By Chris Chaney
The midseason incorporation of a pair of familiar faces has buttressed a strong UC Clermont Lady Cougar core that has the team on the verge of receiving a bid to their eighth consecutive United States Collegiate Athletic Association National Tournament in a month’s time.
The addition of Felicity-Franklin graduate Arica Stutz and Western Brown standout Morgan Wright as well as two other freshmen in Maggie Malone and Kelsey Finn has added more depth to a team that already has two of the best players in the country in Stacie Lee and Ashley Keith.
“Arica has come in and been an incredible rebounder and has been scoring inside” head coach Michael Matthews said. “Maggie Malone has really turned it up and become more comfortable taking charge when she wants to. She was our leading scorer (on Jan. 26) with 25 points.
“Kelsey Finn has become a scorer because she plays so smartly and has an affinity for being in the right place at the right time.”
Finn and Malone have had such an impact in their first season that they are joining seniors Lee and Keith in the starting lineup along with another familiar face for Clermont County sports fans, Tess Jenike.
Jenike, a Bethel-Tate grad, has grown into a leadership role, Matthews said, maturing on the court and making better decisions on shot selection, forcing opponents to pick their poison when trying to shut down the Lady Cougars.
At 15-8, UC Clermont has won six of their last eight contests and are coming down the home stretch of the season in pretty good shape. As the tournament selection committee focuses their magnifying glass on the Lady Cougars credentials, they’ll see a team ranked third in the national poll and second in the power rankings, two of the main criteria used for selecting teams to the national tournament.
“We are on the road to peaking,” Matthews said. “You don’t want your team to peak too early and with seven games to go, we’ll have some tough games coming up and hopefully we can qualify for the tournament.
“We’d like to win all of our (remaining) games, but our goal is to win five out of the next seven. We could win every game, none of the teams are over our head, but numbers-wise I believe we need to win five of the next seven to get into the tournament.”
The Lady Cougars will have played three more games by Feb. 8 before taking a two-week break as a result of some scheduling with schools who have dropped their programs.
However, with games against St. Mary-of-the-Woods and Kentucky Christian before the Ohio Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament Feb. 28-March 1, UC Clermont should have enough games to have them peaking for the USCAA National Tournament when play gets underway on March 5.
The Lady Cougars will find out if they will be making their eighth consecutive appearance on Wednesday, Feb. 26 when the USCAA announces the brackets and schedule on theuscaa.com.