If one were to ask an athlete what their recruitment experience was like and how they ended up choosing the University of California, Santa Barbara, they may be able to draft a whole book on their athletic journey.

Many collegiate student-athletes have been committed to their sports as early as their preschool age, and some even knew it was their mission to play their sport at the collegiate level by then.

As high school freshmen and sophomores, these athletes can connect and communicate with the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) college coaches. Sometimes college coaches reach out to high school recruits first after studying their talents and potential, while other times recruits must make the first move. Although a considerable portion of college student-athletes ultimately compete for the institution they initially committed to during high school, a significant number still perceive their athletic recruitment journey as ongoing, prompting them to transfer to different schools.

As of the 2022-2023 season, UCSB is home to 66 transfer athletes who make up 13% of the UCSB athletics population. The large majority of athletes are non-transfers who committed to UCSB in high school and remained in the UCSB athletics program. There is at least one transfer athlete participating in every sport at UCSB. 

UCSB boasts its prestigious academics, high performing athletics team and its beautiful location — all of which draws potential transfer athletes.

“The prestige of the school academically is a big reason. The location is a big reason. When I did an unofficial visit I was blown away by how beautiful the area is and how kind the team was,” Alec Mortensen, incoming junior transfer on the men’s swim team said.

Alec Mortensen (Courtesy of Matt Folsom)

Alec Mortensen (Courtesy of Matt Folsom)

On the other hand, UCSB outfielder and rising redshirt senior Jared Sundstrom transferred across the state for the program available. 

“I chose it [UCSB] because they just historically had a really good baseball program,” Sundstrom said.

Jared Sundstrom (Courtesy of Jeff Liang)

Jared Sundstrom (Courtesy of Jeff Liang)

The Process

While transfer athletes come from all different parts of the country, their journey starts the same, through the transfer portal. The transfer portal is similar to getting recruited in high school in the way that athletes and coaches communicate back and forth to learn more about each other and the program. However, the transfer process delves deeper into the prospective athletes’ alignment with the school’s eligibility, academic, and athletic level requirements. This is crucial for achieving acceptance and entry into the new institution while also ensuring adherence to NCAA transfer regulations.

“The differences [in high school and college transfer recruits] certainly outweigh the similarities,” UCSB’s Deputy Athletic Director Jessica Goerke said. “Transfer students have much tighter and more complicated eligibility requirements than a student who arrives at UCSB as a freshman. These requirements get harder to navigate the later an individual transfers in their academic career. As a result, major options become limited and course selection each quarter becomes even more delicate, especially when you factor in practice and competition times.”

Jessica Carlton, a third-year and recent UCSB women’s soccer transfer from Boston College, remembers feeling stressed when trying to transfer schools. 

There are just a lot of uncertainties with the transfer portal, and I had to make a highlight video and contact coaches again like I did in high school, but there was a lot less time to do this. I had no idea how much money would be left at schools or if they even needed another player.”

Even though Carlton felt under pressure during the transfer portal, she said her other teammates from Boston were in the same boat as her. 

“Luckily, many of my teammates were also transferring, and my team at Boston was super supportive and understood why I or anyone else was leaving.”

Jessica Carlton (Courtesy of Jeff Liang)

Jessica Carlton (Courtesy of Jeff Liang)

Similarly to Carlton, Mortensen experienced complications during his transferring process. In fact, talking to UCSB was Mortensen’s third experience getting recruited to swim for a school after transferring from Grand Canyon University and West Valley College. Mortensen swam his first year at GCU until he was notified that he was cut from the program. However, he moved quickly in the recruiting process to his next stop, WVC, and his final destination, UCSB.

“Both ‘transfer portal’ experiences for me have been pretty rapid. It only took a few days before I found my next school, West Valley College — a community college — who was extremely welcoming,” Mortensen said.

Mortensen had a successful season at WVC and made huge time improvements from his lifetime bests at this championship meet which took place in May. This gave him a better shot at returning to a Division I school.

