ROCHESTER, Minn. — Paige Tapp just laughs when she thinks about what it would be like to go through the recruiting process again. I guess, for some, recruiting doesn’t ever stop when it comes to finagling the job market. But the difference is night and day when comparing what Tapp went through in the early 2010s and what elite volleyball prospects go through today.
Paige and her twin sister, Hannah, were always going to be a package deal. The twins did everything together at Stewartville from 2009-13. The duo starred on the volleyball court and played basketball and ran track and field too. But they didn’t play high-level, elite club volleyball until their junior year. They were slightly behind the eight-ball, timing-wise.
But they certainly had enough talent to make up for it. The Tapp sisters went on to star for Minnesota. Four winning seasons and two Final Four appearances.
“I feel really lucky,” Paige Tapp said. “It might have been because I stayed close to home and had a really good support system. But the first year is really challenging for everyone. You have to learn how to stick it out and realize that everyone is going through it too and that it’s supposed to be hard. If you work through it, you’ll find your place at that school. I was lucky to have that support system that was telling me, ‘This is the right place for you even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. Sophomore year will be better. Junior year will be better.’ I’m so glad I stayed. It was such a great experience for me.”
Hannah was an All-Big Ten selection for two years in a row. Paige was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in back-to-back years. They’ve gone on to have uber-successful careers overseas and with USA Volleyball. They didn’t need to be getting ahold of college recruiters before they became teenagers to be successful.
“I really hope that people realize that they don’t have to commit to schools in seventh grade,” Paige Tapp said. “Your skill will lead you to the right program. Even if you’re a late developer like Hannah and I were, you’re still going to have an opportunity to play at a big program. We were lucky. We didn’t face the pressure when we were super young. It was more when we were 17 or 18.”
Now, the thought of playing elite club volleyball as juniors in high school would send shivers down the spines of players who want to be recruited by high-major programs. But the Tapp’s don’t believe you have to do such a thing. There’s no need to put yourself through that strain and spend all that extra money. Because if you have talent, you’ll be found.
“A lot of my teammates in college grew up only playing volleyball, and they are so skilled,” Paige Tapp said. “They’ve been able to make sure that their fundamentals are perfect since they were 10 years old. But I think playing multiple sports like Hannah and I did really helped too. So if they feel pressure to play just one sport because they want to get to the next level and play at a high level, that shouldn’t be the case. Even if they’re not focusing on volleyball year-round, I know they’re focusing on getting better as an athlete and becoming more well-rounded as an individual.”
The social media craze is also a huge difference. The Tapp sisters only communicated with coaches via email throughout the recruiting process. Now, Instagram and Twitter are the main ways that some coaches discover and recruit players.
“Yeah that’s crazy to me,” Paige Tapp said. “We got Instagram when I was a senior in high school. It’s a whole new world for me.”
The wild, crazy world of recruiting got a whole lot easier for the Tapp’s once they graduated from Minnesota in 2017. There were no NCAA regulations to follow. It was a free game.
“There’ are really no rules after college, so you can talk to any coach at any time and anyone can contact you,” Paige Tapp said. “So it makes it so much easier because you’re never second-guessing yourself and wondering if you’re doing something wrong by responding to a coach. That’s so nice. You get an agent after college too, and he navigates that and takes control of the communication between various club teams.”
But the Tapp’s leaned on some of the same strategies that they used in high school when they got to sorting through offers from club teams. Fit matters greatly. The fit at Minnesota was perfect because it was an elite program and it was close to home. The Tapp’s supporting cast could help them with anything they ever needed. They constantly were looking for the right fit before they signed each and every contract overseas.
“You can get paid a lot and go somewhere that’s undesirable,” Paige explained. “You can meet really cool players and make really good friends and go to awesome places. So you just have to play that balance of getting paid, the lifestyle, if the club is professional and will take care of you and choose your best option. Thankfully, there are enough American players so you can see if they played there in the past and what their experience was. You can kind of pick their brain a little bit and make an educated decision.”
The game of recruiting has changed immensely in the last few years. But Tapp believes that college coaches are still looking for similar traits. Your character matters. 20 kills per match are incredible. But if a college program believes that you’ll be a pest in their locker room, then they’ll look for someone else.
“The coaches are watching what you’re doing skill-wise, but they’re watching your character even more,” Paige Tapp said. “Especially the coaches that you want to play for and the programs that you want to be a part of. They’re watching everything. They’re watching if you’re a good teammate. That’s what has helped Hannah and me so much. What we do in-between plays and off the court. It’s about being the best teammate you can be because coaches are absolutely watching and take that into account.”
And please. Don’t commit in seventh grade.