My name is Nick Cheronis and I am the head volleyball coach at Santa Fe College located in Gainesville, Florida. We are beginning the 7th year of a program that we built from the ground up; our first ever season was in 2014. Prior to this, I was the assistant at the University of Florida for 18 seasons, a high school coach for three seasons, and I am currently a club coach with Vision Volleyball Club, where I have been coaching the College Prep Team program. I tell you all of this because I definitely come at the recruiting process from a variety of different perspectives. Rather than share advice on videos and recruiting tips, I am advocating an overlooked opportunity that exists… probably in your own home town: Junior College.
One thing is for sure, junior college recruiting is a unique animal all in its own. The images that the words “junior college” conjures often makes recruiting potential student athletes and parents more challenging.
There are several objections that we have to overcome in order to have prospective student athletes even consider us as an option. They are:
- Academic Apprehensiveness
- Athletic/Skill Development
- Lower Level of Play
- Going through the recruiting process again
Let me address these one at a time because they are all legitimate concerns in people’s minds when the suggestion of junior college volleyball is proposed.
#1 Academic apprehensiveness is the thought that the quality of education will not be as good as a four year college. In some cases that is true, and in others that couldn’t be further from the truth. The concept of community college was to develop as an educational training ground for members of specific communities to fill the specific job market needs of that community. For example, Gainesville has three major hospitals in a community of about 150,000 (not including UF students). Thus, Santa Fe is very strong in Health Sciences and has a nursing program that is more highly regarded than the University of Florida’s.
So, quality of education is completely dependent upon the student athlete’s particular academic interest. In addition, most of the first two years of an academic career is spent in exploratory studies anyway. Most two year colleges will have a variety of academic studies that students can use to discover their ultimate academic goals.
#2 Athletic and skill development is continual. This means that regardless of where a player goes to college, new skills will have to be acquired in order to compete at the next level. At four year colleges that may mean a “red shirt” year in order to develop a player’s potential. At the junior college level, incoming freshmen will need to contribute in some way on the floor very quickly. Freshman in our program develop higher level skills quickly and become more proficient faster.
At any college, the development of skills is ALWAYS dependent upon the teaching philosophy and abilities of the coaching staff. That can vary quite widely regardless of two year versus a four year option.
#3 Lower level of play is one objection I get quite often. Most of those objections come from club coaches and directors, which in turn, come from players and parents. When I am approached about a specific player recommendation it is almost always followed with, “She will need some work”. Implying that her abilities are a match for a junior college.
The only way to really know if a potential player can play at ANY college is for the volleyball community at large to spend some time watching that team play. There is an extremely wide range of playing levels at every level, even NCAA Division I. Consider this: there are 335 NCAA Division I programs in the country… 64 make the NCAA tournament. Many other programs are competing at the level of those championship teams and competing at a high level year in and year out. However, without question, there are a number of Division I programs that are of similar abilities and level as the top Junior College programs. In order to understand and compare the level of play it’s important to become familiar with the level by watching live.
#4 It is true that players will have to go through the recruiting process again. That process for us begins in August of their sophomore season with early video and frank conversations between myself and the players.
The positive thing about going through the process with a 19 year old is that she is MUCH more aware of the direction she wants to go than when she was 16. That three years of discovery and growing is probably one of the most enlightening of anyone’s life. Think about it…. how much more were you aware about as a sophomore in college compared to a sophomore or junior in high school? When I am working with this age group, it is much easier to guide and aid than when I am working with club kids. In addition, my Santa Fe players have a much clearer idea of what they want out of their experience as a student athlete than when they first come to us.
#5 The image of a junior college or community college is one of second class education and poor level of play. I have addressed the reality of both of these perceptions already, but I have no argument for the real perceptions that exist in people’s minds. It is important that clubs continue to share and promote former players who are competing at all levels, not only Division I, so that the athletes and parents stay open-minded through the recruiting process. I think they would find some pretty great and unique experiences waiting for them in junior college programs.
The two year college model has existed in this country since 1901 with a long history of success. Many NFL, NBA, and MLB athletes have come from the junior college ranks.
When I counsel my Santa Fe and club players on choosing the correct college path I always ask them to look for three things:
1) Academic fit – Not just academic disciplines, but distance from home, class room sizes, academic support, size of campus, etc.
2) Playing fit – In other words, if all goes well, when will they play?
3) Program fit – Does the program win more than they lose, or is there something specific going on in the program that would lead one to believe success is on its way.
There are nearly 300 junior college opportunities out there that could check all three of those boxes for thousands of prospective student athletes, and not just the ones who “will need some work”.
About the Author
Nick Cheronis is the Head Women’s Volleyball Coach at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida. Cheronis has accumulated a 109-49 record, including a trip to the NJCAA Tournament in 2016 where the Saints finished fourth in the nation. In their inagural season of 2014, Santa Fe won the Mid-Florida Conference while capturing the Panhandle Conference title in 2018. The Saints have qualified and competed in the FCSAA Region 8 Tournament all five seasons. Also in 2016, Coach Cheronis was named the AVCA Southeast Region Coach of the Year.