That Crysti Howser can really play. The women’s soccer team’s starting midfielder was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year and first-team All-Ivy after finishing third in the league in scoring and helping lead the Elis to their first outright Ivy League championship. Howser led the team in regular-season goals with eight, including two game-winners, and she’s not done yet. The Bulldogs take on defending national champs Notre Dame in South Bend Friday.
It is not like soccer is Howser’s only sport, either. When the women’s soccer season ends, Howser and teammate Maggie Westfal ’09 will join the women’s hockey team in its campaign for a first-ever ECAC title. But the presence of Howser, who was a starter on what was arguably the best high school women’s soccer team in the nation, on the Yale team illuminates an important truth. If coaches work hard enough and have enough support in their recruiting efforts, they can find uniquely talented student-athletes who are willing to play for Yale.
In their oft-discussed tome on Ivy Athletics, “Reclaiming the Game,” William Bowen and Sarah Levin make frequent reference to a speech then-Yale President and future commissioner of Major League Baseball A. Bartlett Giamatti gave to the Association of Yale Alumni in 1980. One of the most interesting parts of the speech (and one of the few that Bowen and Levin quote outright) is Giamatti’s discussion of recruiting, which he wanted restricted to “on-campus conversations and visits.”
As Bowen and Levin were quick to point out, the Ivy League could hardly have deviated more from Giamatti’s vision. Ancient Eight coaches now spend far more time recruiting than they did even 10 years ago. The Ivy League’s tough academic standards and ban on athletic scholarships make recruiting much harder than it is for Steve Spurrier or Bobby Knight. According to Chris Lincoln’s book on Ivy League recruiting, “Playing the Game,” each Yale football coach works with three to four times the number of potential recruits as their counterparts at Oklahoma or Oregon.
Considering the difficulty and year-round nature of Ivy League recruiting, Yale’s coaches aren’t doing half bad. “The football programs in the Ivy League are the only programs in the country that search for recruits at every single football-playing high school in America,” Lincoln writes. Such Herculean efforts helped us to land Mike McLeod ’09, one of the best high school football players in Connecticut history. There are other success stories, too. Sailing coach Zack Leonard ’89, once a top junior sailor himself, was able to land Zach Brown ’08, easily the top recruit in the nation two years ago.
Still other standout players speak to the strength of our recruiting. Sarah Love ’06 and her recruiting class were catches that have allowed the women’s hockey program to rebuild. Alvin Cowan ’05, Michelle Quibell ’06, Edwin Draughan ’05 and Ralph Plumb ’05 are all record-setters.
But Yale’s coaches would be unwise to rest on their laurels. Great college players are by their very nature temporary blessings, gone after four years, five if you’re lucky. The lesson for Yale is that recruiting success is just as ephemeral.
Take, for example, one of Lincoln’s obsessions: the Trinity College men’s squash team. Ten years ago, Trinity was relegated to the second rank of U.S. collegiate squash, along with the other perennial Ivy League hobbyhorses, Amherst, Williams and Wesleyan. But through an extraordinary exertion of personal will (and an enormous amount of money), Trinity coach Paul Assaiante and now-legendary President Evan Dobell turned tiny Trinity into a squash powerhouse. Trinity has won an absolutely unbelievable 125 matches dating back to 1998, collecting seven national titles in that span. Trinity has also won 30 consecutive football games in the NESCAC, but that’s another story.
By reaching out to what was then a largely untapped international market for squash recruits, Trinity took the dominance away from the Ivy League in what many see as the quintessential Ivy League game. The lesson is this: In competing within the Ivy League, the ECAC, and Division I as a whole, Yale coaches have to remain vigilant. Your Chris Higgins — Yale hockey star-turned-NHL pro — might not be around junior year. Your prize running back might want to focus on his studies. Don’t grow complacent, because somewhere in Boise or Milwaukee or Waco or Calgary there’s someone just dying to kick some Harvard butt.
Nick Baumann is a senior in Morse College and a former Sports Editor for the News. His column on Ivy League and Yale sports appears on Thursdays.