Pandemic hinders commitment process

Senior athletes forced to trust their decisions


Used with permission from Hannah Howell.

Adam Gips

After the pandemic struck, many high school athletes were left without a plan. With little opportunity to play or visit campuses, senior volleyball captain Hannah Howell said that made it difficult to commit to a school.

“When COVID-19 hit, it was really tough. You had to keep sending out emails, they [coaches] couldn’t come watch you play,” Howell said. “(There) wasn’t as much volleyball exposure and getting my name out there.”

Since March, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has continued a dead period where students cannot officially visit the school or coaches in person. According to athletic director Andy Ewald, this has made commitment a trusting process.

“It’s kind of a leap of faith in a lot of ways. I think that a lot more is going into the feel and the relationship with the coaching staff via the communication through Zoom, the phone or texting,” Ewald said.

Although Howell hasn’t visited North Carolina A&T State University’s campus, she believes her commitment was the right choice.

“It was pretty crazy, I had never imagined this was how it was gonna go. But, I’m confident in my decision. I have family out there (who’ve) been on campus, they know what it’s like,” Howell said. “And I trust the coaches. There’s a couple girls from Minnesota out there that were like, ‘yes, this is the place for you.’”

According to senior boys’ swimming captain Hayden Zheng, since Stanford University recruited him in the previous summer, not much changed besides campus visits.

“During the pandemic, it wasn’t anything really different. It was focusing on school (and) standardized tests,” Zheng said. “But I probably would have gone (to Stanford) again in the spring.”

According to Ewald, without the official visits, recruits are missing out on exposure to the campus and team.

I haven’t (gotten) a taste of college life. But I’m pretty close with the team already; I have a really good relationship with the coaches.”

— Hayden Zheng

“As an athlete, you’re losing out on the feel of a gameday experience. You’re losing out on official campus visits, where you would spend time with the coaching staff and the players. They would sit down and talk with you and your parents,” Ewald said. “There (are) no official visits allowed — all of that is wiped out this year … you get reduced down to doing it all electronically.”

According to Howell, although her commitment was strenuous, she was glad she could bond with her teammates online.

“They, as coaches, were running their entire team from Zoom. All their girls had to go home, and so I got on a couple of calls,” Howell said. “It was kind of cool. They had team workouts, I got to do that over Zoom as if I was there.”

Zheng said even without the in-person experiences, he has developed connections with the team via Zoom.

“I haven’t (gotten) a taste of college life,” Zheng said. “But I’m pretty close with the team already; I have a really good relationship with the coaches.”