The arduous process of convincing talented high school athletes that Cambridge is the best fit for them is an often-debated topic when it comes to sports at Harvard. Dialogue on the matter ranges from Harvard’s incentives for prospective student-athletes—or, without athletic scholarships, the lack thereof—to the controversial “weighting” of the admissions process.
But the varied careers of three men’s volleyball team members illustrate that recruiting can be just the very beginning of an unexpected path when it comes to Harvard sports.
Meet sophomores Jordan Weitzen and Jamie Crooks and senior Luke McCrone. None of them were recruited to play volleyball at Harvard, yet all three of them suit up weekly for the recently resurgent Crimson squad.
Unlike their teammates, all three began their Harvard sports careers far, far away from the Malkin Athletic Center.
For Crooks, no Harvard coach came knocking on the door. The sophomore matriculated in the class of 2008 without having been recruited.
Though the San Diego native thought about playing volleyball at Harvard, the sport’s lack of popularity on the eastern side of the country made him reconsider his options.
“My senior year in high school, I planned on playing volleyball here,” Crooks says. “But I realized that in the Northeast, volleyball is a much smaller program, and I decided that I had the build and the body type that was good for crew.”
So Crooks took his place on the river, chasing the historic legacy of Newell Boathouse instead of the relatively unknown tradition of Harvard men’s volleyball.
Weitzen and McCrone, on the other hand, were heavily recruited for football and basketball, respectively—?Weitzen as a field goal kicker and McCrone as a power forward. Though both also played volleyball in high school, the prospects of playing major Division I sports while also receiving first-class educations were irresistible.
“When I made the varsity team,” Weitzen reminisces, “I realized football was my shot into school—this was my ticket.”
Similarly, McCrone spent his high school years dedicated to basketball, moving from his hometown of Shanty Bay, Ont. to Baltimore to devote himself to the sport.
Harvard coach Frank Sullivan liked what he saw, inviting McCrone to join the basketball team—a squad that the senior was a part of his freshman and sophomore years.
TO THE MAC
Weitzen was the quickest of the three to leave his old team, quitting the football squad before the academic year even started.
“I got here and I realized that I got really caught up in the recruiting aspect of Harvard and playing Division I football,” Weitzen says. “I really didn’t listen to what the coaches had to say, what was involved, and what your obligations were.”
“As the first week of football started, I realized that I didn’t really want to be part of that.
I had made the wrong decision for myself,” he adds.
But when Weitzen returned to campus, something felt wrong—something was missing. He was an athlete, and athletes play ball.
Weitzen sent an email to the director of compliance, Nathan Fry, asking him whether he needed to do anything to switch to volleyball.
One week later, an email was sitting in Weitzen’s inbox, inviting him to a tryout.
“I went in there blind,” he remembers. “I didn’t know anybody on the team, I didn’t know the coach. But I met all the guys, met the coach, and I decided to play.”
McCrone joined the team later that same season, spending the beginning of his junior year on the basketball squad. By mid-December, it became apparent to him that Lavietes Pavilion was not the place where he really wanted to be.
“It was definitely the hardest decision of my life,” McCrone says.
The following Friday, the outside hitter gave his future teammates and coach a reason to give him an opportunity.
“After practice, Coach was like, ‘Can you play, please?’” Weitzen recalls of McCrone’s tryout. “He joined the team that day.”
Crooks didn’t make his way over to the MAC until the fall of 2005. Though he enjoyed rowing and remained committed to the sport during his freshman year, the intense and often individualistic nature of the sport made the sophomore realize that he missed the team emphasis of volleyball.
“Crew is definitely a team sport, but it also has a much more fierce individual aspect,” Crooks explains. “You’re beholden to your part of the boat, and it’s very competitive within the team. In volleyball, everyone needs to work together—that determines how well the team does. I really like that aspect of volleyball.”
With some consistent prodding from Weitzen, Crooks, too, made his way over to the men’s volleyball program, becoming the third “transfer” to join the squad.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Despite the switch, the players remained still very much invested in their old sports.
McCrone, for example, may be gone from Lavietes Pavilion, but he continues to rock the rims in the MAC.
“He has dunk contests in the MAC during practice,” Weitzen says. “Coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
And when he isn’t throwing down volleyballs, McCrone takes the court for Leverett House, posting up against significantly smaller and less talented forwards. Every once in a while—“sometimes,” he says with a grin—he’ll connect on an alley-oop.
Weitzen, for his part, occasionally wonders about what might have been.
“I don’t miss the practices,” Weitzen says. “I don’t miss everything that’s involved with kicking. But would it be cool to step out onto a field and blast a field goal through the uprights? Absolutely.”
Nevertheless, volleyball remains a priority in all three players’ careers. After graduation, McCrone hopes to play professional volleyball in Europe before heading to medical school. And Weitzen and Crooks still have another two-and-a-half seasons remaining at Harvard.
But future plans can change. And Weitzen, McCrone, and Crooks know that truth quite intimately.
—Staff writer Karan Lodha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.