Coach Sam Shweisky has Princeton right where he wants his program.
Shweisky in an interview with Off the Block earlier this week said that between recruiting and creating a new season schedule he has been more than pleased with his team’s off-season so far.
Check out the interview with Shweisky as he discusses the benefits and challenges of recruiting players to Princeton, his team’s 2015 schedule and what the Tigers need to do to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Off the Block: Coach, last time we saw Princeton you were competing in the EIVA Tournament championship match. What has this off-season been like for the Tigers?
Sam Shweisky: The off-season is an opportunity to take a little breather and enjoy it for a moment, and then get right back at it. Recruiting has been the big piece for me. I went out to the East Coast championships during a weekend in May. I spent three days in Richmond, [Virginia] and got to see a bunch of great prospects down there. I took a weekend and flew out to Anaheim, California for the Boys Classic, which was fantastic and some great talent in Anaheim. I also just spent 10 days in Houston [at the USA Volleyball Boys Junior National Championships] recruiting there. So really picking up with recruiting and watching the guys that we have coming in next year. I was also able to get a jump on the following class and the class beyond that, trying to watch those guys and just talking to club coaches to the inside on who has the grades to be candidates for us.
OTB: With recruiting you spend five to six months looking at and working with your current team comprised of 19 to 22 year olds. Is it tough for you to go from that level down to looking and evaluating high school players and trying to determine if they have the potential to play at the college level?
SS: Absolutely, it’s very difficult. There is a period where you have to acclimate. I literally went from the men’s Final Four to two weeks later being in Richmond watching 16 year olds. I was thinking to myself, gosh these guys can’t compete. But of course they can. They are just 16 years old, and they are going to need a couple of years to get into college and to hit the college weight room. Thankfully, the men’s recruiting cycle is not as pushed forward as the women’s [volleyball] cycle. My counterpart on the women’s side here has to recruit 14 to 15 year olds. Thankfully on the men’s side we are gathering some information and looking at who might be good down the road. Really it’s not until the junior year when things really start to pick-up. There were some early commitments this year in January, but really we are only talking about a handful of guys. The majority of the class is still waiting until after JOs to make their visits in the fall of their senior year to commit. Knock on wood, but hopefully that timeline holds. I think it’s the best for us because obviously we are waiting to see test scores and SAT and ACT scores. Also, I think it’s best for the athlete where they can develop more into who they are as a person and a high school student and have a better sense of where they want to go and spend the next four years in college.
OTB: Just one more recruiting question, Princeton is such a big academic school. You look at the college men’s volleyball landscape and it’s Stanford, Harvard and you at the NCAA Division I-II schools that are all academically similar. Is it almost just a recruiting competition between you three schools to find the players that hit the demographics of high enough academics and high enough volleyball skill or are you more competing against every other school for recruits?
SS: There is a special relationship the three of us share. I wouldn’t count out a couple other schools, NYU for sure. They are not Division I, but there is not a ton of options for men’s volleyball with high academics. So it’s definitely the three of us for Division I-II. We compete and we go after the same pool of players. Really, almost every recruit we look at looks at the other two schools. Once in a while we’ll crossover with UCLA or USC on a particular kid, but it’s almost always the three of us. In some ways it’s kind of nice because you know who you are competing against. We are very similar, but we are very different. I always tell the guys to take your visists. Go visit the schools and you’ll have a sense once you’ve been with all the teams what works for you. So on the women’s side we have eight teams in the Ivy League, many of which are fairly similar. Some times it’s hard to distinguish yourself from your competitors, but thankfully among the three of us there are enough natural differences that the kids come and get a sense of what’s going to fit and feel best for them.
OTB: I know we can’t talk about specific players you are recruiting, but with having been at the USA Volleyball Boys Junior National Championships and looking at some of the results, it seems that geographically more teams are competing at a higher level. Are you getting that sense as a coach that there are more hotbeds around the nation that you can recruit from?
