December 24, 2020 – By NJP
The COVID world we now live in has changed so many things that we all considered normal in our lives. It has opened our eyes to different ways of looking at things and adjusting to the new normal. I don’t know about you, but how much do we miss just having a meal with our family at a restauarant or grabbing a beer with friends or colleagues. We may still do this at a much less frequency, but it looks and feels different. Or how about dropping your child at a volleyball tournament and not being able to watch them play. That one hurts more than the missed beers.
The college recruitment process has also changed dramatically in the new landscape. Coaches at the D1 level have not been allowed to conduct all of the normal recruitment activities in the same manner. Extended “no contact” periods have wreaked havoc with lining up new talent for their sports teams. NJCU Head Coach Carlo Edra talked to us about recruiting during COVID. “COVID is making coaches resort to creative methods to recruit their potential student athletes. In-state recruits are allowed to come in for a college visit but it’s very limited and mostly an outdoor view of the campus. Out of state recruits would require a quarantine period before exposing themselves to others and no student and parents have time like that. We’ve utilized virtual tours and the zoom meeting app to give them a tour but it’s not the same as actually being on campus.”
We expect a major new trend where many more students will stay closer to home until some sense of normalcy resumes in the world. And this may extend to the many players who come to NJ Colleges and Universities from faraway places, leaving more opportunity for additional local players to find spots on team on NJ campuses.
Part of the American dream is to work hard in high school, get recruited to play the sport you love at your dream school (which for many is in California or Florida, or a beach or party town) and have the “time of your life” for four years while preparing yourself for the “rest of your life”. Whether that is close to reality or not for many students remains to be seen.
Edra also talked about other challenges the pandemic has created. “The lack of club tournaments delayed meeting my recruits. Out of all the guys I’m recruiting, I’ve never actually met them unless they’ve come in for a campus visit. Not every student athlete has a recruiting profile on sites like NCSA, National Scouting Report, etc and club tournaments help showcase those guys. If this drags on into high school season, it’ll be even more difficult. I can’t tell you how many high school volleyball players I’ve talked to throughout my career as a coach who don’t play club, never took playing in college seriously, didn’t think they were good enough, don’t have recruiting profiles, etc. There’s a lot of untapped volleyball talent out there and high school season brings those guys out.” This should be great news for high school boys as there may be more opportunities to play at the college level than previously thought.
More good news is that there are so many quality schools and volleyball programs for students in NJ to stay close to home in the Garden State. And this applies to both boys and girls graduating from high school.
Our focus for this article will be on boys programs in New Jersey but there is an abundant of choices for girls, threefold to the boys programs, that can provide a variety of play levels and quality experiences where NCAA sports can help build life skills. Not to mention a litany of club level programs available at numerous colleges.
There are 9 colleges in NJ that offer NCAA Mens volleyball programs:
D1: Princeton and NJIT
D3: Stevens, Rutgers Newark, NJCU, Ramapo, Kean, St. Elizabeth, and Drew (New)
Let’s examine these teams most recent rosters. For Princeton, Danny Sun from South Brunswick is the only NJ player on their roster. Considering the entrance requirements for an Ivy League school with the prestige of Princeton and an acceptance rate of 1 in 11 applicants, this is not a surprise. Danny was a freshman last season.
NJIT is an award winning STEM school and always ranked as one of the top value colleges in the Nation. They recruit from all over the world, as does Princeton, and has 5 players from outside the United States from Germany, Spain (2), Brazil, and Denmark. But they also have 3 local New Jersey players, freshman Griffin Feiseler the setter from Bridgewater Raritan (left below), sophomore Mason Matos from St. Peter’s Prep (right/bottom below), also a setter, and outside hitter and junior Logan Heft from Hunterdon Central (right/top below). so basically 3 of 19 rostered or 16%. Enough to be called significant especially for a D1 program which there are only 22 in the country.
When we get to D3, you will see a larger roster disparity than the diversity of D1 and a much larger NJ player presence on these teams. NJ is a hotbed for highly ranked D3 team in the country. Stevens is a perennial favorite for top honors in the country, Kean is always in the top 20, and the emergence of Rutgers last year (finishing #6 in the nation at 17-1) certainly turned some heads. Ramapo, NJCU, and St. Elizabeth’s always have a high percentage of NJ talent on their squads and we will see where Drew University draws from for their first program scheduled for 2022, but we expect a large local focus.
One of the more interesting stories this past year was Rutgers-Newark suprise rise to the top of the D3 rankings. It probably surprised everyone with the exception of Jack Wilson, their head Coach. Jack brought a new style and discipline to the Scarlet Raiders that truly got the most out of his players.
Rutgers has the two most recent NJ high school “players of the year” on the squad and both are from the State Champion Old Bridge Knights. Elan Dorkhman was the 2018 NJ Player of the Year and Andrew Zaleck took the same honor in 2019. Zaleck had an amazing freshman campaign taking home league rookie of the year honors and was joined by, you guessed it, another Old Bridge Knight star Justin Tuohy who shared rookie of the year honors.
Andrew Zaleck (Left), Justin Tuohy (Center), and Elan Dorkhman (Right)
Antonio Rocchio from Old Bridge is also a setter on the squad and Wilson has added two new recruits this year from Old Bridge, Aaron LaPlaca, the 6’6″ middle blocker who will join the team in Fall 2021 and Josh Dewitt who was part of the 2019 championship team and will join the team for the Spring 2021 campaign at libero. According to Wilson, “I would say that the number of OB kids on the team has more to say about their level of play than some sort of favoritism for the school. I, of course, look at all kids that wish to come play at RUN.” Which is well said.
