Connor Hill, Nayeli Mancilla and Gabby Sangillo all graduated from Goodyear high schools in May, secure in the knowledge they will continue their athletic careers at a four-year university.
They all locked in their college sports choice by the fall of 2020. After hearing the stories of friends and club teammates during a recruiting process severely compromised by COVID-19, all three realize how fortunate they are.
Since March 2020, normalcy has disappeared from the NCAA sports recruiting calendar. “Dead” periods when college coaches are not allowed to contact high school recruits have been at different times of year and longer than normal, the scholarship pool has shrunk and official visits have been replaced by trips to campuses within driving distance without talking to anyone or virtual tours.
“It’s very nerve wracking as a 2021 player. You don’t know if you’re going to play next year,” former Millennium baseball player Connor Hill said. “You have to kick your butt in the classroom, on the field and in the weight room to really make that statement to a college coach. You have to show them you want to play there and make that connection.”
Hill was the only athlete in this trio to miss out on an official visit to the campus he will attend this fall. However, Mancilla just slipped under the wire before the spread of the novel coronavirus shut down colleges nationwide.
The Estrella Foothills graduate and volleyball setter was on the campus of Western New Mexico University in Silver City the day everything changed in 2020.
“I was able to make my official visit to Western on March 10-11. COVID was all over the news but classes weren’t canceled yet in New Mexico. We were standing in the admissions office when they announced the NBA was closing down!” Mancilla stated in an email interview.
Sangillo was one of the first Class of 2021 athletes from the West Valley to make a verbal commitment. The Millennium girls soccer midfielder said she had been talking to North Dakota State since 2019 and committed that fall, well before COVID-19 entered the lexicon.
She said in girls soccer, it is very common to be committed that early. Still, she was one of the first players on her Phoenix Rising FC club team to commit. That club plays in the Elite Clubs National League.
“It was super important that I went on those unofficial visits. I realized how much I loved the culture of the program and how much I liked the campus and the community,” Sangillo said.
That left Sangillo with a decided advantage in security, over friends who waited, nervous about committing early.
Her father, Steven, said COVID left a lot of people scrambling, having find programs based on highlight films, and having to make decisions without ever meeting the coach face to face. Not having the National Showcase tournaments in 2020 really hurt as well
“In fact that is how NDSU found Gabby, they watched her play in a National Showcase six months before she committed,” Steven Sangillo stated in an email. “So when she visited and fell in love with the campus, I took her back on a second unofficial visit a month later to make sure she felt the same way about it. And she accepted their offer while we were there.”
Hill never took an official visit to Point Loma Nazarene University near the Pacific Ocean just west of San Diego.
Yet his online connections and unofficial drive around the campus made him confident about committing to the private, Christian university and its Division II baseball program.
“In early September the head coach saw some videos of me and called me and wanted to get me out there as soon as possible,” Hill said. “We loved everything about it.”
More than anything, Hill said he is comfortable with coach Justin James.
“He understands what he’s doing and how he’s building the program. His pitching philosophy is great. They know what they’re doing and it seems like a very welcoming community,” Hill said.
Mancilla said she was able to use film and phone conversations with Western New Mexico and other schools, plus she received feedback and goals from colleges to work on all summer long. She said Western was in her top three from the beginning.
Without any volleyball recruiting tournaments, Mancilla said it did take a bit of extra effort reaching out to colleges. But schools were great with answering and checking in and earning a merit academic scholarship made her fit easier.
“It was a longer process waiting to see which players would redshirt and return - the 4.0 allowed me to receive merit aid and not have that worry,” Mancilla stated. “My friends and teammates who are continuing to play in college all seem to be happy with their choices. None are headed to community college. I think there are options out there for every player who is passionate about playing at the next level.”
She said she wants to become an art therapist, which will take a Master’s degree. Her undergrad major will be in art education with a minor in psychology.
Steve Sangillo said he and his wife, Stacey, are grateful Gabby was able to complete the process before COVID-19 hit. The traditional recruiting process helped make sure the Bison’s style of play matches Gabby’s and that the college offers what she wants to study, will let her study in that field and support it.
“I worry that COVID did not allow for the normal experience and that we might see a spike in transfers in the coming year or two because of it,” Steve Sangillo said.
Gabby reports to the campus in Fargo on July 6 and plans to study nursing.
“I’m extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to visit and commit early like I did,” Sangillo said.