The University of Cincinnati-Clermont College womens’ basketball team had put together a dream season going into the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) National Tournament.
The Lady Cougars, who had gotten off to a rough start as they had to deal with some injuries, finished the regular season winning 15 of their last 18 games to post a 26-12 record.
The team, which boasts six players from Clermont County, then went on to win the Ohio Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles en route to a No. 5 ranking in the USCAA and a six seed in the Tournament being held on the campus of Penn State Fayette in Uniontown, Penn.
The Lady Cougars went 3-1 in the tournament, losing to eventual National Champion Concordia-Selma in the semifinals. The Lady Cougars would win the third-place game against No. 1-seeded Rochester to end their season on a high note.
“I’m just so proud of the girls,” Clermont coach Mike Matthews said. “We did exceptionally well. We lost to a team that is NAIA with players on full scholarship.
“We beat No. 11, No. 3 and No. 1 (ranked teams), so we did pretty well.”
The Lady Cougars started their tournament run on Wednesday, March 7 against Spalding in a game that saw UC-Clermont overcome a scoring drought towards the end of the first half that cut their 10-point lead to three at the half.
“The first game is always the toughest,” Matthews said. “We had been off for two weeks. Everybody was nervous and tight. We were playing so hard and so fast, that we got tired. Fortunately, we stayed focused and we were able to withstand their runs.”
The Lady Cougars advanced with a 60-57 win, led by Ashley Keith’s 14 points and 10 rebounds. Tess Jenike, a Bethel grad, added 12 points, going five-for-five from the free throw line. Marisa Stutz, a Felicity grad, had six points and nine rebounds.
Clermont moved on to play Briarcliffe in the second round and took care of business, winning 62-50.
“Our defense was just outstanding,” Matthews said. “When you hold someone to 50 points or below, you stand a really good chance of winning.
“We had different players step forward as well. Tess Jenike of Bethel just became her old self, being aggressive and making one shot after another.”
Jenike finished that game with 26 points to lead all scorers.
The Lady Cougars were unable to fulfill their goal of winning the National Championship when they fell to Concordia University-Selma on Saturday, March 9, 54-34, but Matthews and his team didn’t get down.
“Our girls are very good athletes,” Matthews said. “We take the third place games seriously. It was the third one we have been in and we’ve beaten other No. 1 seeds in those games.
“We thought it was a great chance, it was a matter of pride. The girls don’t go to the tournament to party, they go to win it. The focus our girls have is to win. We didn’t take it likely, especially playing the No. 1 team, so it wasn’t difficult to get the team up at all. Plus the seniors it was their last game.”
The Lady Cougars did what they came to do, defeating the Rochester College Lady Warriors 64-50.
Clermont took a nine-point half time lead and were able to pull away in the second half thanks to Stacie Lee’s 19 points and 13 rebounds. The Lady Cougars out-rebounded Rochester 51-33 in the contest.
The Lady Cougars finished third in the USCAA Tournament for the third time in the last five years.
They finished the season with a program-tying best 29 wins while losing just 13 times.