WORTHINGTON -- Ah, the benefits of winning.
What a time to be the head coach of the Minnesota West Lady Jays basketball program, coming off an MCAC Southern Division championship while playing host to the 2018 Region 13 tournament. High school seniors are probably wearing out a path to play for the 2018-19 West edition, right?
Uh, not exactly.
“I wish that were the case,” said Jays head coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka recently.
Recruiting new players to fill a lineup that graduates four exceptional starters from a highly successful 2017-18 squad is proving to be a daunting task for the coach, for various reasons. For one, said the coach, as a group, female high school athletes don’t necessarily desire to continue their athletic careers with the same passion males do.
“They’ve been specializing and playing this sport since they were 10 years old. And I’m sure some of them are just tired of it,” said Hayenga-Hostikka, who as of last week said she spoke to at least four 1,000-point scorers from the region who’ve indicated no desire to play anywhere.
“It’s an interesting phenomenon with female athletes,” she continued while sitting in her cozy office at the Center for Health and Wellness on Worthington campus. “You’re finding that winning championships don’t have girls beating down your doors. You’re still losing out to four-year schools.”
That’s another thing -- and maybe the most frustrating thing for Hayenga-Hostikka -- and for many other community college coaches, as well. The way four-year schools recruit new players directly impacts two-year colleges that aren’t able to offer athletic scholarships.
Many four-year schools have ramped up their athletic marketing campaigns in recent years, finding that the more freshman athletes they attract to their programs, the more they come out ahead financially in the long run.
A USA Today article from 2015 highlights the practice. Mark Kantrowitz, author of “Twisdoms About Paying for College,” writes that colleges and universities have become adept at dangling potential scholarship offers as recruiting tools -- recruiting not so much to benefit their sports teams, but to increase the number of students who stay, and pay expensive tuitions.
In some cases, athletes who never knew they were college athletic scholarship material receive scholarships, which can be revoked after one year. In the meantime, they are already studying at the school. They are collected like cordwood into junior varsity programs, many of them with very little hope of ever playing a varsity game.
Critics say that both athletes, and parents, can be susceptible to the pride factor. The parents get to brag that their marginal son or daughter has been offered a sports scholarship to a four-year school. But the scholarship is not renewed, leaving junior stuck forever in a JV program and ultimately paying more money in tuition than she otherwise would have had she chosen to begin at a two-year institution.
When Hayenga-Hostikka talks to athletes that she believes might be better served by a community college, she says, “I often tell them, ‘Look at the roster.’”
She reminds them that there are only five starting positions. She asks them to consider the number of returning players, and to ask themselves: Where does the coach see you? How many freshmen are they recruiting?
“There’s a lot of parents out there that have this belief that their kid is the next big thing. I don’t want to be a dream shatterer, but the odds are not in their favor,” Hayenga-Hostikka said.
Hayenga-Hostikka said she’s heard of a four-year school in Iowa where women’s basketball coaches were told to have 36 players in the program.
“That is a business plan,” she said.
Recruits might get a $10,000 basketball scholarship. After it’s gone, they will invest much more in tuition costs than they would have invested had they begun at a two-year community college.
And if playing basketball is important to them?
“For the girls that spend their whole first year on junior varsity, I would say that the percentage of them who actually contribute to the varsity program is very small,” said the Minnesota West coach.What’s the best option?
College sports fans must naturally wonder how many athletic programs operate similarly to the University of South Florida cross country program. In a New York Times article from 2011, Katie Thomas writes that more than half of the 71 women on the roster failed to run a race in 2009.
In a 2015 Forbes article on scholarship practices, former Stanford volleyball player Kimberly Oden writes that athletes need to take a good look at schools’ current rosters to see if they are sufficiently big or fast to fit in. Just because a college may want you, she warns, doesn’t mean you belong there.
Hayenga-Hostikka readily admits the competition with four-year schools is frustrating her recruitment efforts.
“I feel we have a really good product -- a great opportunity,” she said. “I don’t necessarily feel the parents, or the athletes, are understanding the opportunity that’s right in front of them.”
Yes, there are no scholarships at Minnesota West. But Hayenga-Hostikka rather emphasizes that girls can come to the local college and see immediate court time. West is a quality financial choice, and credits transfer easily to a four-year school.
“We don’t have huge rosters. If you come here, you’re going to get the opportunity to play 30-40 minutes a game. And nothing takes the place of court time,” Hayenga-Hostikka said.
For athletes who want to continue their careers at a four-year institution, Minnesota West can be the perfect first step, added the coach. To illustrate the point, she reminded fans of the outstanding year sophomore Katherin Ihnen completed with the Lady Jays this winter, which has kept the Round Lake native very busy visiting four-year colleges interested in bringing her aboard.
Some of her teammates, too, are receiving scholarship offers from schools based on their success at West.
Though, for Hayenga-Hostikka (a long-time assistant coach at West before taking over the head coaching duties in 2015) recruiting remains as hit-and-miss as ever, she believes she’ll be able to put another fine team on the floor next winter. For some reason, she’s doing better with guards than she is with forwards and centers. But not to worry. She says she knows that her school is a good choice for players who want to play and for parents who don’t want tuition to spiral out of control.
She declares: “I’ve never had a kid here, in 16 years, say, ‘Man, I wish I’d have started with a four-year school.’”