Wearing her typical golf outfit, a polo shirt and plaid skirt, Kati Day ran down the stairs of her South Carolina home to open an important letter. It was January 2011, and Day was a senior in high school. Her dream of playing college golf had just become a reality – Towson University awarded her an athletic scholarship.
“At that moment, everything that I worked for and had planned in my head for at least two-and-a-half years had paid off because there was one point I was thinking I was not going to go to school and ‘who is going to want to me,’” Day said.
Day’s story of how she got to Towson is atypical. Not only did she want to keep up an athletic lifestyle, but she needed a way to pay for her education after high school. That summer after a freshman year of high school riddled with injuries, a family friend suggested she take up golf, and although Day had never played before, she tried it anyway.
“After my first golf lesson, I was like, ‘this is so different than anything I’ve ever done’ and it was so challenging, but the more I played, the more I realized it was so rewarding that all of your hard work could pay off and you could see those results,” she said.
Day visited Towson in November 2011 and met unofficially with Kate Schanuel, the women’s golf coach.
Day couldn’t have pictured a more perfect meeting, and she soon sent Schanuel videos, a golf résumé and recommendation letters. At that point, Schanuel was intent on getting Day to come to Towson because although Day was leaning towards Towson, she was still considering going to other schools like Delaware and Mount St. Mary’s University.
“Kate sold me on the vision for the team,” Day said. “She told me if I did come to Towson, then I’d be here in the early stages of the makings of a great program.”
Day, like a majority of the athletes at Towson, is not a Maryland native.
Day is one of the 271 student-athletes at Towson who come from out of state. Out-of-state student-athletes make up 55 percent of Towson’s 2014-2015 varsity rosters. Just on the golf team alone, eight out of the nine players are not Maryland natives. Instead, they come from Australia, three from New York, India, Pennsylvania, Canada, Maryland and South Carolina.
Towson's Recruiting Pitch
Towson is a small, regional school with just over 22,000 students. The Tigers' athletic program is not nationally known. So how does the school, with its limited resources compared to major Division I programs attract out-of-state athletes?
Among Towson's recruiting pitches: a winning tradition, playing time, vision for the team, academics and in some cases, its facilities. However, one size does not fit all. Recruiting pitches vary team-by-team.
Eric Hammond, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the women's volleyball team, first tries to get a sense of the recruit’s goals. He’s interested in what she plans on studying which is a big part of whether that recruit will be a good fit at Towson.
For recruits who do not know much about the school, he’ll tell them things like what the weather is like, school spirit, quality of the faculty, size of the campus and what the outside area offers.
The coaching staff can take recruits who are on unofficial visits—juniors and younger—off campus. Unofficial visits are visits by recruits that are not paid for by the university.
“We coach a female sport so the Towson mall is a big draw for a lot of the recruits,” Hammond said.
Still, Hammond believes Towson sells itself in many ways, like the new SECU Arena.
“We can Skype with recruits and show them the arena and their eyes get really big a lot of the time,” Hammond said. “If we have someone on campus and bring them through the tunnel, they’re like ‘wow this is great.’ They can imagine themselves playing here.”
Matt Bracken, director of audience engagement and development for The Baltimore Sun, and a former high school recruiting reporter said Towson has to showcase different things to recruits than the major schools.
“Towson is not going to go, for the most part, head-to-head with a Penn State, Virginia or an Ohio State, so they have to sell different things,” Bracken said. “I don’t think there is a comparison between those big schools and Towson in terms of facilities, so maybe you try to highlight specific academic programs that are maybe more niched that can be found at Towson.”
Senior softball player Hailey Balk is one of nine players on the team from California. She's from West Covina, Calif. One of the major factors in her decision to come to Towson was academics.
“Smaller class sizes and that one-on-one with your professor is what really drew me to Towson,” Balk said.
A winning tradition, which is a major recruiting selling point for schools like Kentucky in basketball or Alabama in football, is not exactly something every team at Towson can push.
“For Towson’s level, I think that matters a little bit less because I think kids probably don’t have the historical perspective of a Towson vs. William and Mary or Delaware,” Bracken said. “A winning track record is less important than the vision of the program as communicated by the head coach.”
Bracken also said that for schools like Towson, building a network of connections with other coaches and recruiters from around the country is crucial.
