Kirsten Nielson, a member of the women's tennis team, gets ready to serve the ball during an afternoon practice at the MCC tennis courts. (Photo by Monica D. Spencer)

How MCC recruits the best of the best

In the world of college sports, there are juggernauts. In football we see them as Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State. In basketball, we have the likes of Duke, Kentucky, Kansas. 

They all share success in the respective programs, but why is that? They seem to always have top tier talent at their disposal year in and year out, but how is that possible? 

Recruiting is the key for all of these programs to be able to stay at the top of the mountain.

At Mesa Community College, there are multiple programs that have been at top of the mountain for quite some time, including the Thunderbird tennis program. 

Since 2011, neither the men’s nor the women’s team has finished lower than 3rd place in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference. Coach Feroz Rast has been the coach of the teams since 2020, and has continued the dominance of the program since then. 

Leading a successful program helps Rast to sell the idea of attending MCC to players that are considering becoming a Thunderbird.

MCC tennis has had many players move on to higher division schools such as Ottawa, Grand Canyon, and Boise State to continue their tennis career. 

Rast helps recruits understand that MCC isn’t just a school for them to learn from, but a bridge for them to walk over in order for them to continue to obtain success both athletically and academically. 

Honesty is key, and being straightforward with those you are recruiting is important for Rast. He knows how much of a commitment it is to sign that paper and instantly become a Thunderbird, before doing so he wants his recruits to know everything they should know about what they are getting into.

“I’m very honest in my recruiting process, it’s a two person commitment, we want to commit to them as much as they’re going to commit to us so we want them to know what we’re all about,” said Rast. 

Being in coaching circles helps tremendously when it comes to recruiting. 

The 1,003 high schools in the valley feed their students into colleges for both academics and athletics. In order to get to know those students, you first have to know their coaches.

“It’s a lot of building relationships with the high school coaches,” said Rast, “I do a lot of high school visits, build relationships with the coaches and kind of have a word of mouth. I also visit a lot of USTA tournaments throughout the year to get a gauge of up and coming players to watch them play.”

Cultivating these relationships has helped Rast sign many players, including Sophomore Kylie Williams.

“My high school coach reached out to a few local colleges about seniors that were graduating my year. Coach Rast came out for a visit and came and watched me hit…he offered me a scholarship as soon as he saw me,” said Williams.

When athletes go on visits to the MCC campus, they are able to see how exceptional the athletic facilities are, as well as the buildings and labs classes take place in. 

Williams visited MCC on an unofficial visit with her mother and was surprised at how nice the campus truly is.

“I thought it was really pretty and a well put together campus. I was not expecting a community college to look like that,” said Williams.

It may be difficult for a mother or father to be okay with their son or daughter to leave the nest and attend a college, let alone be involved with college athletics. 

Men’s basketball coach Lester Neal understands their concerns, and makes sure to not only put the parents’ minds at ease, but help them understand who they are entrusting their son to.

“I don’t just recruit the player, I make sure I recruit their family,” said Neal, “every player I talk to them, then my next step is to talk to mom and dad. I want them to know what I am bringing to the table as a head coach and a JUCO product myself. I want them to know I was once a struggling student myself and I was able to navigate a college campus and excel to the next level.”

In our advanced world today, everyone knows about the next rising star, in part thanks to social media. 

From Twitter to Facebook to Youtube, if there is a generational talent at the high school level, chances are he or she is a popular search on the internet or social media pages. 

Coaches do their due diligence to weed through the posts and comments to see the talent a prospect has, and if they would be a nice fit for their program.

Due to MCC being a JUCO, recruiting may not be as glamorous as schools in the BIG 10, or the SEC with tours of million dollar facilities, or being flown to gamedays.

Even with the challenges they face, the coaches at MCC have done an exceptional job in order to recruit the best of the best to wear the Thunderbird red.