By Chris Chaney
The UC Clermont Lady Cougars received their eighth consecutive bid to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association National Championships on Wednesday, Oct. 23 in a YouTube selection show production put on by the USCAA.
After getting off to a hot start to the season winning their first seven matches, the Lady Cougars kept up an impressive pace, currently sitting at 22-4 overall. Despite their lofty record, head coach Joe Harpring said that the selection to the National Championships wasn’t the no-brainer some may have believed it to be.
“In all honesty, it was a little closer than it would seem with a 20-3 record (at the time of the selection),” the coach said. “There were actually three teams that were selected with sub-.500 records over some teams that had a 20-6 record or a 19-5 record, so I think more or less we kind of squeezed in as opposed to having made it easily.”
The Lady Cougars were given the No. 5 overall seed and will begin tournament action on Oct. 31 with pool play.
“We must have dropped in the coaches’ poll a couple spots because we got the No. 5 seed and we were No. 3 in the coaches’ poll the previous week,” Harpring said. “But, regardless of that, it’s very exciting for the kids and all the things that they have accomplished during the year. I’m very happy to have made it.”
The main reason for the Lady Cougars’ close call was that the USCAA has two divisions, I and II, and many of those DI schools play tougher schedules than some of their Division II counterparts. UC Clermont is one of two teams in the 10-team field to come from Division II.
“Pretty much all the teams in (National Championships) are Division I,” Harpring explained. “To a certain extent (strength of schedule) was the (reason for some teams getting in), but we had one of the toughest schedules ranking-wise in the power rankings. Strength of schedule probably factored in for some of those (Division I) teams.”
The Lady Cougars wrapped up their regular season with a split in a tri-match against Crown College and Ohio Christian on Saturday, Oct. 26 to round out the year with a 22-4 record.
Heading into the USCAA National Championships, UC Clermont is in good form having won the Ohio College Athletic Conference regular season title as well as the tournament title on Oct. 20.
“I was rather impressed with what they kids were able to accomplish (at the OCAC tournament) because the day before we played a rather tough tri-match against at Sinclair,” Harpring said. “We beat Berea College in five sets and lost to Sinclair in four, so to come back the next day and win two matches, especially against a really good Clark State team (in the finals). I was really happy with the kids’ effort and energy level.”
The Lady Cougars’ form heading into the National Championships is among the best in the country. Having won 15 of their last 17 matches, Harpring is confident in his team’s ability, but not so overconfident to think that they will have a cake walk out of the pool play.
“Every match is going to be really tough,” he said. “The other Division II team — Penn State Fayette — is our round one opponent. I expect everything to be tough. Fayette we match up pretty well with. We play Carlow out of Pittsburgh and we actually beat them in the national tournament last year. We face the No. 1 team, Marygrove, and then the defending national champion, Daemen, in pool play the first couple of days, so it’s going to be a challenge.”
The Lady Cougars will play those four teams in a round robin format with all but one team from each pool getting into the bracket to play for the National Championship.
“We played a couple of tough teams the last two weeks and got a wake up call, but that was kind of intentional,” Harpring said of his expectations heading into the national tournament. “I think (the losses) actually helped us. We did the same thing last year, but came out in the national tournament and won our first two matches.
“I’m hoping playing top-level competition like that will help us get used to what we’re going to see the rest of the weekend and we’ll get a couple wins in their hopefully.”
UC Clermont traveled to Canton, New York, home of host SUNY Canton, on Wednesday, Oct. 30 and begin pool play against Penn State Fayette at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 31.
To keep up to date with the Lady Cougars, log on to the USCAA’s website, theuscaa.com, which will stream the action live throughout the week.