By Chris Chaney
The University of Cincinnati Clermont Lady Cougars went above and beyond the expectations laid out for them this season as they concluded a stellar year with an Elite Eight appearance at the United States Collegiate Athletic Association National Tournament.
“We had a very balanced offense and our serve-reception defense was playing very well,” the Lady Cougars’ head coach Joe Harpring said. “I honestly didn’t expect (the team) to mesh as well as they did, so that’s a lot of credit to the kids and the work that they put in at practice and the talent they brought into the program.”
The Lady Cougars put up a mark of 19-7 during the regular season, but Harping pointed to a crucial match against Ohio University Chillicothe that really got the team headed in the right direction.
“Once we hit that game, something just seemed to click and they really looked like a top-flight team from then on,” Harping said. “The freshman grew up right there and looked like they fit in with the veterans on the team.”
Following that game against OU Chillicothe, the Lady Cougars finished out the season 10-3 and earned a coveted spot in the 10-team USCAA National Tournament.
The tournament, which took place this past weekend, Nov. 2-4, in Canton, New York pitted UC Clermont against some of the best teams not only in the USCAA, but also some NAIA schools.
The tournament is broken down into two pools made up of five teams and four of the five teams advance to the knockout stage.
In their first two pool games on Friday, Nov. 2, the Lady Cougars swept their opponents, Carlow and Penn College.
“Day one was a really good day, but we were also playing lower seeds,” Harpring said. “We started off with Carlow and started a little slow in the first set, but pulled it together. The kids did a really good job of executing the game plan and we won that one in three (games), (16-25, 32-30, 15-11).
“The second match, we played Penn College, which is the only USCAA Division II school that we faced all weekend and we took them in straight sets, (25-16, 25-18). We were fairly dominant at the net.”
Starting off the tournament as well as possible, the Lady Cougars entered Day Two knowing that they would be facing some tougher opponents.
“Day Two got a little more challenging because we were facing all Division I schools,” Harpring said. “The host, SUNY Canton, was the first game and we stayed with them fairly well, but they swept us in two, (18-25, 18-25).
“Then we played the eventual National Champion, Daemen. Daemen is not only USCAA Division I, but they were also NCAA Division II, so about on the same level as Northern Kentucky University, and they blew us away, (8-25, 5-25), which you might expect.”
The Lady Cougars 2-2 record moved them out of the pool and into the knockout stage as the No. 3 seed. By virtue of the bracket, they faced the No. 2 seed from the other pool, Rochester College Saturday evening.
“(Rochester) swept us in three (games), (8-25, 14-25, 14-25),” Harpring said. “They were another one of those (USCAA) Division I/NAIA combination schools. They had 25 scholarship players to our 11, so that was a little comical during the introductions.”
Although, the Lady Cougars were knocked out in the round of eight, Harpring said that the continued success in the regular season as well as in pool play has helped UC Clermont to create a national reputation as a competitive school.
“We’ve been there seven years and six of the years we’ve made it to the Elite Eight and the seventh time we went to the Final Four in 2009,” he said. “So that gives us a national reputation and makes us more attractive to local recruits because of that reputation and that also probably helps us in continuing to being named to the (National Tournament) because we are competitive.
“That reputation helps to show that we deserve to be there.”