Most people who played sports in high school had to play at the junior varsity level to prepare for the speed of varsity level sports. In college, this usually is not the case, as most schools just field one team on a limited amount of scholarships.
They fill out the team with walk-ons, but some schools still use junior varsity to help young players develop. Until this year, Union soccer had a junior varsity team that afforded players the chance to play on a college team with hopes of making varsity after a year or two of play.
Union completed the transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II last year, which is one of the main reasons for the change. NAIA supported junior varsity and even freshman teams, while the NCAA mostly sees varsity level teams. Union had already been thinking about phasing the teams out, and with the change decided it was time.
This change will be mostly positive for the programs and help set the teams up for success in the short and long term. The immediate impact for this season has been seen more on the practice field. Fewer players means coaches have more one-on-one time with their varsity players.
“We can already see the difference,” Isaac Brooks, women’s head coach, said.
Without the junior varsity team, practices have consisted of the strongest players, which helps increase the competition and direct instruction from coaches to players. Brooks said the practices are sharper and more competitive now, which will help build team chemistry and create a better team.
“We haven’t been able to do much scrimmaging in practice because we have one goalie,” said Clayton Martin, men’s team captain and senior sports management major. “There’s less guys to practice with, but it’s been good nonetheless because it increases competition and our depth.”
This seems to be the only complaint heard from some players or coaches. Without the other teams, there are not as many players in practice to fill in gaps, but the players there are all of a higher quality than they were before, Martin said.
Two of the keepers recruited for the men’s team are having trouble clearing the NCAA vetting process, which typically would not be much of an issue. If just one of them can get cleared during the season, they will be eligible to play and tract to help the team. Because both players are from foreign countries, it has been difficult to get approved by the NCAA.
Recruiting is the main area the new development will affect, which is harder to see for this season since the coaches were not aware of the changes until January 2015. Because Union is a Division II school, it has to wait for the bigger schools to recruit their players before it can earnestly seek out prospects. The budget is always set for the programs, and recruiting in the past meant trying to save money for junior varsity players instead of going all in on its top recruits.
Now the team will no longer have to spend time in the spring or fall recruiting players for its lower teams, but it will be able to put all of its focus on top-tier players. The program has already used this to their advantage by getting a head start on recruiting.
Brooks said he is excited about the opportunity the lack of junior varsity gives him to recruit and train better players in the long term.
“For 2016, we already have six girls committed, and we’ll probably start offering to players for 2017 in the next couple of months,” Brooks said.