UWL coaches discuss the process of recruiting student-athletes


Photo taken by Gianna Fussell.

Gianna Fussell, Sports Reporter

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse has 73 National Titles, according to the UWL Athletics webpage. Recently, the men’s and women’s track and field teams each won their indoor National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III National Championships in Alabama.

Nickolas Davis has been the head coach of the Women’s UWL track and field team for six years but previously coached at Marquette and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There are multiple ways that recruiting for the track and field team happens.

“Initially we are looking at the results from track meets all over the state. Obviously, not just in Wisconsin, but in Minnesota. We try to be a presence as much as we can,” Davis said. “We try to get to the Illinois State Meet, we try to get to the Minnesota State Meet.” In addition, UWL hosts the Wisconsin state high school track and field meet.

“We utilize a recruiting database, we use Front Rush. That is more or less for the student-athletes that are interested in filling out their questionnaires, so we have their information,” Davis said. In addition to questionnaires, personal bests can be updated on Front Rush and mass emails can be sent out to recruits.

The Front Rush website says that “over 30,000 coaches from 9,500 teams trust Front Rush to help them recruit and win.” Front Rush is in compliance with NCAA rules depending on the division and sport for rule regulation as well.

“One of the things that have been helpful in the recruiting process is the use of Instagram,” Davis said. The team uses its team account to get in contact with athletes. “In Instagram, you can follow somebody, and you want to follow them because you want them to follow the team and the content that the team is putting out. But then, if they follow you back, you can direct message and say ‘hey, I’m the head coach of the women’s track and field team. We’re really interested in recruiting you here, could you fill out this recruiting questionnaire?” After an athlete fills out the recruiting questionnaire, they are no longer contacted on Instagram because the coaches have their contact information. “It’s that initial touch point,” said Davis.

Besides Front Rush and Instagram, Davis said that they contact coaches and have connections to coaches throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota, so coaches that Davis has worked with may contact Davis about recruiting a particular athlete.

Kent Dernbach is the head coach of the UWL men’s basketball team and is in his sixth year at UWL. “I love division III. I think it’s the only level where the head coach and the player can have a genuine relationship, and it can happen on an annual basis,” Dernbach said.

The next year’s class will start recruiting 13 months in advance, but athletes don’t commit until late March or April of their senior year.

“The reason for that in men’s basketball is the guys that we’re recruiting are all scholarship level players, and they like to play out their senior year and that is until roughly until March. By the time spring breaks match up and they come back up for one more final visit, it’s usually not until the later part of March or the first part of April, and then decisions come from there,” Dernbach said. “Then you backtrack that, roughly 12-13 months before that, is when you start concentrating on the next year’s class.”

At the Div. III level, student-athletes are not allowed to play for scholarships or given money for their athletic abilities. After coaches see which athletes accept scholarships at other institutions at different levels, coaches at the Div. III level can see which athletes are still available or which athletes are still interested in a non-scholarship program.

“There’s nothing more important than getting out and seeing players,” Dernbach said. “Sometimes there’ll be individuals that email you and you just know their connection,” Dernbach said. “Other times it’s who was all-conference as a junior.” Dernbach puts together a list of all-conference athletes in Wisconsin and in surrounding states. “Other guys that maybe you have seen during their junior year.”

“It’s a combination of all that stuff, but primarily just sitting down and watching game after game after game,” Dernbach said.

Prospective student-athletes may also come on recruiting trips to UWL. Dernbach said that you want the student-athletes to see the campus, and the facilities and give them an opportunity to meet with somebody on campus about the student-athletes academic interests.

In addition, Dernbach said that he tries to have the student-athlete spend time with the current roster. “We like to say that the best thing about our program is our current players. You want to be able to hang out and get to know them. That’s your family, that’s your group you’ll be hanging around,” Dernbach said.

Dernbach said being able to sit down with the player and their parents and being honest is also important. “Just sitting down and talking, and making sure they have a good idea of who I am as a person, and what my goals and expectations are for the program, and being open and honest with them,” Dernbach said.

“Letting them know that we are not perfect and these are the things we need to get better at. I think that honesty with players and their parents, they respect it. No place is perfect and for someone to make a really good decision they need to know all the good things about a place and they need to know things that aren’t so good. By doing that, I think it’s led to us having a really high retention rate, like a 97% UWL retention rate, and then continuing that out for the next, at that time, 8 months, you really get to know one another.”

When asked what his biggest piece of advice is for a high school student-athlete who is recruiting, Davis said that being comfortable is what matters when asked what advice he would give to a high school athlete in the recruiting process.  “It has to come down to being comfortable. You’re going to have a list of non-negotiables. Those boxes should be checked,” Davis said. “Make sure that you’re choosing the place that checks the most boxes. The place where you feel you can be successful at every facet of your life.”

Davis also said, “The last thing comes down to the people. Where do you feel like you’re wanted? Where do you feel like you’re going to be best supported? Being an athlete it’s not sunshine and rainbows every day. It’s not. It’s hard, it’s really hard. You need to be in a place where if you fail or you’re struggling, that you know, no matter what somebody is going to have your back, that you’re going to be taken care of. Not only do you want to know that, your parents want to know that, too.”

The women’s track and field team website can be found here. The men’s basketball team website can be found here.