Pepperdine Women’s Indoor Volleyball sophomore outside hitter Emma Ammerman signs her letter of intent on National Signing Day in 2020. Colorado State and University of Washington both approached Ammerman, but Ammerman settled with Pepperdine. Photo courtesy of Emma Ammerman
Men’s Volleyball graduate student outside hitter Jaylen Jasper had just finished coaching at the Maryland Juniors’ Sports Club in March 2020 when he received a call from Men’s Volleyball Head Coach David Hunt.
Jasper put his car in park and got comfortable because he knew this conversation would go one of two ways.
“I was going to learn that I had a chance to go to a school that part of me wished I went to during undergrad, or I was going to learn that as much as I wanted to, it wouldn’t be possible,” Jasper said.
Each spring, student-athletes announce their commitment via public mediums, even though some student-athletes choose to verbally commit earlier in the process. The verbal commit lets other colleges and universities know ahead of time, but also gives time for the athlete to choose to de-commit, in case they realize that the school isn’t right for them.
Interviewed student-athletes said that the recruitment process is stressful but rewarding. Pepperdine Athletics supports their program by recruiting athletes that reflect the school’s core values.
“For us it’s very good baseball, faith-based education, and high academics are the main approach that we look at,” Men’s Baseball Head Coach Rick Hirtensteiner said. “Then, just as a development side for a mid-major school, we’ve had a lot of guys that got drafted and made it to the big leagues.”
Sustaining Excellence with Pepperdine Athletics
Once a college or university offers the recruit a scholarship, the timeline to sign their national letter of intent starts.
There are four periods of the recruitment process — the quiet period, dead period, evaluation period and contact period — according to the NCAA recruiting website. Most of these time periods overlap and there are specific rules on how the student-athletes can contact the coaches.
The NCAA’s rules regarding recruitment often fluctuate, making it difficult for student-athletes to navigate the process, Women’s Indoor Volleyball sophomore outside hitter Emma Ammerman said.
For example, in the past, student-athletes could only call the coaches, and they could only answer the phone if the student-athletes called them, not the other way around, Ammerman said.
“There’s a lot of hoops you have to jump through because there’s so many rules from the NCAA,” Ammerman said.
For a mid-major D1 program, Pepperdine has excelled in sports across the board. A mid-major program is defined as any school not in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12 or Southeastern Conference. These conferences are known as the Power Five.
Examples of Pepperdine’s athletic success include that the Men’s Baseball team leads the West Coast Conference in players getting drafted to the MLB with 22 players since 2000 and the Women’s Soccer team reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament this past season.
The Recruitment Process
Judging the recruit, being mindful of the fit and the current roster setup all affect the process of recruiting players, Hirtensteiner said.
For coaches of every sport, it’s not just about the talent that the recruit possesses, but the mindset that comes along with the player, Hirtensteiner said.
“It takes a while to judge their character and see their makeup, and that’s why we definitely want to talk to as many people as we can,” Hirtensteiner said. “And we also want to see them fail. We want to see them have a bad day perhaps, just to see how they react.”
For student-athletes, the fit of the team can play a crucial factor into their final commitment. Jasper said the Men’s Volleyball team‘s culture made it easier for him to adjust.
“I think just the community about being with the team, guys being selfless, not having intention over [playing time], being excited to compete, and being one of the best teams in the nation made [the transition] a little easier,” Jasper said.
Additionally, the roster setup affects how coaches recruit. For baseball, Hirtensteiner said that the coaching staff needs to be adamant about what positions they go after since players are looking to enter the draft.
“We may lose guys that we might’ve thought we’d keep,” Hirtensteiner said. “And we may have open roster spots and make that push late like in June or July of that summer, which is pretty late to go out and find a replacement of the same caliber.”
On the players’ side, student-athletes said they need to have a strong connection with their coaching staff to be fully confident with their commitment choice. When coaches show effort to recruit the prospect, that could have a longer-lasting effect on the player’s decision down the line.
For Jasper, his path to Pepperdine was unique. After playing all three years as a starter at Stanford, Jasper opted out of the 2021 season. Then, Stanford cut its men’s volleyball program, forcing Jasper to enter the transfer portal.
“There are some coaches that I talked to that I can just tell that they more so wanted me there for a year rather than who I was,” Jasper said. “Having what I accomplished at Stanford, they were like ‘OK, we’ll just have you for the time being and then you’ll be gone.’ It seemed like it was very impersonal, and they just wanted me to hear what I wanted to hear but they didn’t really care.”
Student-athletes said while multiple schools offer great athletics, Pepperdine separates itself with academics. U.S. News & World Report ranked Pepperdine No. 49 as the best schools in the nation in 2021.
Jasper said some schools tried to sway him into a major geared towards athletes and didn’t offer something he could see himself doing long-term.
Additionally, student-athletes need to weigh their opportunities within the program.
“It’s an interesting balance when you’re trying to get recruited,” Ammerman said. “Like, ‘Do I want to go to a place where I’m going to play all the time or am I going to go somewhere where my team is going to win all the time?’”
Though the process is often stressful, interviewed student-athletes said they were happy with their decision to commit to Pepperdine.
“I’m just so excited that I get to be a part of it,” Ammerman said. “And it’s so cool to get to know these amazing girls but also play alongside these amazing athletes.”
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Contact Jerry Jiang via Twitter ( @j_jiang30 ) or email: firstname.lastname@example.org