Illini softball use transfer portal to enhance roster

Junior+Addy+Jarvis+winds+up+a+pitch+during+the+game+against+Louisville+on+March+6+in+Louisville%2C+Kentucky.+Jarvis+is+one+of+two+recent+pitching+transfers+at+Illinois.

Photo Courtesy of Libby Knight

Junior Addy Jarvis winds up a pitch during the game against Louisville on March 6 in Louisville, Kentucky. Jarvis is one of two recent pitching transfers at Illinois.

By Claire O'Brien, Staff Writer

The transfer portal is popping. It’s only been around for a couple of years, but the Illinois softball team has added several transfer players to its roster in recent memory.

Assistant coach Laura Trout, who has been at Illinois since 2015, has seen a variety of changes in relation to recruiting in her time in Champaign.

Some of the more notable changes include pushing the recruiting process back.

“When I first got here, in softball, you could technically talk to and recruit eighth-graders,” Trout said. “Luckily, they have fixed that. You’re not asking an eighth-grader to commit to a school five years from now.”

The Illinois softball team has picked up a few players from the portal in its short time as a resource, including current pitchers, junior Addy Jarvis and graduate student Kelsie Packard.

Trout, who’s also in charge of recruiting, said her pitch to athletes focuses on the academic environment of the University. Illinois is ranked No. 47 in the U.S. News National Universities ranking for 2021.

“The University of Illinois is a pretty high-level academic school,” Trout said. “For them to be able to compete here on the field, they obviously have to kind of hold their own in the classroom, so we gotta make sure we’re (getting) top students there.”

Packard, who recently transferred to Illinois, cited the strong academics as part of her reason for deciding to attend the University.

As the infielding coach, Trout focuses her recruiting efforts on infielders. While her pitch to prospective athletes is similar, she said she has specific characteristics she looks for in infielders.

“As an infielder, we’re going to have a different mentality,” Trout said. “A really important thing to me is kind of toughness. I want our infielders to kind of have our pitchers’ backs.”

The Illini team has played in the NCAA Regional tournament several times under current head coach Tyra Perry, but the team has never advanced to a Super Regional in program history. The early exits strongly influence Trout’s recruiting strategy.

“We want to win a Big Ten,” Trout said. “We want to, you know, make it to a Super Regional, just do things that our program has never done before. We need to recruit kids that have that mentality, they want to be part of the thirst. They want to, you know, be a part of that breakthrough (team).”

The team’s softball performance isn’t the only factor that’s impacting its current recruiting strategy and processes. Trout said the Midwest has strong softball talent, and the University prioritizes recruiting students from Illinois.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all facets of the recruiting process. The coaching staff watches games virtually, and unreliable video streams make it more difficult for the coaches to see people play.

“Even if it was working, it was just poor quality or you could only see the pitcher and the catcher,” Trout said. “It’s been extremely challenging.”

Even though recruiting has changed over the years, one key component in the recruiting process is the growing transfer portal.

“I feel like it gets hotter and hotter every year,” Trout said.

@obrien_clairee

[email protected]