College coaches) want a kid that is responsible and takes it upon themselves and is outgoing,” said Keith West, coaching director of Real SoCal, one of Southern California’s most elite club programs. “They say, ‘I’m going to get this.’”

West is in a unique position to speak on the subject, too, as he is also the head coach of Division I California State University Northridge women’s soccer team.

The trend has put more responsibility on the players themselves, but it’s also given high school players a variety of new avenues for chasing their goals.

Gone are the days when the only way to get recruited was to have a college coach on the sidelines of your game.

Nowadays, it’s all about taking the fight to them.

“The more you bother them, the more they’ll want to come out and see you play,” says Santa Clarita Valley Magic and Saugus High girls soccer head coach Natalie Helgeson. “They don’t just tend to show up and sit on the sideline unless you’re at a huge national tournament.”

By “bother,” Helgeson is speaking of the importance of emailing coaches to show interest, complete with highlight videos like Sargema’s to showcase an athletes particular skill set.

“You have to be super persistent and keep emailing them even if they don’t respond. Keep getting in touch with them. Call and leave voice mails even if they don’t answer,” said Hart graduate Hailey Jenkins, who played for Real SoCal and will play for UC Davis in the fall. “It’s pretty much all in your hands. If you really want to go to that school, you need to make sure you keep calling and emailing and they’ll get the hint,” Jenkins said.

Saugus junior-to-be Avery Schulhofer followed through with that advice this summer, knowing she would be playing in a college showcase tournament in Idaho.

Rather than hope to impress the coaches in attendance when she got there, she reached out to College of Idaho head coach Brian Smith to tell him a little bit about herself.

Smith showed up for her games and Schulhofer toured the campus.

But none of that would have come to be if she hadn’t reached out first.

“He had not (planned on attending). He had heard about it, but he got an email from me and a couple of my teammates,” Schulhofer said. “So, ‘OK, these girls are reaching out to me and I’m going to watch them play.’”

Said Helgeson: “Even if it’s a college showcase, they are not going to sit down and specifically watch your game unless those players have made contact with them and showed an interest in them.”

Even with kids capable of playing on high level club teams, like Saugus graduate Angie Weiner, who will be a freshman at Fresno State in the fall and played for Real SoCal, playing for an elite club team in and of itself won’t be enough to get players to the next level.

Weiner was first seen by Fresno State at a college camp near Ventura, and was later recruited to play for the school that had never seen her play in a game before the camp.

“Those camps are important because it can give you a chance to showcase your skills individually, not on the field,” Weiner said. “You’re going to definitely have a ball at your feet.”

In addition to doing the work off the field, though, staying on the field year-round is just as important.

High school soccer often takes a back seat to club in the recruiting game.

“It’s very important,” Jenkins said. “If you just play high school soccer, the level isn’t nearly as good. You don’t have year-round training to prepare you for college. You need to make sure you keep training. It’s very important.”

There’s no secret that getting to the college level in any sport is grueling. There aren’t many shortcuts, as evidenced by the demanding schedules of high school club players. But with the work comes the rewards, and a number of Santa Clarita Valley athletes are beginning to reap them.

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