Volleyball Recruit Goes High-Tech To Sell Herself

By Nicole Vargas
September 4, 2007

On a recent college recruiting trip, Mackenzie Aries couldn't help but notice the teetering stacks that cluttered the volleyball coach's office.

In one corner was a pile of DVDs. Nearby, a heap of VHS tapes. But not one belonged to Aries, a senior this season at San Dieguito Academy.

Turns out the coach knew all about Aries anyway because she'd spent hours browsing through a Web site the 6-foot setter had built to market herself to colleges.

Aries said the coach told her she didn't even have a VCR anywhere in the building to view recruits' videos.

“She was like, 'That's just ridiculous. Why would I want to do that when I can just double-click and there you are?' ” said Aries, a three-year starter for the Mustangs. “She said this could be the recruiting tool of the future.”

Determined to play volleyball at the next level, Aries – an All-San Diego Section Division III pick a year ago – has taken her future into her own hands, creating an elaborate Web site that showcases her talents.

Online: To view the Web site San Dieguito Academy's Mackenzie Aries has built to showcase her skills to college volleyball coaches, visit

At the same time, she is proving to be at the forefront of a trend that could open doors otherwise shut for athletes like Aries.

“It makes sense,” said longtime San Dieguito volleyball coach Dexter Harvey, who gushed about Aries' work ethic and eagerness to learn about the game. “It's very smart and I'm glad (Aries) is taking advantage of the technology.”

Nearly every year, it seems a Reggie Bush, Candice Wiggins or Chase Budinger comes through the region, making the recruiting process look deceptively easy.

College coaches gravitate toward those prized recruits. The athletes find their mailboxes bursting with letters, their cell phones blowing up with text messages. Narrowing down five schools for official visits is harrowing – a problem lower-profile athletes wished they had – and those trips make local headlines as the prized athletes tour campuses.

But that's the exception – not the rule.

According to the National Association of High School Federations, more than 7 million high school students across the nation played sports in 2005-06, the last year statistics were available.

Of that number, the NCAA estimates only 126,000 athletes – or fewer than 2 percent – are receiving full or partial athletic scholarships at the Division I or II level.

Except for high-profile sports at the largest universities, recruiting in many cases begins with athletes making that first significant contact with coaches, many of whom already are doing all they can to stretch every dollar of their recruiting budget.

“The bottom-line reality of someone in our position is that we are paid to go out and find student-athletes who fit the mission of the institution,” said UCSD men's basketball coach Chris Carlson. “That's a very basic thing that will never go away.”

Carlson said Web sites like Aries' are a big help to coaches in all sports.

“It's no substitute for the naked eye,” he said, “but it's certainly another resource.”

Private recruiting services market themselves heavily to high school athletes and their families, but those services can cost thousands of dollars and by no means guarantee a scholarship.

Another option is navigating the recruiting process on your own. That's what Aries chose to do, and college coaches say plenty of recruits are joining her, sending them video or a link to a public video-sharing Web site like YouTube.

Inputting “college recruit” into the search field on YouTube yields more than 450 hits, many just like the videos produced by Aries.

But few have taken that video and incorporated it into a Web site rivaling that of Aries'. At least that's what she has heard from the 40-plus coaches with whom she has had contact.

“(They) contacted me and said, 'Hey, this is really cool,' ” noted Aries, who said she's narrowed her focus to three colleges.

Aries' interest in computers was cultivated at an early age. Rod Aries, Mackenzie's father, recalls his toddler daughter sitting on his wife's lap, learning to read with help from children's software.

At age 11, she was attracting 200 visitors a day to a Web site she created about Beacon's Beach in Encinitas, complete with a Web cam pointed at the waves.

Her education in the computer language HTML came not from watching over the shoulder of her father, who owns an Internet company, but through a Web site designed to sustain a virtual pet.

Still, creating her recruiting Web site was the most ambitious online endeavor she had ever undertaken, and Aries won't sugarcoat the more than 50 hours she invested in the creation of her site.

“It was by no means fun,” said Aries, a 4.02 student who turned to her dad for help on some of the site's graphics and outsourced the video editing to former San Dieguito volleyball player Jimmy Lundgren. “It was tedious, very tedious. It was like a job, and I spent a lot of time doing it.”

Even when the site finally went live, Aries wasn't finished. Knowing she wanted to continue her career at a smaller, academically focused institution, she sent e-mails to coaches all over the country, introducing herself and her site.

“You can't just have a painting and keep it in your closet and have people know you're a great artist,” said Aries, who began playing volleyball the summer before her freshman year. “You have to go out there and show them what you've done. I contacted a lot of coaches via e-mail, and all these coaches just went to my Web site.”

Aries' site, which she updates regularly, features not only biographical information, but more than a dozen videos. Most of the videos showcase specific skills and are set to music. Others feature Aries talking about herself.

Because the videos are also shared through YouTube, one of Aries' clips has been viewed more than 22,000 times.

“It was one of my first videos up,” Aries explained.

It was an early sign her investment might pay off.

“I'm just really committed to playing in college,” said Aries, who hopes she'll be able to stay in Southern California to do that. “It all would be worth it if I got to play in college.”

See the original volleyball recruit article at the San Diego Union Tribune web site.

Thank you to Nicole Vargas: (619) 293-1390

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