This is my experience throughout the recruiting process – you can see our other posts about recruiting, college fit and how to stand out to coaches here.
My recruiting process and journey from playing high school softball to playing in college was not the glamorous one I hoped for – there was no National Letter of Intent, no signing day with a college uniform draped on a chair and no photographer from the local paper. There were, however, twists, turns, failures – and growth. Along with a heavy dose of hard-earned sweat equity.
High School & Travel Ball
My high school softball team was fun – and not very good. There were certainly not going to be scouts behind the backstop, braving the early April weather in New York to see my team play. Along with that, my travel team wasn’t the type to travel to the biggest recruiting tournaments, which is what I assumed would be necessary to get me recruited to play at a premier college. So, I signed up as a free agent for Pennsbury to play for a team that I’d never met or played with before, and sent emails to a handful of coaches before the tournament to let them know that I’d be there.
The other girls on the team I was playing for must have thought I was a star – because of the email that I sent, there were some recognizable schools circulating behind the fence and there to watch me, including Princeton, Georgetown and Haverford. I knew that this was my opportunity to play in front of them. With three Princeton coaches and the Georgetown Head Coach standing behind the backstop…I struck out.
“I guess that’s the end of my road,” I thought – and I guess that was the difficulty in tournaments like this. With hundreds of teams and thousands of players, coaches’ eyes can only be in one place at a time. If they catch the wrong at bat, or if they never see your team play, it can be a disheartening experience to see your opportunity evaporate. By a stroke of good fortune, the Georgetown coach – Coach Conlan – stuck around for a few innings and saw me play the field and get another at bat. I followed up over email, and the return message from her made clear that I was not going to be a recruited player at Georgetown, but she’d be happy to stay in touch with me throughout my admissions process.
After Pennsbury, a few Division III schools invited me for official visits, so I took them up on their offers. After each visit though, I knew that each school wasn’t a fit for me. The coaches, teams, and schools didn’t feel right to me, and didn’t line up with what I was looking for in my college experience. Despite this feeling, I was still tempted to commit somewhere – it was a stressful process, and deciding would mean an end to the stress. Ultimately I thought better of it. I knew that I’d love to play softball at the next level, but that college athletics wasn’t the whole picture. Softball was important to me – but not important enough to override what needed to be a holistic process as I worked to find the best college fit for me.
I was fortunate enough to have an academic record that made me a legitimate candidate for Georgetown University even without athletic support in admissions. I was accepted without involvement from Coach Conlan – and certainly no scholarship – but I decided that the school and community was the best fit for me. I sent in my deposit, and began the next fall as an unrecruited walk-on to a Big East team.
When I stepped onto Georgetown’s campus in DC as a 5’2” freshman infielder, in my mind, I was not the same species of player as the 8 other freshman. Each of them had all been recruited, and, well, they fit the physical mold of a D1 softball player a bit more than I. They towered over me!
During our off-season workouts, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I worked my tail off. I won the run test, and in the weight room, I was among the strongest. In fact, those weight room sessions were where I most felt like I belonged with the team, measuring up against more experienced and highly-touted teammates. I was gaining some ground, gaining some confidence, and Coach Conlan was (I hoped!) noticing.
But after the first day of outdoor practice, Coach Conlan moved me from middle infield to the outfield, where I’d never played before. Given that there were 5 sophomore outfielders already, I got the unspoken message: “Elyse – you might play senior year, but until then…”
The first week of February, right before our first series of games, Coach Conlan asked each player to fill out what they thought the starting line-up should be for the first game. Being a freshman walk-on, and not having the reputation for on-field success that my teammates did, I left myself off that line-up. Coach Conlan stopped me on the way out of a lifting session, right after we’d handed her our line-ups.
“Why’d you leave yourself out of the line-up, Elyse?” she asked. I mumbled something unintelligible. “I would’ve put you in it,” she replied. And that was the end of that conversation.
That next weekend, ten minutes before our first game, Coach Conlan announced the line-up – and that was the first I knew that I’d be starting in left field. The next game, I was in center field – and that’s where I stayed throughout my freshman season, missing only one start.
Looking back now, I can point to those sessions in the weight room as the turning point of my freshman year – and probably my career. I knew that other players might have had more natural ability, more travel team tournament victories and more awards, but I could outwork each of them and be the hardest worker in the room. This confidence grew very, VERY slowly – so slowly that when Coach Conlan called my name before the first game, I thought she was joking. And even after a successful season of starting nearly every game as a freshman, I didn’t believe that it would necessarily last.
When I returned to school as a sophomore, I didn’t believe that I’d proven anything. I knew I still had to be the hardest worker in the room. But there was also one subtle change this year in the weight room: whiteboards that tracked poundage, times, and reps. Now, the hard work that I was putting in was not only eyeballed, but measured.
In my pre-season one-on-one with Coach Conlan, she asked me bluntly, “Elyse, do you want to be a leader on this team?”
“I – I guess. Sure, I’d like to be leader on the team,” I replied uncertainly.
Coach Conlan: “You already are – you’re a leader by example, and your teammates respect and trust you because of it.”
This wasn’t exactly something that had crossed my mind, or thought about myself, but when she said it, I recognized that it made sense. The effort I’d given – and was still giving – had put me in a position where other girls on the team, both older and younger, looked to me as an example. I knew that was a big responsibility – but a great one.
I don’t write or speak about my recruiting process often. The point of this post isn’t to highlight my experience above others, but rather to share what I feel are the most important takeaways – both on and off the field.
- College choice is about a holistic fit. I’m so happy that I went to Georgetown, whether or not softball had ever panned out the way that it did, because it was the right school for me as a whole. If I’d gone to one of the schools where I had visited the softball programs, I may have found more immediate validation on the field, but I may not have had the opportunities, failures, and growth that I had in my time at Georgetown. Looking back, I’m thankful for the self-knowledge and confidence I had, which helped me to choose ultimately what was a more difficult path.
- Be the hardest worker in the room. There are a lot of things that I couldn’t control about my freshman year – in which position Coach Conlan put me, the skills of the other girls on the team, my playing experience and background. But I could control my input and effort, which not only led to my success on the field, but also gave me the confidence to shape my own outcomes and results in other parts of my collegiate life.
Throughout my recruiting process, I stumbled, failed, and mis-stepped. At the time, I didn’t know the best ways to get recruited, or how to get high quality and meaningful exposure to the college coaches that I wanted to play for – my assumptions about the recruiting process, tournaments and travel teams turned out to be incomplete at best. I wouldn’t recommend my particular path to other high school players pursuing college softball. But what set me up for eventual success both on the field and off was my commitment to the things that I did know and could control, which were finding a holistic fit, and how giving my absolute effort to accomplish the goal of contributing at the college level.
This was a post from Elyse Graziano, who was a four-year starter at Georgetown University under Coach Pat Conlan.
Elyse went on to earn All Big East First Team honors as a co-captain her senior year, as well as Big East Weekly Honor Roll her junior year and senior years. She currently works full-time at The Headfirst Companies and is pursuing a graduate degree in Public Health.