By Chris Chaney
A banner year for the University of Cincinnati Clermont Lady Cougars came to an end at the United States Collegiate Athletic Association National Championships in Canton, N.Y. on Friday, Nov. 1 as they fell in the first round of the knock out bracket to eight-time national champions Florida College.
“As you would expect at a national tournament, the level of competition jumped up greatly,” Lady Cougars head coach Joe Harpring said. “There were no easy games in our pool, but that’s what you would expect in an event like that.”
The Lady Cougars finished the regular season 22-4, earning a bid to the national championships as the fifth overall seed. Clermont had won the Ohio Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles ahead of the trip to upstate New York.
As one of only two USCAA Division II schools in the tournament, the Lady Cougars had to deal with some built-in disadvantages as far as enrollment and scholarship dollars go, but the team held their own, advancing out of pool play thanks in large part to their matchup with Penn State Fayette.
“The game with Fayette was kind of noteworthy because they were the only other Division II team in the tournament, so beating them we can unofficially claim bragging rights as the best Division II team in the USCAA this year,” Harpring said. “The rest of the teams were very tough. The kids battled well. A couple of games got away from us, but that was more the quality of the opponent more than anything else.”
Clermont went 1-3 in pool play to earn the No. 4 seed the championship bracket, unfortunately matching up with Florida College.
“I think the best game we played was the final game of the elimination round against Florida,” Harpring explained. “The kids made a decision that they weren’t going to look at the scoreboard and go out and have fun. That was really high level volleyball, even though we dropped that game 25-21.
A testament to the Lady Cougars’ difficult pool, both Florida College and Daemen College, a pool opponent of Clermont, faced off in the finals with Daemen winning the title for the second consecutive year.
“We hung a lot closer with Daemen this year as opposed to last year,” Harpring said of the champs. “We had some momentum going into the second set, but there was a (campus-wide) power outage at the worst possible time. The storm that rolled through (Clermont) on Thursday hit up (in New York) the next day.
“It was a little bit of bad luck, we had just come back and tied them in that second set. They are a quality team and they have a lot of outstanding players. I think they definitely deserved to be the national champions.”
Harpring, looking back on the season, said that the team exceeded his expectations, especially considering the adversity that his team faced in the form of injuries.
“If it wasn’t for our depth, we wouldn’t have had the success that we did,” he said. “We finally got healthy the last couple weeks of the year, but without that (depth), I don’t think we would have even be a .500 team. We were able to plug players in and keep on going.
“I’m very proud of them for that. They were a very impressive team to watch.”
Given the turnover at Clermont as a result of the mixture of two- and four-year programs available academically, grade level is not always an accurate barometer for who will return to the court next season for the Lady Cougars.
Harpring said the team will lose their two seniors, Becca Walton and Haley Weber, as well as Shannon Arnold who is in a two-year program. He said that there are probably one or two others who will need to be replaced as well due to finishing up their programs and the team will need to fill in four or five open slots.
“We have eight coming back plus Kaitlyn Miller returning from her knee surgery, so that will be a nice addition,” Harpring said.
For more information on the Lady Cougars and their successful season, visit the team’s website at ucclermont.edu/athletics/womensvolleyball.