Old Bridge Head Coach Andrew Hopman continues to build strong teams and develop some of NJ’s premier volleyball athletes. He shared with us,”The Rutgers connection started when Pedro Trevino (then RUN men’s coach) started coming to Old Bridge Boys Volleyball games. From there we became friends, as he would conduct clinics at Old Bridge during the summer.”
Hopman’s boys teams had won back to back titles before COVID cancelled the opportunity for a three-peat. He continued “After Pedro took a position at NJIT as the women’s coach, he introduced me to Jack Wilson, who also ran a clinic the summer before he was hired at Rutgers. I was equally impressed with Jack’s coaching style, knowledge and passion for volleyball. So you could imagine how excited I was to learn that he was chosen as the Head Coach for the Scarlet Raiders. At that point we had 2 players from OB entering their sophomore year and two players from OB going to RU to continue Volleyball at the next level. After Coach Wilson’s first year, Old Bridge had another player transfer to RU and another High School player decide to play for RU.”
According to Hopman, “I never discourage players from looking at schools from out of state, but I do enjoy when they stay in NJ. New Jersey college coaches have a strong interest in NJ High school players and that is great for all involved. Coaches such as Coach Trevino (former Rutgers Men and now NJIT Woman HC), Coach Wilson (RU Men HC), Coach Glover (NJIT), Coach Ginex (Kean Men) and Coach Shweisky (Princeton Men) are all coaches that I have worked with in showing interest in helping NJHS volleyball improve. Either hosting a clinic, summer tournament, or allowing me to sit in on their practices and spending the time to answer all of my questions.” This type of collaboration can only make the state better and improve the quality of play across the board.
We also gained the perspective of players in the state to get some insight into what drives or drove their decision to stay close to home. We reached out to Jon Bernstein from JP Stevens who is part of his first season at Kean and he shared, “The pros of staying close would be that you can go home whenever, if you ever need anything, my parents can get it for me and it’s just nice being close to home.” Eric Hollenback from Rutgers, a Piscataway high school grad agreed. “The best part of staying close to home in NJ is being able to go back home to see my family.”
Others shared the same sentiment including Andrew Zaleck from Old Bridge/Rutgers “So staying home to play is a great feeling for the fact my friends and family can come see all my home games. My dad used to record all my high school games so him being able to come to all my games means a lot as well. It’s great to look in the stands and see my family and friends from home there cheering me on. It’s definitely not something all teams get so being able to have it is pretty awesome.”
Zaleck discussed some of the other advantages of attending college in the Garden State. “Staying home in NJ like you mentioned is great because I also get to play with teammates that I’ve known and been playing with since I first started playing at Sixpack. It’s gives a different feel playing with people when you know their tendencies and already have chemistry with them. I’ve known virtually the whole roster since I was 15 or 16. Especially having that Old Bridge connection makes things a lot easier. Going in and having Justin setting me brings us to a level of play similar to teams who have been playing together forever and now we have Josh in the mix so things will really get scary this year. You know we won the chip in high school so only right to do it again in college (if covid allows us). Overall staying home let’s you play with your friends and just gives you an experience not many other people can get.”
Kearny senior Nathan Aguilar just made his verbal commitment to Drew University in New Jersey. Drew will start a brand new mens program in 2022. “I think more players will look to stay closer to home because who knows what will happen with COVID. Paying out of state tuition just doesn’t seem worth it with everything going on right now. I think once everything dies down, some players will look to get transfers to other states for volleyball. But, I just don’t see myself doing that. I would rather get a consistent 4 years of good education and a good experience with a new program.”
Sean Nieves from Ramapo College, and former Lakeland Lancer, added his perspective. “Well I think a lot of athletes are going to have a hard time leaving their homes to go out of state for school. I think it’s going to be much harder for coaches to recruit people from out of state to play for them with the thoughts that they could just be potentially sent home again. Without chances for players to come visit the schools and meet the team also makes it harder on coaches and doesn’t allow recruits to make an informed decision. I personally had a new incoming teammate decide to take the first semester of the fall in a community college so they can still be home. Without a clear choice of college and teams, players are more likely to wait until next year to start their college careers to save a year of eligibility. It’s also harder for out of state players to stay connected with players who are close by. I have another teammate of mine who doesn’t live in this state have a harder time to stay connected with the team because of this. There is also the pro of staying close to home is if you are a player like me who lives 20 min from school, it’s easier to try and get other teammates close by to continue to play together outdoors.”
Zaleck also shared some of the negatives. “Staying close to home though, you don’t get to experience a new life in a new place. Of course, Rutgers is different from home but being able to travel and adapt to new cultures is something I always wanted to do so I could definitely see that as a con.”
Whether the new vaccine will get things back to normal quickly remains to be seen. But New Jersey brings many solid options for education, especially in the uncertain world that we are living in, no matter what your SAT score or volleyball expertise. For more information on your choices, vist the “College in NJ” links below…
Here is a list of New Jersey Colleges and Universities with Men’s Volleyball Programs. There is also links to schedules as well as rosters and stats.
Schedule – Princeton University
Schedule – NJIT
Schedule – Rutgers Newark
Schedule – Kean University
Schedule – College of St. Elizabeth
Schedule – Stevens University
Schedule – New Jersey City University
Schedule – Ramapo College
Schedule – Drew University