SS: Absolutely. The Princeton roster when I got here for the previous 30 years had such a strong Southern California nucleus. In the last five to 10 years it’s certainly branched out. There are some many other places across the country that not only have great volleyball but great academics. That’s obviously the cross-section that we’re looking for: high-level volleyball with high-level academics and to find a student-athlete that will fit our mold. It makes for longer trips, but it’s interesting. At the East Coast championships there were a bunch of West Coast coaches there, and in Anaheim there were East Coast coaches there. I think coaches are realizing across the board that talent is not located in just certain areas. And you are starting to see boys not stay in their home zone. I think a whole lot of people realize that college is a great opportunity to get away from home and see something different. Some colleges are really pursuing kids from out-of-state and out-of-region because they are having success.
OTB: Moving away from recruiting, lets talk about your 2015 schedule. Those first couple of weeks you are going to get the full gambit of MPSF teams with six non-conference against the MPSF. How were you able to put this schedule together?
SS: It’s pretty interesting. Over the last 30 years we’ve gone out to California during our inter-session break. We’ve usually been able to schedule a few MPSF matches. It got a little tougher there when Cal Baptist joined the league and Pacific was still there. When Pacific dropped it was a horrible thing, but from a scheduling standpoint it made it a little bit easier to catch some MPSF matches.
OTB: Usually your team doesn’t start the season until late-January. However, this season you will be starting in early-January at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational. Will the earlier start to the season change anything in terms of preparation for the season?
SS: It’s not going to change that much. I think it’s going to be really good for us. We typically spend the first three weeks of January just sort of training and banging our head against each other trying to get better. I think this is going to make us solidify a line-up much sooner. So it’s going to be great for us. We always go out to California to be tested and push ourselves, to see where we are, see where the fault lines are, and then come back and get better. The other big thing with our schedule is we are headed to Nicaragua in November over fall break. That is going to be our first international trip ever for men’s volleyball. It’s going to be awesome, and you’re allowed to do it once every four years. … We are going with Bring It USA. It’s a great international tour group. I think that’s going to be a great opportunity to play some international matches and really I think that will start to develop and see where the line-up is going to come, which will help us with the early start in January.
OTB: What do you think it says about your program with your schedule this year that you’re not only playing in an international tournament but in non-conference play traditional powerhouses are now wanting to put Princeton on their schedule.
SS: It’s a really faltering and pretty cool. It’s one of the things that we are very humbled and excited about that Princeton is a big name outside of the volleyball context. It’s an internationally known school. Schools like to see that they are playing Princeton. It’s a known quantity. That’s always very exciting for us. We are very excited to go play those schools and get a chance to play against the top teams in the country because that’s certainly what we are trying to advance ourselves to play at that level and speed. You only get there by playing at that there. … Men’s volleyball is growing. I think you are going to see a lot more cross-conference play in the next few years. This is an exciting step for us.
OTB: Stepping away from non-conference and looking at your conference, what does Princeton have to do in the EIVA next year to take that next step and possibly make the NCAA Tournament?
SS: They are sort of intertwined. I think to be great in conference, you have to push yourself in non-conference. The conference is strong, but we have one of the smaller conferences with only seven teams. So, we have certainly more nights where we can decide to push ourselves. That’s where the team is formed. That’s why we like to play a bunch of strong non-conference opponents early to battle-test ourselves. Our conference is going to be strong. Penn State is obviously strong. George Mason is strong. Harvard is strong. Everyone that is returning a lot of players is going to be certainly strong, and the ones that aren’t, you never know. They got some kids coming in. So, it’s going to be a tough year. I think the key for us is pushing ourselves in the fall and then in the non-conference.
OTB: This summer we’ve seen a lot of East Coast schools announce that they are going to start men’s volleyball teams. From your perspective being on the East Coast, how do you feel about hearing teams in West Virginia wanting to start men’s volleyball teams? And who knows, maybe down the road become EIVA members.
SS: More volleyball is good. The more teams that are playing men’s volleyball is a good thing. I certainly will help in any way, shape or form to promote men’s volleyball at the Division I, II or III level or NAIA. In terms of adding teams to the EIVA, we would love that. Certainly with losing Rutgers-Newark, we’re a small conference with seven teams. The only thing is the logistical concern of the travel. Right now from George Mason to Harvard is about a nine or 10-hour drive. So that’s a stretch. … If we can add some teams in the middle of that geography I’d be for all it. As you expand past that, it just becomes tricky with people’s budgets and seeing if it can work.