By Garth Shanklin
Less than one full month into their 2017 schedule, it’s clear the University of Cincinnati Clermont Lady Cougars’ volleyball team is on the right track.
Entering play this weekend at St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana, the team found themselves 8-5 overall and winners of five of their last six contests.
Head coach Josh Hamer said the team’s play so far this season has allowed the squad to knock off some bigger teams.
“So far, it’s been great,” Hamer said. “We’ve gotten some wins against some bigger teams. Everyone is healthy, everything looks good so far.”
The start of the season wasn’t up to par, with the Lady Cougars beginning the season 1-3. Hamer said once the team figured out how to play with each other on the court, things took off.
“A lot of it has to do with the team finding their groove,” Hamer said. “We had eight freshman this year, and everyone has to learn how each other competes and how to work with each other on the court. That’s the biggest difference.”
Two of the team’s freshman should be familiar to Clermont County volleyball fans, as Western Brown’s Kaitlyn Huseman and Glen Este’s Zoe England join the team this season.
Several other local players are on the squad as well, with Ashley Fraley (Amelia), Rebecca West (Goshen), Kasey York (Western Brown) and Amber Lawrence (Felicity) all playing for the Lady Cougars this season.
Non-local players are also making an impact. Faith Hensley (Wapakoneta) and Madison Jenkins (North Adams). Both Lady Cougars earned player of the week honors for the week of Sept. 5 for their play on the court. Hollins earned the honor by tallying 136 assists and 32 digs through UC Clermont’s first seven games, while Jenkins earned the nod for her hitting ability, according to Hamer.
“[Jenkins] earned USCAA player of the week last week, and she’s hitting well over .300 every game,” Hamer said. “She’s also leading the USCAA in solo blocks, averaging three or four blocks per set.”
Another Lady Cougar who has made an impact on the team so far this season is one of the team’s returners, Kelsey Holland. Holland has seen her role change from last season and, according to Hamer, she’s adapted to her new position quite well.
“Last year she was a defensive specialist,” Hamer said. “This year she moved into a libero position and she led the USCAA in digs with 238. When we went 4-0 she recorded 140 digs in four games.”
Holland still leads the league in digs, though that number is now up to 331 as of this writing. She is third in the USCAA in digs per set with 6.37.
Jenkins also finds herself in the top-five of multiple categories, as her 131 blocks are good for fifth overall and her 1.09 blocks per set average places her fourth in the conference.
That kind of balance is precisely why Hamer believes the team is having the success they are having to start the season.
“I think our strength is how balanced we are,” Hamer said. “We really don’t have a weak position. This is a game where you try to pick apart the other team’s weak spots and we’re solid all the way around. Another thing we’ve been doing well the past couple weeks is winning the serve and serve receive game.”
The Lady Cougars’ schedule is not an easy one, with battles against top teams spread throughout the season. Earlier this month, the squad faced three different teams in one day, winning all three games to complete a perfect 4-0 tournament at home.
“That was tough,” Hamer said. “That was a tournament we hosted, and normally we wouldn’t play three games in one day but to get the teams we wanted in our gym we agreed to do it. Ohio Christian is a very strong NAIA team. Carlow is a top-five team in the USCAA and our program hasn’t beaten them in years, that was a big win. Central State is an NCAA Division II team. WE played 13 sets of volleyball, that was a long day for us. I think that in itself gave the team a lot of confidence and made the team realize what it’s capable of.”
UC Clermont defeated Ohio Christian 25-21, 25-23, 24-26, 17-15 in the first match, then knocked off Carlow 24-26, 25-21, 25-20, 25-27, 17-15 in the second.
The third match against Central State also took four sets, with UC Clermont emerging victorious 22-25, 25-19, 25-19, 25-22.
“I think this weekend was tough, we headed to a tough USCAA tournament where we played last year’s champion, Florida College, “ Hamer said. “We will also play last year’s number three finisher, Florida National and Illinois Tech, and they were a top-10 team last year as well. After this, we have another tough tournament in Chicago.”
Unfortunately for the Lady Cougars, the tournament in Indiana did not go nearly as well as their home tournament did. UC Clermont dropped all four matches, failing to Illinois Tech 25-19, 16-25, 14-25, 19-25 and Florida National 18-25, 19-25, 21-25.
The team returned to the court the next day and fell to Florida College in four sets, 25-23, 22-25, 13-25, 11-25 and West Virginia Tech 25-23, 22-25, 13-25, 11-25.
The Lady Cougars have three more games before their next tournament, two of which come at home. The squad travels to Wilmington College for a 7 p.m. start on Friday, Sept. 22. One day later, the team returns home to host Kent State Tuscararwas at 3 p.m. before battling Hocking College on Sept. 27 at 6 p.m.