By Michael Perry
When college coaches talk about changes in recruiting, that can mean many things. There is dealing with NCAA rules, emerging social media tools and an increase in foreign athletes securing scholarships at American universities. Just this season, for instance, Xavier has 10 student-athletes from the Bahamas, Bolivia, Canada, El Salvador, England, Israel, Scotland and the United Kingdom playing five different sports.
"With recruiting, you can never rule anything out," tennis coach Eric Toth says.
After all, every kid in the world is now just an e-mail away.
While still unusual for a small school like Xavier to recruit internationally, it’s not totally new. Over the last 15 years, Xavier has had more than 40 foreign-born student-athletes, including some from Austria, Australia, Bosnia, Holland, Finland, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Peru, Senegal and Venezuela. In 2000-2001 alone, the women’s basketball team had Tara Tuukkanen and Reeta Piipari (both from Finland), Colleen Yukes (Edmonton, Alberta) and Ada Sarajlija (Zenica, Bosnia).
Men’s soccer was the first Xavier sport to regularly dot its roster with international players. Former coach Jack Hermans was Dutch and had overseas ties. He passed those along to Dave Schureck, who played for Hermans and followed him as head coach from 2005-2009. Those overseas alumni keep their eyes and ears open for players who fit the bill academically and athletically and promote Xavier.
Andy Fleming, who took over the soccer program this year, also has former players playing professionally in European leagues that he can tap into as well.
The soccer program uses First Point USA, an international recruiting service, and receives 1,500 to 2,000 inquiries a year from overseas.
It’s a competitive world out there. Xavier had three foreign soccer players this season. Among five top Atlantic 10 Conference schools (Fordham, Dayton, Saint Louis, St. Bonaventure and Charlotte), there were 26 foreign players.
The men’s golf team leads the charge this year with four international players. Freshman Herbert Day is from San Salvador, El Salvador. Senior Alan Glynn is from Middlesex, England. Kieran Lovelock is from Surrey, England. Sophomore Sebastian MacLean from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, may challenge Jason Kokrak’s career scoring average record. MacLean was all-conference and set a Xavier scoring record for freshmen last season as he qualified for the NCAA Regional.
"If you’re going to be a top-flight program, you’ve got to keep your doors open and be open to all parts of the world," says golf coach Doug Steiner.
One of Xavier’s all-time best golfers is 1999 graduate Steve Dixon, who is from Canada. He’s only the second golfer to be inducted into Xavier’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
For almost every foreign student-athlete, there is a story. It may be about someone who knows someone. It might be the athletes who initiate contact. From there, who knows?
Take Natalie Handler, a freshman on Xavier’s women’s tennis team. Handler is from Herzliya, Israel. She served in the country’s military at age 18. Last spring, she sent a video to Toth. He gets maybe five e-mails a week from international players and often doesn’t even follow up.
But Toth was "scrambling for players" and had several scholarships available. When Handler’s video arrived, he was sitting at his desk and immediately popped it in. So began a series of e-mail exchanges and phone calls. Handler’s family made a trip to the United States last summer and visited Xavier.
There were details to work out. Xavier had to check Handler’s high school transcripts and make sure she would fit academically. Toth explained there was limited scholarship money available and needed to find out whether the family could afford remaining expenses.
Then there was the matter of an Israeli landing at a Jesuit university. Enter Rabbi Abie Ingber, founding director of Interfaith Community Engagement at Xavier.
"Without Rabbi Abie, I don’t know if it would’ve happened," Toth says. "I can sell a family on the tennis and the education, but this was a different situation. I give her so much credit for coming clear across the world and coming to Xavier."
Handler and the growing list of others who do the same.
Editor's note: See the list of Xavier's foreign-born athletes since 1995.