“It was already May by this point. I immediately emailed schools and got interest back quite fast. It only took about 2 weeks until I was committed to UCSB,” Mortensen said.

Academics & Environment 

The UCSB women’s tennis team has the highest proportion — 38% — of female transfer athletes, which is significantly higher than that of other women’s sports.

Marta Gonzalez-Ballbe — a recent physics graduate and UCSB women’s tennis player from Madrid, Spain who transferred to UCSB after her freshman year at North Carolina State — said she noticed that one of the most distinct differences between the two colleges was the weather.

“Every single day it’s just sunny, warm temperatures and not too cool. I just like that because I can play tennis outside every day and get that vitamin D. I love it. It makes me happy,” Gonzalez-Ballbe said.

Marta Gonzalez-Ballbe (Courtesy of Jeff Liang)

Marta Gonzalez-Ballbe (Courtesy of Jeff Liang)

Mikkel Vittarp Gøling — a new third-year transfer on the UCSB men’s soccer team from Copenhagen, Denmark, was quick to notice the difference in faculty and location when comparing his previous college, Young Harris College.

At my old school [YHC], we did not have a separate gym for only athletes, and then of course Harder stadium I think you could come from any school in the US and Harder [Stadium] would be an upgrade, amazing facility, and now also having a separate practice field its very different,” Gøling first mentioned.

“My old school was in Georgia, in the middle of nothing, which also had its charm. But being on the beach is a completely different environment,” Gøling continued.

Mikkel Vitttarp Gøling (Courtesy of Steve Miller)

Mikkel Vitttarp Gøling (Courtesy of Steve Miller)

Transferring to a different institution also comes with academic adjustments. For transfer prospects, adjusting to the UC quarter system may pose challenges if they come from a semester based school. 

For Gonzalez-Ballbe, who transferred from North Carolina State University, remembers having an adjustment period with the ten week curriculum at UCSB. 

“I’m doing physics and a minor in stats. I remember, coming into college, I was like, ‘The quarter system goes so fast!’ But, in the quarter system, you study three to four classes for 10 intense weeks and you’re done. It felt like a normal speed. … so I actually really like the quarter system,” Gonzalez-Ballbe said.

Athletes also have to ensure that their coursework and major availability can transfer over to UCSB.

No two institutions are the same, even within the UC system. This means that many transfer students lose units if a course is not transferable or if the major at their previous institution is either not offered by UCSB or is substantially different. Transfer students often need to be very strategic and intentional about their course selection to ensure they graduate in a preferred time frame,” Goerke said.

Mortensen found himself needing to change major directions since UCSB does not offer his specific major. The swimmer was originally a business administration major at WVC, but he plans to major in sociology at UCSB. 

Like Mortensen, Gøling also had to change his major from business administration at YHC to economics at UCSB.

Coming from Santa Rosa Community College, Sundstrom appreciates the convenience and helpfulness of having academic advising that UCSB athletic provides. 

“We had an academic advisor at junior college, but he worked with a lot of teams. You had to have a meeting and he was super busy,” Sundstrom said. “The academic advisor for baseball [at UCSB] helps with classes and questions. She also has almost monthly meetings and check-ins to make sure our schoolwork is running smoothly.”

Carlton also brought up how priority registration for athletes helped her sign up for classes with ease. Typically, class registrations get stressful as many classes fill up quickly. With priority registrations, athletes can pick the classes they need to stay on track with academics and stay eligible for athletics as a full time student.

Athletes here [at UCSB] get priority registration for classes which is something I didn’t get at Boston, and it made it very difficult to register during the season,” Carlton said.

Gonzalez-Ballbe described the transfer process as a “pretty simple process.”

“Once you put your name in the portal, you’ll start receiving like a bunch of emails of coaches being interested and wanting to talk to you.”

Gøling, being an international student originally, had a different route.

So first coming to America, most of the transfer process was through an agency called NSSA … I didn’t know anything about the process or how that worked, but the Agency is made by former college players so I felt secure leaving it to the experts and that went well. Being in the portal and working with NSSA I tried to narrow down and find the right fit for me. “ Gøling started off.

