Lady Cougars soccer eyeing national title

By Garth Shanklin - Sports Editor

The University of Cincinnati – Clermont Lady Cougars are beginning their fourth season of play with expectations through the roof.

Last season’s team won 11 games and qualified for the United States Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, winning a game at the event in the process.

This season, the team expects to do more than win one game in the postseason, and head coach Blaine Callahan said the team is trending in the direction to do just that.

“We’re doing well, I think,” Callahan said. “We had high expectations for the season, and we’ve worked hard to get where we’re at. I’m not surprised at our early success.”

The team sits second in the USCAA coaches poll, released on October 3. Callahan said that ranking is a step forward.

“We’re working in the right direction,” Callahan said. “Our goal is to win the national championship this year, and having the highest rank we’ve ever had, we’re working in the right direction.”

On the season, the team has a 6-2 record as of October 10. Those two losses were against tough competition, with one coming to an NAIA school (Indiana University – East) and another to an NCAA Division II school (Shaw University). Callahan said the team needs games like those to improve on the field.

“You have to play good competition in order to get better,” Callahan said. “Those are two well-organized programs. I try to teach the girls what it means to win with grace and to lose with grace. I thought they learned a lot from those losses. I think we came out a better team because of them.”

In the team’s five victories, the Lady Cougars have dominated to the tune of a 33-1 advantage in goals scored. Callahan credited that to the way the team prepares for games, regardless of opponent.

“We prepare the same way every time regardless of who we’re playing,” Callahan said. “We’re going to play with height, we’re going to pressure the ball up high. We go about planning the game the same way playing schools in Division II as we do USCAA schools. It goes back to their hard work and their preparation for each game.”

One of the team’s leaders should be a familiar face to Clermont County soccer fans. Glen Este High School graduate Kat Richey is one of two Lady Cougars with eight goals this season. Callahan said she is a key leader on the team.

“[She’s] our leader,” Callahan said. “She leads by example. She’s the one who will lead our campus run during conditioning over the summer, or pick up the girls after a tough loss. She practices what she preaches, she’s a really hard worker on the field, and she’s about the quickest girl I’ve ever coached, which doesn’t hurt.”

The team’s other eight-goal scorer is Taylor Greene, a Xenia High School grad who transferred into the program from Northern Kentucky University. She and Richey have quickly bonded on the field, according to Callahan.

“They’ve formed this chemistry between the two of them,” Callahan said. “She’s a different story. She came from a different program, and we’re kind of giving her a second chance here. She’s excelled. She’s excelled on the field, in the classroom. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

Richey is one of several players on the Lady Cougars’ roster who graduated from Clermont County schools. Two come from West Clermont (Kayliegh Strauss and Lauren Gilbert) while two others graduated from Williamsburg (Megan Fisher and Hailey Beesten).

In addition to Richey, sophomore Taylor Mallucky also graduated from Glen Este, while Courtney Nicols went to Goshen. Keirah Matlock is a New Richmond grad, and junior Abbie Flanagan went to Milford.

“There is just so much talent in the Cincinnati area,” Callahan said. “It’s almost hard to go elsewhere and do some recruiting because of the talent in Cincinnati. The opportunity we can give them to get a University of Cincinnati degree a couple miles down the street from their house,. We’re privileged with the location we’re in.”

Anna Tessoff is another Clermont County grad. The former Amelia High School athlete now starts between the pipes for UC Clermont, and she has done a good job in the goal according to Callahan.

“She’s been doing well when she’s been challenged,” Callahan said. “She’s one of those girls that has been with the program for a couple years. She’s one of our veterans. There aren’t too many things that she hasn’t seen, so she’s trying to help out the other girls when she can. She’s also working really hard academically this year. That’s another one of the girls that I’m really proud of.”

All of the players on the UC Clermont roster were needed in the month of September, when the team played five road games in eight days. Those five games were in a stretch of six straight road games that concluded earlier this week with an October 9 visit to Kentucky Christian.

“That was a little brutal for us,” Callahan said. “We came out of it a little banged up. We’ve had eight days off now to prepare. We absolutely need all 22 girls on the team. If we learned anything, it’s that it’s important to have the depth that we have. I don’t see us being as successful without the depth we have. Everyone’s contribution isn’t always the same every game, but everyone seems to do what they’re asked when they’re asked to do it on a daily basis.”

The team has six games left in the regular season, four of which are at home. The first of those four games is Friday, October 12 against Brescia at 7 p.m. All four home games are at West Clermont Middle School.

Callahan said the team has simple goals over the last handful of games in the regular season.

“We’re looking to stay healthy, first and foremost” Callahan said. “It’s a long season, with a lot of miles on the girls’ legs. Preparing their bodies for what’s coming up in the next six weeks is important. We’re looking to win games, obviously. We’ve got a good shot at looking pretty good heading into the final week of the coaches poll, the opportunity to get one of the higher seeds in the tournament. We’re looking to build on the success we already had.”

By Garth Shanklin

Sports Editor