Seniors searching for scholarships

By Walter Villa

Lauren Poulicek was sure she’d be sifting through at least a few scholarship offers.

After helping lead Papillion-La Vista South (Papillion, Neb.) to a No. 1 national ranking while maintaining a 4.37 grade-point average, who could think otherwise?

But the Titans’ starting senior libero has yet to receive a single offer.

“Not knowing where I’m going to go, that scares me a little bit,” the 5-foot-5 Poulicek said. “It’s hard seeing a lot of other people getting scholarships while I don’t have one. I feel I am just as good as them.”

Poulicek watched three of her Papio South teammates get scholarships to the University of Nebraska – 5-11 setter Kelly Hunter and 6-3 twins Amber and Kadie Rolfzen.

Those girls committed a couple years ago, while Poulicek – a grade ahead of them in school – has waited patiently.

“I’ve found out,” Poulicek said, “that unless you are 6-5 or an amazing hitter, you have to look out for yourself and go find it yourself.”

Complicating things for Poulicek is her decision to major in speech pathology. Her cousin, Cooper, has autism, which has motivated her to do something to help.

Poulicek thought knowing what she wanted to study would make things easier. Instead, she said it has limited her search because there are only about 50 schools who offer her major.

Poulicek, who would prefer to stay in the Midwest and be close to her family, has widened her search to as far as Florida. She has also switched club teams to play for Nebraska Elite, which she said has been more helpful in her college-finding mission.

At this point, she is open to suggestions.

“Coming from a great (high school) team, it would be nice to play for a good college team,” she said. “But I am not opposed to going to a lower school.”

The bad news is that the early signing period – Nov. 9-16 – has come and gone. For Poulicek and other uncommitted players, they will have to wait for the late period, April 11 to Aug. 1, to sign, although verbal commitments can be made before then.

Poulicek is not alone in her frustration.

Fellow senior Morgan Hofacker has been a starter on two straight state title teams for No. 17 Lovejoy (Lucas, Texas). Yet Hofacker will enter her final season of club ball still hunting for a college.

As with Poulicek, size is an apparent concern with Hofacker. She is listed at 5-8 but quickly mentions that she is “5-9 in shoes,” feeling that an extra inch may make all the difference.

Hofacker, who wants to major in pre-med, certainly has the right GPA (3.97) for college, and she has also shown tremendous versatility, playing a variety of positions.

She is willing to play any spot in college and is being looked at to play on the back row at lower-level Division I schools or outside hitter at D-II colleges.

“At times, it’s been really hard,” Hofacker said. “I just have to keep faith.”

Lovejoy coach Ryan Mitchell, who had two of his stars from this year’s team commit to major programs – Ebony Nwanebu (Southern Cal) and Andie Malloy (Iowa State) – said there is a disconnect between high school and college coaches.

He said he could “count on one hand” the number of college coaches who called him about Nwanebu and Malloy, even though they are big stars. Yet when he coaches in club tournaments, college coaches approach him about his players all the time.

Translation: Many high school coaches have been taken out of the recruiting process, and Mitchell thinks that’s a shame.

“The high school coach sees a kid in the classroom and has a perspective that the club coach doesn’t,” Mitchell said. “Because college coaches are not getting that perspective, a good kid like Morgan can get lost in the shuffle.

“These 5-8, 5-9 kids probably all look the same to college coaches, but they can help you win.”

Mitchell said most big-time programs are done with their recruiting by the time a prospect finishes her sophomore year.

“If you are a senior looking for D-I at this point, you are hoping for a prayer,” Mitchell said. “More than likely, you are looking at D-II or some other lower-division school.”

But according to Chris Gravel, the coach for D-II Hillsdale College (Hillsdale, Mich.), lower-division schools are getting most of their players committed by the end of their junior years. Gravel said he signed seven players in this year’s early period and has no more scholarships for the 2012 class.

“Players are committing earlier and earlier,” Gravel said. “We are trying to slow that down, but we are surrounded by seven Division I schools, and we are on their schedule to a certain extent.”

Gravel advised young players to attend Division II camps in addition to Division I.

“It’s important that players know their options and find out about the recruiting process early on,” Gravel said.

That’s good advice for players just starting high school, but what about seniors such as Poulicek and Hofacker?

Nebraska Elite coach Nick Schuster said uncommitted players need not panic. He points to 5-11 outside hitter Katie Neisler of Marcus (Flower Mound, Texas), who scored a scholarship with Creighton last April and is now a freshman and part-time starter for the Bluejays.

“It’s stressful, and it’s tough,” Schuster said. “But it’s important to remain patient.”

Schuster said scholarships always come open in January as players transfer, leave school or are dismissed for disciplinary or academic issues.

In the past, Schuster has taken his team to tournaments in Indianapolis, Baltimore, Denver and Kansas City, with each city representing an opportunity for his players to be seen by more coaches.

“Lauren has played on high-level teams,” Schuster said. “She’s smart, athletic and a great defensive player.

“It could be on the East Coast or somewhere a little out of her comfort zone, but I have no doubt she will get a full ride to college.”