How Coaches Maintain Their Success: An Inside Look into Swarthmore Athletic Recruiting

Swarthmore Athletics has recently seen an upswing in the success of many sports teams. Last year, the men’s baseball team won the Centennial Conference and made it to the Division III World Series, while men’s basketball made it to the NCAA Elite 8. To fuel and maintain their success, Swarthmore coaches use recruitment to bolster their lineups and add individuals of high academic and athletic quality to the Swarthmore community. But has admissions started catering more to athletic teams as those teams have become more successful?

Women’s volleyball coach Harleigh Chwastyk doesn’t think there has been a difference in how the admissions department treats recruitment.

“[Athletic performance] doesn’t change anything with admissions; what changes is that talent and success attract talent and success,” Chwastyk said. “Us going to the Elite 8 a year ago has really catapulted us into another level.”

Athletic reputation attracts stronger recruits, which in turn increases or at least maintains success.

“The better we are, the better our recruits are going to be,” Chwastyk said.

Men’s soccer coach Eric Wagner has noticed this upward trend this as well.

“Because of the success as a school and because of our success of our program, we’ve continued to recruit good players,” Wagner said.

He believes that the only change in admissions with recruitment has been the implementation of the early read process about five years ago.

“There’s no more power or no difference in the way admissions treats us except for the early read process,” Wagner said.

According to Vice President and Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90, the early read process includes a transcript, test scores, and a list of extracurricular activities. It doesn’t include personal information, recommendations, character, or essays, so the early read is not a guarantee that an applicant will be admitted or denied. But it does allow coaches to vet their prospective players and determine if the recruits’ chances of getting in are positive or negative.

“We alert the athletic director to those who are likely to be competitive in the process and who coaches should keep recruiting,” Bock said. We have been doing this for more than five years, and it is standard practice among our peers… In essence, the Admissions Office determines [admissibility], and the coach determines athletic talent and potential.”

The application process is getting more competitive every year. Swarthmore’s overall acceptance rate dropped from 17% to 9% in the past four years following increases in the number of applications received. The class of 2020 was selected from 7,717 applications, while the class of 2022 was drawn from 10,749. Athletic Director Adam Hertz explained that the increasing competitiveness has also been reflected in recruiting.

“There have not been any significant changes in the application process,” Hertz said. “In fact, due to the increase in overall applications, the recruiting process has become more selective. Coaches are working harder to identify students who can help their programs and thrive in the Swarthmore environment.”

But this doesn’t mean recruited athletes are exempt from a complete evaluation by admissions.

“There are no guarantees of admission at Swarthmore,” Bock said. “Recruited students must still submit a full application for admission, and they will be reviewed among all other applicants in a holistic manner.”

Outside of admissions, Wagner feels that there have been other significant changes within the athletics department that have allowed Swarthmore teams to thrive.

“Strength and conditioning has improved dramatically… Coaches have evolved, and are doing a better job recruiting, and are doing a better job in coaching,” Wagner said.

Hertz goes on to explain the benefits of the strength and conditioning program.

“The Matchbox has allowed us to fully develop a strength and conditioning program that now has two full-time coaches,” Hertz said. “Team buy-in of that program has gone a long way to improve our success. The benefits of that program are tangible and visible when we prepare for competition.”

In addition to the revamping of the strength and conditioning program, Hertz has noticed a change in the commitment of student-athletes that has contributed to their teams’ success.

“We now see students who understand that intercollegiate athletics requires so much more than just showing up for practice and games,” Hertz said. “It is a year-round commitment to technical, tactical, strength, and intellectual training.”

With recruiting, Wagner commented that the use of technology, including online databases and recruiting videos, has expedited his recruitment process, enabling him to be able to connect and identify with prospective players through text messaging and online databases.

“I think all the programs have been getting better and better since I’ve been here. And that’s just a result of the coaches’ working harder,” Wagner added.

Wagner and Chwastyk started coaching within weeks of each other. According to Chwastyk, they were both brought in as full-time coaches after the cut of the football program in 2000. She believes that this cut allowed for more equitable resources across the remainder of the sports programs.

“It allowed all the programs to have full-time coaches,” she said.

Since then, the college has also gotten two full-time strength and conditioning coaches, added the matchbox, and provided resources to recruit and see potential players.

Recruitment continues to promote athletic achievement across the department. Recruitment relies largely on finding a fit for the student-athlete. Chwastyk believes that selling Swarthmore is playing a large role in establishing that fit.

“The big thing is recruiting kids who could possibly play Division I as a backrole player, but finding them and say[ing], ‘Hey, you want to play all around for four years?’” Chwastyk said. “That’s the selling point for Division III, and academics is just the icing.”

For Chwastyk, the school should be a fit for the students both athletically and academically.

“It’s gotta be a fit for you as a student first and then an athlete. Because I don’t want a happy volleyball player and an unhappy student,” Chwastyk said.

While coaches attempt to find a fit for the student’s academic and athletic interests, they also try to ensure that the student-athlete will fit in and positively contribute to the school.

“We dig a lot deeper now when recruiting,” Wagner said. “We dig into the character of the people we’re recruiting. We know that is such an important part of the ultimate product that we get out of our players. If someone comes in here and they’re just not going to be a quality person, it makes it a lot harder for us to have them be a quality team member.”

Students who have an athletic talent add to the student body’s variety of talents. The college’s efforts to support recruiting stem from an attempt to increase campus diversity.

“In a similar manner, we also offer reviews of arts supplements during the admissions process for studio arts, music, dance, theater, and creative writing,” Bock said. “All of these efforts contribute to building a diverse and intentional community. As we have become more selective over time, our coaches have remained critical partners in finding talented scholar-athletes. We enjoy our work with the department and watching our students compete.”

For now, the admissions policy hasn’t changed. Coaches continue to recruit as well as utilize resources like the strength and conditioning coaches to develop their programs and aim higher every season.

“We still have a lot of work to do, but these changes in culture lay a solid foundation on which to build,” Hertz said.

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