by Catharine Aradi

Fifteen years ago, if you were a West Coast ball player who had good competitive experience, you could probably expect to beat out players from almost any other part of the country when it came to recruiting.  Most of the "big name" programs east of Colorado eagerly scouted West Coast players in general and Southern California athletes in particular.   West region kids from strong travel teams who were willing to look outside the state could almost write their own tickets.  I even saw college coaches recruit players who weren't necessarily top athletes just because they were from California. 

But the times have changed...enormously. So, what exactly does this mean to you if you're a West region recruit?  Well, for one thing it means you'd better not take anything for granted when it comes to your college search.  Sure, if you're the starting shortstop on a team that finishes in the top ten at PGF or Gold Nationals every year, you're probably still going to have a lot of good Div. I colleges interested in you--assuming grades, attitude, etc., are on par with your athletic ability and experience.
But what I see happening more often now is players who are from good---but not necessarily  top West Coast teams---finding themselves in their senior year with no college to call home.  I regularly get panicked calls and emails from parents asking me to tell them what they should do now?  Sometimes they have done virtually nothing---no letters to colleges, no video, etc.---because their travel coach told them he would take care of the player.  Sometimes they've sent out letters or emails...maybe even videos, and they've gotten "interest," but no one has actually said, "We're actively recruiting you. Let's set up a visit."  And they've just waited, and waited, and waited...and then waited some more for active recruiting to start.

Players from the West are often stunned when I tell them that 90% of all college teams (and therefore 90% of all college players) are at schools that are east of Colorado.  And when you combine that statistic with the fact that 75% of all teams are at Div. II, Div. III or NAIA schools, all of a sudden, you find there just aren't that many options on the West Coast.  And when you consider that many of the Div. I teams in the West are nationally ranked programs, getting recruited or getting a scholarship here becomes a whole lot harder.  We have tons of excellent softball players from Washington to Arizona.  But there just aren't that many colleges--even for the smart kids who will consider different types of programs---D-II, NAIA, D-III. 

In the past a big program like Michigan or Florida State might have signed half their recruits from the West, but they're now looking at kids from Texas and Florida and Missouri and Illinois. It's not just that competition for spots on West Coast college teams is tougher.  Competition for spots
everywhere is much tougher.  And this trickles down to smaller schools as well, although usually in a positive way for them.  West Coast players who would not have considered a D-II or NAIA school in Kansas or South Carolina ten years ago are now having to pursue these programs, particularly if they're hoping to get some scholarship money.  And West region D-II, NAIA and D-III teams are benefiting as well from the abundance of local talent.  It's no surprise that schools like Chapman or Linfield at the D-III level and Oregon Tech or SOU at the NAIA level have become perennial power houses.  And the CCAA--the D-II conference in California--is considered one of the toughest and most competitive in the whole country.

My advice to West region ball players who are determined to have a collegiate career is this:

•  Be as open as you can be.  That includes looking at different regions of the country, different types of colleges, and different ways to pay for your college
•  Don't assume anything.  If your travel coach says he or she will "take care of it for you," you can say, "thanks! Any help you can give will be awesome, but I'm in charge of my college search."
•  Be prepared to adjust your expectations to fit your reality.  Staying on the West Coast may mean not getting scholarship money or it may mean playing at an NAIA program rather than at a Div. I school.
•  When you start your college search, do not just write the top 20 Div. I programs in the country.  Write a bunch of smaller D-I's, D-II's, NAIA's and some D-III's as well.  Don't wait for the big schools to say, "No Thanks!" before contacting other programs.  If you do, you may find those schools have already identified their prospects, and you're just plain out of luck. 
•  Some smart recruits will figure out that they  might as well not bother writing UCLA or  Arizona State or Texas A&M.  They should head right for those schools where the coaches are almost certain to go "Wow!" when they get their video and packet!  I have found that while more D-I schools are recruiting regionally, more D-II and NAIA and even D-III schools will respond to inquiries from West Coast players than they would in the past.  So, you still can find a great competitive college team.  It just might not be at the D-I level.
•  Be proactive.  Until a coach calls you and asks you to come for a visit--giving you specific dates--you should not take her interest for granted.  Make your follow-up phone calls, and show coaches how interested you really are.  Whether they're in Kentucky, Kansas or California, you need to let them know you're serious about their programs.  And if they're not responding....move on.  (This will really be true for you once summer is over.)

If you have excellent competitive experience, that's a real plus.  But for most athletes, this alone by itself is not going to get you recruited.  If you're not willing to put yourself out there, market yourself, and prove to coaches you really want to play in college, just remember, there are kids in Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and Texas who are more than willing to take your spot on the collegiate field!  And it's a lot easier for coaches to see these players at local and regional tournaments!  The moral of this story is...if you insist on "holding out"---for a big name school or a D-I school or a big scholarship---you may be left holding the bag!