“After 1.5 years [of playing at YHC], I wanted to see if I could find somewhere else that I could continue my journey soccer-wise as well as academically. I got a ton of interest in a short period of time even though it was an overwhelming process, but also a process that made me feel proud and happy because a lot of interest must have meant that in my 1.5 years at Young Harris, I had done something good together with my teammates and the staff around, as well as personal,” Gøling continued.

Athletes may transfer due to the intense competition for playing time, according to Gonzalez-Ballbe.

“You can transfer for so many reasons,” Gonzalez-Ballbe said. “While I liked the school and liked the team, I was not participating as much on the team. I wanted to go somewhere else where I could represent more.”

Even though the athletes are given roster spots, they are still not guaranteed the chance to play all the time since coaches want to put their top players in the competition to win.

Similar to tennis, baseball is also a common sport where many players don’t end up as “starters,” and it puts them at risk of getting cut from the team and having to transfer to another college baseball program.

The percent comparisons between different men’s sports are different from those in the UCSB women’s athletics program. UCSB men’s volleyball had a smaller proportion of transfers compared to the women’s team. There was also a large difference in transfer percentages for men’s soccer, which was 20 percentage points higher than transfer players on the women’s team.

Baseball has the fourth highest proportion of transfers among the UCSB men’s Intercollegiate Athletics program, but the sport with the most transfer athletes in the collegiate spectrum is men’s basketball — a trend that is also present at UCSB. 

“A lot of people get cut because there are so many people. Many go to junior college, so they can play and transfer as soon as they can,” Sundstrom said.

Unlike the baseball players that came to junior colleges as a result of being cut from their previous university, Sundstrom originally chose to attend SRJC out of high school.

Sundstrom explained that playing baseball in junior college was a first step. The coaches’ goal at junior college is to help the athletes have a good season, so they can leave to play for a four-year college, Sundstrom said. In addition, the coaches have connections to collegiate coaches and can aid in referring current junior college players to four-year colleges.

“Everyone’s mindset going into a junior college is trying to get out,” Sundstrom said.

Most collegiate basketball players are willing to transfer often and quickly in order to get to the National Basketball Association (NBA). NBA prospects have high hopes in making it into the association, and they are doing anything they can to increase their odds in making it in a short matter of time.

The rush for collegiate basketball players to play professionally also applies for baseball players in collegiate baseball. For collegiate baseball players, many have the goal to play professionally by getting drafted into Major League Baseball.

“I bet if you asked all college baseball players … there’s got to be over 95% that would say ‘yes.’ Everyone’s trying to [get drafted],” Sundstrom said.

Sundstrom was drafted No. 307 overall in the 10th round by the Seattle Mariners in the 2023 Major League Baseball Draft.

While the UCSB athletes have embraced their new environment, they will undoubtedly hold a deep nostalgia for their former programs.

West Valley provided me the opportunity to train at a high level while figuring out my academic goals with no pressure. My coaches and teammates lit the fire under me again after a discouraging start to my collegiate career,” Mortensen said.

“I miss my teammates from freshman year and a couple of friends from last year. But I’m glad that we play a lot of teams close to my home, so my mom can come watch,” Carlton expressed with gratitude.

Embarking on the journey of transferring to a new school can often evoke feelings of apprehension and difficulty. However, this transition offers athletes the chance for a fresh start in finding success. 

“Earning the opportunity to swim at UCSB means a lot to me because there were so many moments where I felt like I was chasing something unattainable and was ready to give up on swimming. It feels like the years of work are paying off,” Mortensen concluded.

In the world of collegiate athletics, each athlete’s journey is a unique story waiting to be written. UCSB athletics have given many talented athletes like Sundstrom, Mortensen, Sundstrom, Carlton, Gonzalez-Balbe and Gøling an opportunity to grow, achieve and represent. With each new season and every game played, these athletes add their own chapter to the ever-evolving story of UCSB athletics.

A version of this article appeared on p. 8 and p. 9 of the Aug. 24, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.