“It comes down to having the right coaching staff that can take advantage of the connections they’ve made over the years and be strategic in how they employ their resources,” Bracken said.
The Recruiting Process for Women's Volleyball
Las Vegas. Chicago. Denver. Kentucky. Puerto Rico. Los Angeles. These are some of the places where the Towson women’s volleyball coaching staff spends its time for many weekends during the year.
Hammond spends his days sifting through and reading emails from potential recruits and club volleyball directors from all over the world.
On the current volleyball roster, 15 out of the 19 athletes are out-of-state, including three players from California, two from Hawaii and two from Puerto Rico.
When Hammond’s not behind a computer, he’s out on the recruiting trail, traveling all over the country to scout the best talent.
Spring is the busy season for Hammond and the coaching staff. It’s the volleyball offseason, which means recruiting trips almost every weekend during the spring.
“We did Vegas and Chicago in one weekend without any sleep, literally,” Hammond said.
The coaching staff heads to the major volleyball qualifiers around the world. The 12-hour events are typically set up in large convention halls with upwards of 175 courts.
“We go to these big qualifiers because you get the most bang for your buck,” Hammond said.
Dressed in Towson gear from head-to-toe and holding an iPad with a Towson sticker on the back, Hammond takes notes on whom he thinks may be a potential fit for the team.
A software program allows the coaching staff to scout every single club volleyball player in the country. The program displays who's playing at a particular event and what court they're on, the time and the opponent.
The team has recently changed its recruiting strategy, opting for a more regionalized approach. Each coach has a certain section of states to focus on, rather than all three coaches attending the same events.
“We feel like this is going to make us a lot more efficient,” Hammond said.
Most potential recruits are committed to a school by their junior year, according to Hammond. Therefore, the team starts identifying players in their freshman year.
Towson’s Recruiting Budget
Teams at Towson are given an overall budget for the year, and within that budget is a recruiting budget, according to Eric Reinke, director of business operations in the Towson athletic department.
Reinke, along with others in the athletic department, sit down with teams prior to each year to decide on a budget.
The recruiting travel budget includes two main line items: coaches traveling to see players and recruits coming to visit the campus. The majority of Towson's teams spend more on the former.
Towson’s total recruiting expenses for men’s and women’s teams in 2013-2014 was $413,415. In comparison, the University of Maryland’s athletic recruiting expenses were just under $800,000, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
This is not necessarily surprising. Sports teams at the University of Maryland bring in more than three times the revenue than teams at Towson do, according to the D.O.E. report. This allows schools like Maryland to spend more on recruiting players.
What this means is that Towson needs to be smarter in how they recruit athletes.
“An Ohio State, Michigan, or Penn State can afford to hop on a private jet and go to these far-flung places to scout kids,” Bracken said. “Towson has to be more strategic and rely on word of mouth from people they trust and then do their homework. They can’t really cast as wide of a net.”
Hailey Balk: From Cali to Maryland
Balk has a more traditional recruiting story than Day. Growing up in California, Balk was able to play softball year-round. This meant she could play in tournaments and showcases almost every week to get recognized.
Eventually she began receiving emails and letters from schools like Towson, University of Georgia, Oregon State University and Purdue University.
“I started going on visits to other bigger schools,” Balk said. “It just wasn’t for me so then I looked at Towson and what it came down to was the smaller environment.”
Towson's physical size and student-to-professor ratio attracted Balk.
There was also the typical recruiting pitch: playing time and making an impact on the team. But for Balk, school was key.
“They were very hands-on making sure you’re going to walk out with a degree,” Balk said. “It’s not just ‘we only care about how you do athletically,’ but they care about how you do academically as well.”
Balk made an unofficial visit in the summer of her junior year. The promise of a new softball facility was one of the main pitches made by the softball team, Balk said.
“The coaches brought up the stadium we were supposed to have 10 years ago, which was not built until this year,” Balk said with a laugh.
Like the new SECU Arena and new softball stadium, the golf team now also has a new indoor facility to practice in, with hitting bays and putting greens.
“The new indoor facilities are going to take the program to a whole new level,” Day said. “I know the trials of hitting in the cold. You just can’t do it in golf. Now that we have one, that will definitely be an attractive quality for recruits.”