Palm Desert senior Tanner Rahier is considered one of the top baseball prospects… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
There has been a longtime assumption, if not an unwritten commandment, in the world of high school sports: Thou shall play for your high school team if you want to be spotted by a college recruiter and offered a scholarship.
Don't tell that to Palm Desert High senior Tanner Rahier. He is a shortstop bound for the University of San Diego who hasn't played high school baseball since his freshman year.
"If you have the talent, they'll find you," Rahier said.
Rahier is an example of the changing landscape in college recruiting. He gave up high school baseball to play in a San Bernardino-based spring league run by an academy. And he played for a travel team that went to Jupiter, Fla., in the summer of 2010, which is when a San Diego recruiter saw him.
With few exceptions, playing high school sports is no longer considered a vital pathway toward obtaining a college sports scholarship. College recruiters are relying more on club competitions, combines, camps and showcases to identify the majority of their recruited athletes.
Changes in NCAA recruiting rules, combined with the idea that the best and most efficient way to evaluate players is when they compete in all-star events, has made high school sports competition almost irrelevant for college recruiters in certain sports.
Golfers are scouted and recruited off their play in American Junior Golf Assn. tournaments. In tennis, the major events for boys and girls are in August when the USTA junior championships are held.
Kelly Inouye Perez, the softball coach for 11-time NCAA champion UCLA, said she "can't remember" the last time she attended a high school softball practice to evaluate a prospect.
"It's all about travel ball and watching summer training," she said.
John Speraw, men's volleyball coach at UC Irvine, said he occasionally attends high school matches but added, "Most of the identification comes through the club program. We get to see them playing against the best, and we evaluate their potential."
Denise Corlett, assistant coach for the women's volleyball team at Stanford, said, "Once or twice a year, we'll go to a high school match of a kid we're trying to recruit. You see them enough during the club season."
Since 2009, top boys' soccer players in Southern California have been abandoning high school programs after a developmental academy league was formed by U.S. Soccer. Club programs have pressured their players to make a choice — high school or club. Four-time City Section champion Woodland Hills El Camino Real has lost at least 10 players to club teams, Coach David Hussey said.
One of those players was Ericson Penate, who didn't play for the Conquistadores last season because his club team, Real SoCal, is part of the academy program and trains and plays tournaments during the high school season.
Released from his academy team, Penate is playing for El Camino Real this season as a senior.
"It's either you're on the club team or play high school," Penate said. "The coaches tell me I have a better chance to go somewhere with academy than high school."
College coaches focus their recruiting on big events to identify players. For soccer, it's the Surf Cup at the San Diego Polo Club on July 28-30. For girls' volleyball, it's a tournament in Las Vegas in February during President's Day weekend. For boys' volleyball, it's the Junior Olympics in July. For softball, it's the ASA championships in July.
Three sports — football, basketball and baseball — are still clinging to relevancy at the high school level thanks to NCAA recruiting rules that bar coaches from evaluating athletes during certain key periods of the year, making it difficult for club programs to gain a permanent foothold.
Football coaches can't visit schools to evaluate prospects during the summer. Basketball coaches can't watch players who aren't in high school-sanctioned events during the prep season. Baseball coaches can't watch players from early November through the last day in February.
But those sports are slowly tipping in the direction of the Olympic sports because of the increasing importance put on summer competition.
In basketball, there's growing emphasis among college recruiters to identify top prospects through their spring and summer club teams and performances at elite camps. The fact that players are being identified as prospects in seventh and eighth grade has added to the reliance on non-high school competitions. Tournaments held in July in Las Vegas are attended by so many college coaches that they could hold a convention.
In baseball, summer showcases and tournaments keep expanding, resulting in college coaches traveling around the country to evaluate prospects at such events as the Area Code Games in Long Beach, the Junior Olympics in Arizona and the USA 18U and 16U trials in North Carolina.