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Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019: Recruiting season in full swing

   Leading off today: The first day of September was more than just the two-minute warning for high school athletes.

   It was the first day that college coaches in a number of sports could make contact with high school juniors and also a reminder that the recruiting window in Division I basketball was a mere week away from opening.

   There will be more commitment news emerging in the coming days, but pieces are already coming together.

   For instance, West Genesee senior guard Will Amica didn't need coaches to swing by for open gym on Monday. Rather, he committed to play basketball for Will Brown at the University at Albany on Sunday.

   "It was the best fit for me," said Amica, who was seventh-team all-state in Class AA as a junior. "With the coaching staff, I felt comfortable. Their point guard is leaving, so it opens up a spot for me to come and play when I get there."

   Meanwhile, Ana Gold had her phone ring off the hook Sept. 1 as college softball coaches made their introductions to the Ballston Spa junior, one of the best New York prospects in the sport in recent memory.

   Gold made a decision quickly, taking an unofficial visit to Duke University this past weekend and giving a commitment to coach Marissa Young. It was the culmination of a process in which the Blue Devils made Gold a priority after seeing her compete in a tournament in Atlanta during the summer.

   "Now things are pressure-free," Ballston Spa coach Amanda Fifield said. "She doesn't have to worry about who is watching and who is not."

   Gold will have to continue performing at a high level on the field, make her grades in the classroom and stay out of trouble. But what Fifield said is largely true; barring a major injury to the shortstop of a coaching change at the ACC school, there's no reason to suspect Gold isn't locked in for a Fall 2021 arrival date in Durham, North Carolina.

   For all practical purposes it means the end to a recruiting process that had scarcely begun for Gold. On the other hand, the Duke staff's work is ongoing. There will be frequent monitoring between now and when Gold can sign her National Letter of Intent in 14 months. Even then, nothing is absolute until the recruit makes it to campus for the start of classes.

   I had a chance last month to catch up with Anthony "Buckie" Leach while the University of Notre Dame assistant fencing coach was back in Rochester to conduct a week-long camp for high-level competitors. Leach is known throughout the world for a resume that includes two stints as the United States National Women's Foil Team coach, during which time Americans became a force to be reckoned with at all the major championships.

   I first met Leach in the late-1980s when he was starting to turn out quality fencers of interest to college coaches. Now

  
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that he's on the other side of the recruiting process, I wanted to pick his brain for a few minutes before he headed back to South Bend, Indiana, for his fourth season on the Fighting Irish staff.

   A lot of the evaluation process for college fen- cing coaches is cut and dried. The U.S. Fencing Association has an elaborate schedule of regional and national age-group competitions throughout the year, so it's pretty evident by athletes' sophomore year who the prize recruits will be.

   Without the need to track the specific per- formances, Leach spends more time digging into how an athlete might fit in with future teammates and the pressures of college life.

   "If the kid has a good work ethic, that's really big," he said. "How they're going to fit in with the team is important also, because there's a lot of good kids out there, but you have to have good kids that are going to fit in with your team. I did a seminar where they talked about recruiting, and one of the guys said, 'A really good thing to do is to watch the kids and see how they treat their siblings or their parents and say OK, is this kid being nice to his parents?'"

   Leach also tries to figure out how a prospective recruit's personality will mesh with teammates in a sport that is individual in terms of competition but has a large team dynamic because the athletes spend many hours together.

   "A lot of times you don't see them work really well as a team. Then when you put them on a team their personalities change a lot, and they become very team-oriented," Leach said. "That can change, but I think one of the biggest things is, are they going to fit in with our team?"

   Interestingly, Leach said one of the challenges that college coaches face is retention. When he was coaching high school fencers, college coaches wanted to know if the recruit in question had the heart to stick with the sport for four years. It's a question he has to ask now in an environment of thousands of applicants with 4.0 GPAs looking to get into prestigious universities.

   "Nowadays a lot of athletes, they find fencing helps them get into school," he said. "They get into school and then they decide, 'I'm only going to participate for a year or so.' We want to have kids who are going to be there for the four years."

   Because he's so well known in the sport, it's pretty much impossible for Leach to not get noticed by fencers when he shows up at a tournament, much like Mike Krzyzewski or Jim Boeheim can't sneak into a high school basketball game unnoticed.

   On the one hand, Leach doesn't want to be a distraction. On the other had, those visits can help him understand how a potential recruit might hold up under the glare of the spotlight at NCAAs.

   "I feel like, I don't want to mess up their competition, because they're (already) nervous," he said, "but at the same time maybe I want to be there so they see me and I can see how they are when they are nervous in a pressure situation.

   Leach's advice to high school athletes looking to continue competing in college includes being proactive. The internet and tools such as HUDL make it pretty apparent who's talented. So what the coaches need to know is who's interested.

   "Everybody knows everybody who's pretty good," Leach said. "But if you're at all interested, put yourself on their radar. Send a note to the coach, walk up to the coach, introduce yourself if you're at a competition."


MP3 audio    The sport's insiders knew Buckie Leach was building something special at Rochester Fencing Centre, but the rest of the world took notice when he coached Iris Zimmermann to a gold medal at the World Under-17 Championships in 1995 -- the first U.S. fencer in history to win a world title.

   Here is an excerpt from my conversation with Leach, now a University of Notre Dame assistant, on the subject of recruiting, including an interesting take on social media.


  
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