One of the hardest things to find information on in DIII volleyball are the new recruits enrolling in the fall. Some schools will post an article that summarizes the their new student-athletes but these are few and far between and often come very late in the year. This makes sense since being DIII means you don’t have letters of intent and it’s always possible that a DI or DII program can swoop in at the last minute. Recently, I’ve been trying to catalog Twitter announcements regarding new recruits but again schools handle this differently, as well. One school that goes the Twitter route is Pacific University and as I paged through the announcements I realized that they were bringing in a lot of new recruits. I thought this was strange because Pacific has a rather large team with only a few graduating seniors and then I remembered they had a JV program. Sidebar – Do you remember the dogs in the Disney Pixar movie “Up” that were easily distracted by squirrels? Well, the JV program instantly became my squirrel.
In my volleyball research I’ll stumble across programs in the Midwest and East that have JV programs but I racked my brain trying to figure out if Pacific University was the only West Region School that supported it. A few days later I remembered that Cal Lutheran also had a JV program and my squirrel sense triggered again. I wanted to know why these two schools are unique within the West Region in their support of the JV program. I immediately sprayed off a list of questions to Pacific University Head Coach Kip Yoshimura and Cal Lutheran Head Coach Kellee Roesel and to my delight they both were eager to discuss their programs. Here is what I found.
To start off with, another squirrel moment. Did you see the article about this woman that sent 65,000 texts to a guy, which resulted in her getting arrested for stalking? Well, after my many email exchanges with Coach Yoshimura, I fear he has enough evidence to get me on stalking charges, as well. According to Coach Yoshimura, Pacific University started JV programs in basketball, softball and baseball 5-years ago and followed that up a year later by adding the JV volleyball program. Although there is a cost associated with these programs, the additional student-athletes do add to the enrollment numbers for the school. One of the reasons Coach Yoshimura likes the program is that they have a limited recruiting budget so they don’t always get to see potential student-athletes extensively prior to enrolling. The JV program allows Pacific University to give more student-athletes the collegiate sport experience by having more roster spots on the teams to offer. The program continues to evolve but Coach Yoshimura states that, “…clear communication is very important” and that they “try to be as honest and upfront as we can during the recruiting process.”
Coach Roesel was evidently tipped off about my stalker like tendencies so she consented to a phone interview. After noticing out-of-region JV programs, Coach Roesel started one at CLU in order to grow the game and provide more opportunities to student-athletes. Coach Roesel stated that the JV program started “7 or 8 years ago” and helped solve an issue where potential student-athletes were unable to tryout until they were on campus. Prior to the JV program, if they failed to get on the varsity squad then they were forced to play intramurals. Today, Coach Roesel will recruit specifically for the JV team and also mentioned “open conversation” as a key to the program’s success.
Although both institutions support the JV program, there are some differences in how they operate. At Pacific, the JV program is primarily for the underclassmen although some juniors will be asked to play from time-to-time. Still, when this occurs, the emphasis of the JV program is on the freshmen and sophomores and earning playing time while those select juniors might actually see reduced time (but provide valuable leadership to the team). The goal at Pacific is to move players from the JV squad to the varsity, but obviously this doesn’t happen in a number of cases. Each individual student-athlete is handled on a case-by-case basis and lots of discussion occurs. Some players move to varsity and some realize that their playing time on the varsity squad would be very limited and decide to “retire”. In addition, some find other interests and tire of the time commitment and effort required for collegiate volleyball. Coach Yoshimura did mention that the starting setter from last year (Ellie Parker) played her freshman year on the JV squad and went on to have a great junior year on the varsity team this past year.
At Cal Lutheran, the JV squad is really a 4-year program and operates like the varsity squad (they even have their own banquet). There really isn’t an expectation of movement between the programs although it may happen. She mentioned that the JV program is always competitive and she expects them to win when they take the floor. Coach Roesel loves having the JV squad available for spring ball and it gives them a chance to get noticed as she can’t always spend as much time with them during the season as she would like. It’s interesting to me because I love the Pacific concept of a two-year JV squad with a chance to move to varsity but also love the four-year concept that CLU provides as it essentially acts like a “normal” varsity squad.
As far as the day-to-day operations, both schools are similar as they typically hold separate practices from the varsity team. Each program also plays a full slate of matches during the year with certified referees.
Both coaches expressed how much they love being able to give more student-athletes the ability to experience collegiate volleyball. One area that’s missing from the experience, however, is league play and both coaches would love for this to change. Currently their schedules are filled out with NAIA and two-year colleges. So why don’t we have more schools with JV volleyball programs? Cost is always a good reason to avoid doing something when it comes to DIII but you are really only talking about another coach and limited travel expenses. Court time is another problem as you are fighting the varsity squad as well as basketball but with DIII practice time limits this seems to be a solvable issue. Both coaches believed that having a JV program did give them an advantage when it came to recruiting but in the end it’s about the student-athlete and providing as many opportunities as possible.
When I started this research I was pretty clueless about this aspect of our sport but on the surface I was just happy for the student-athletes that get to experience any kind of volleyball in college. I remembered the girls my daughter played with in high school and club and not all of them were fortunate enough to be able to attend their college of choice and continue in the sport they loved. That’s not an issue at Pacific and Cal Lutheran and I believe those institutions are greater for it.