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The Lo-Down: What to Look for in a College Program

November 21, 2017

In last week’s Lo-Down we looked at some key considerations for young volleyball players and their parents looking to enter the world of club volleyball. This week we’ll take the next step and tackle, well, the next step ­– college volleyball.

The landscape of volleyball recruiting has changed a lot since I was a high school player. At that time the majority of recruiting was happening when players were juniors or seniors in high school. Now players are hearing from schools as freshmen and sophomores, and many have verbally committed to schools at that age. The timeline has certainly accelerated, and it’s not easy for players that young to make a decision as big as where they want to continue their careers.

As some people probably remember, I didn’t pick Nebraska out of high school. I went to UCLA, and when I look back on that decision I feel like I was focused on the wrong things. UCLA is a great program, and there’s a lot to like about Los Angeles, the weather and being in the middle of a major city. When I got there, however, I saw some of the things I had overlooked in the recruiting process. I was used to packed houses at Nebraska matches. At UCLA we would have fewer than 500 fans for most matches, 1,000 if it was a big match. The Bruins’ travel schedule was more difficult and time consuming. My preferred major wasn’t available. The bottom line was that it didn’t feel like volleyball was a priority sport at UCLA.

But I grew up in a place where it was. So I asked myself, “If you are going to put all of your time and effort into something, don’t you want it to mean something and be in front of people who care?” Nebraska offered those things, and I decided to transfer.

That exact question isn’t a bad place to start when considering playing at the college level. No matter what level a player may be considering she should be able to find a place that can offer those things. It’s not the only question to ask, however.

Here are a few other things for young athletes to keep in mind as they consider playing at the next level:

Make sure to take a visit before committing to a school. Seems obvious, right? But as players receive offers earlier and earlier, you would be surprised at how many commit to a school without having visited. This one can be tough. NCAA rules don’t allow a school to pay for an official visit until a player’s senior season. Any visits prior to that come out of the player’s pocket, but if it is at all feasible to visit a school while in town for a club tournament or maybe while making a family trip out of seeing a few schools, the rewards of making a better informed decision are worth it.

Make sure to look at the facilities, but also enjoy a game if possible. Facility tours are one of the fun parts of being recruited. Schools, particularly those at the top level, have designed them to wow high school recruits, and you’ll see bells and whistles that are a far cry from what you’re used to in high school. But top-of-the-line facilities are also an indicator of how much is being invested in volleyball at that school. They will tell you a lot, but I also always encourage players to take in a game if they can. That’s the best way to see the game-day atmosphere and how you’ll be coached in competition.

Make sure you consider the schools’ class schedules and your prospective major. If you know what you want to major in, that’s a good start. You will have to find a school that offers that major, but beyond that talk with someone at the school who can show you what the class schedule for that major might look like. Can you take those classes and still fulfill all of your team commitments? The right school should be able to provide a detailed plan on just how that will look, and make sure you’re set up for success.

Make sure you look at the players who have been in the program. There are more opportunities than ever for players to continue their careers beyond college. If that’s a goal of yours, look for programs that have a history of preparing players to play at the next level.

Nebraska volleyball remains a top program year after year with top-10 recruiting classes because it offers all of those things. The fan support is second to none, and the atmosphere at a home match is as good as it gets. It’s a fun place to play, and Nebraska’s facilities are state-of-the-art. The academic support and life skills program are points of pride in Lincoln as well.

Add it all up and you have a comprehensive approach to making sure players can achieve at their highest levels academically and athletically. While the scale might be different at different levels and in different programs, young players and their families should look for similar levels of investment.

While getting to play college volleyball is a privilege and requires a lot of hard work, the best programs will treat that opportunity not as a reward for the player but as a chance to reinvest in the athletes who chose to make it their home for the next four years.

Want more of The Lo-Down? Read all of Lauren's previous columns here.

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