etondad, that's a great spot to be in. We do need a little bit of aid, athletic or otherwise, and there are a couple of schools who would probably get our daughter in but without aid, which sort of makes me sad!
As for timing, as fauve said, check out the NCAA rules because some sports are slightly different than others. In most, as in my daughter's no contact can be initiated by the coach until July 1 before the senior year. Emails and letters are OK, I believe, during the junior year but no phone calls until after that July date. At that time you can start having more open dialogue.
We just came back from visiting coaches 'unofficially' and I found the conversations sort of followed the coach's styles. One school was very guarded but full of technical information, and guidelines and businesslike details. Another was very open about all sorts of things, and very easy to talk to about anything, and the third only sent the assistant coach who basically sat and looked at us to lead the entire interaction. This was very awkward and I was ready to get up after five minutes. we managed to stretch it to an uncomfortable 20, but it wasn't easy!
Needless to say, although this one would have been the academic leader, it's now the underdog as far as the way she (and I) feel about it. And it's an amazing school that's very hard to get into. I don't know if the problem was that she isn't a top recruit so much as that this is how they do things at that school in that sport.
Good luck to you daughter! Sounds like she is in one of the sports where the coaches do start their recruiting a little sooner than the others ... I know there are some in my daughter's school who already claimed to have been promised spots at certain schools, as of last year.