By Chris Chaney
After opening the season on a tear that saw the UC Clermont Lady Cougars rise to No. 2 in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association poll and a 7-0 record, a pair of back-to-back losses to NAIA stalwarts Indiana University East and Concordia University may have been a blessing in disguise.
“The two losses were good losses, if there is such a thing,” head coach Joe Harpring said. “(IU East and Concordia) are two pretty high-level NAIA teams and we did very well against them. IU East made the NAIA National Championships last year and had a lot of good players coming back and we were able to hang with them in four games. Against Concordia, even though we lost in five (games), we had several set points and a match point, but couldn’t quite get over the hump.
“They were good learning experiences. I wouldn’t call them moral victories because I don’t like that term, but I think that has actually helped us over the past couple weeks.”
Following those losses during the last week of September, the Lady Cougars have wheeled off eight straight wins, including a win over Sinclair Community College on Saturday, Oct. 5 to clinch the Ohio Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season championship.
The clinch didn’t come easy, however.
“Sinclair is a top-notch junior college program,” Harpring said. “They’re ranked No. 22 in the (National Junior College Athletic Association) Division II national poll, so that’s a huge step forward for us. I’m really proud of the kids.”
The next step for the Lady Cougars is a USCAA National Championships bid, which will come the weekend of Oct. 20. Harpring said that the team has set a goal to keep the winning streak going up until that time in order to give his team the best possible shot to earn a bid.
UC Clermont has five more matches to take care of in that case beginning with one on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at Miami University Middletown. The Lady Cougars will host Ohio State Marion on Oct. 12 and celebrate senior night on Oct. 17 versus Central State University.
Harpring anticipated that a tri-match slated for Oct. 19 against Sinclair Community College and Berea College could be the most stringent test for his team before they begin OCAC Tournament play.
“We have two very tough tri-matches at the end of the year,” Harpring said. “We go back to Sinclair and then the following week we head to Ohio Christian, who is currently ranked ninth in the National Christian College Association DII polls. We also play another Christian school called Crown College. Those are going to really tough matches and will be good preparation if we get to nationals.
“I’m just trying to build on what we’re doing now and hopefully get everybody healthy.”
The injury bug has bit the Lady Cougars numerous times this season, but only one injury was season-ending: a knee injury to Kaitlyn Miller. Felicity-Franklin alum Amber Lawrence has recovered from a knee injury of her own and is now back playing.
More recently, libero Courtney Maier dislocated her fingers, which caused her to miss a few matches. National Player of the Week Heather Rowland had a bout with food poisoning, but has since returned to the lineup and Taylor Hermann, a Glen Este graduate, had to have an emergency appendectomy and will return to the lineup against Miami University Middletown.
At 15-2, the Lady Cougars are ranked No. 4 in the country heading into the home stretch of the season and also sit atop the power rankings, two criteria that the National Championships selection committee takes into large account.
“(The rankings) help and our win over Sinclair should get us some national exposure,” Harpring said of his team’s chances of securing a bid. “We’re sitting okay, we just need to keep winning games and we’ll be in good shape. You never want to take anything for granted, but I think we’ll be in decent shape.”
For more information on the Lady Cougars, including game dates and times, you can log onto their website at ucclermont.edu/athletics/womensvolleyball.