By Chris Chaney
For the seventh time in the past seven years, the UC-Clermont Lady Cougars volleyball team has landed an at-large big into the United States Collegiate Athletic Association National Championship Tournament.
“Getting a bid to Nationals is always special,” UC-Clermont coach Joe Harpring said. “Seven bids in seven years really establishes a national identity for our program and helps in recruiting. Very few USCAA teams have that many bids in that time period.”
A committee at the USCAA headquarters chooses the 10-team National Tournament field based upon a few different criteria, including rankings in a coaches’ poll as well as a power ranking, each of which the Lady Cougars have hovered in the top-10 most of the season.
Harpring explained that getting a bid to the tournament was not an afterthought as a result of the subjectiveness of the committee and their prerequisites for each of the teams that would receive a bid.
Even with the Lady Cougars solid season record as well as their place in the polls, Harpring was never taking an at-large bid for granted.
“It gets more challenging every year as the USCAA adds more teams which are dual NAIA/USCAA members,” Harpring explained. “These programs all fall under the Division I category. Programs like ours at the Division II level find fewer and fewer at-large bids available since we basically have to play at the Division I level for tournament purposes.”
Harpring’s team has exceeded expectations coming into the season. Losing a few key players to graduation, the coach and the team had to deal with mixing in the newcomers with the veterans while also keeping a solid rapport between the players and coaches.
The fruits of their labor have been evident in their recent stretch during which the Lady Cougars have compiled a 16-3 record over their past 19 games and overall boast a 19-6 mark on the season.
“Overall, the season has probably played out a little better than expected,” Harpring said. “We got off to a bit of a slow start, but by the time we swept our Cougar Classic/Volley for the Cure event and got a big comeback win over Ohio University-Chillicothe, we really started to understand the kind of effort necessary to succeed at the collegiate level. From that point, we ran off quite a few wins.”
The team is dealing with a few injuries as they close out their season with their last game taking place on Tuesday, Oct. 30, but Harpring says that is to be expected. The Lady Cougars scheduled some tougher games to close out the year to prepare them for the tournament, which could feature six games in three days if they were to make it to the National Championship.
“Every team is in the same boat when it comes to the number of games played in the tournament,” Harpring pointed out. “During pool play, the USCAA shortens the matches to best two-out-of-three, so that helps a little. We will try to use our depth to the extent possible to help offset fatigue a bit.”
The Lady Cougars begin the tournament on Nov. 2 with two pool matches and then play their final pool match early Saturday. Four of the five teams from the two pools will advance to the elimination round where a champion will be crowned on Sunday, Nov. 4.
For more information on the tournament, visit the USCAA’s website at theuscaa.com.