By Chris Chaney
The best way to improve your own team is to step up the level of competition of the teams you are facing.
While that’s not always the easiest thing to control, the University of Cincinnati-Clermont College Lady Cougars have made it a point of emphasis and challenged themselves by playing an elevated schedule of teams from higher divisions.
“I would say we’ve started out as well as we could have expected,” head coach Mike Matthews said. “We are 9-13 and part of the reason is because we have upgraded our schedule to play more four-year scholarship schools and a lot of those teams are having their best years ever.
“We’ve had some good games against good teams and some other good teams have beaten us.”
The Lady Cougars have enjoyed a lot of success in the past few years as a United States College Athletic Association member where they would play schools who give out athletic scholarships while Clermont College did not.
Even with that disadvantage, the Lady Cougars have finished in the top there in the nation in three of the last four years, which Matthews calls “quite a feat.”
Matthews pointed out that their reputation as the best non-athletic scholarship school is a point of pride and in order to uphold that reputation, the Lady Cougars would need to continue to finish in the upper echelon of schools.
The USCAA National Tournament field is determined by a committee that uses national ratings as well as power rankings to decipher who deserves a bid into the tournament and the quality of opponents is weighed into that formula.
As a result of their more difficult schedule, the Lady Cougars may not have the sterling record that the hard-working team deserves.
This year’s edition of the Lady Cougars are led by a quartet of players.
“Senior Marissa Stutz was a USCAA All-American last year has become the target (of our opponents) even though she was never really a big scorer,” Matthews said. “With her All-American status, people key on her. She was averaging about 10 points, four steals and six assists per game.”
Matthews said the Felicity grad still doesn’t score much, but she does a lot of things that don’t necessarily show up in the stat book to help the team.
Alongside Stutz, Matthews said that Ashley Keith has been a big contributor this year as well.
“She’s playing better than she did last year,” the coach said. “She’s very athletic and often leads us in scoring.
“The other two who have come along are Stacie Lee and Tess Jenike from Bethel-Tate. Stacie gives us the big presence inside because she’s really tall, which has helped us out in competing wit the bigger schools.
“Tess has come a long way in a year and is also learning how to play without the ball, which helps her to score more.”
Matthews also mentioned that Brooke Catauro, a Goshen graduate, has come along and filled a need on the team.
“She’s really just an overachiever,” Matthews said of Catauro. “She’s coming back from two ACLs and a broken nose. She shoots maybe once or twice a game and makes it. She’s a great passer and guards one of the better players on the other team.”
Sitting at 9-13, the gaudy numbers of years past aren’t immediately evident, but a deeper look shows that the Lady Cougars are still one of the best teams in the nation.
With a little rest before getting back into action on Jan. 3, the team will prepare for their last 12 games of the season before the National Championships being held at Penn State – Fayette.
What comes next for the Lady Cougars will then be decided by the committee. The USCAA National Championships are from Feb. 26 to March 2.
Matthews still believes his team has what it takes to make noise in the tournament.
“We’re rated seventh in the nation, but by January we could fall out of that,” he said. “I think we could get back in if we can knock off some of the other big schools who aren’t having such good years.”