By Garth Shanklin
Two years removed from an appearance in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association volleyball championship tournament, the University of Cincinnati Clermont College Cougars women’s volleyball team has reloaded and is looking to make a return trip to the tourney.
The Cougars finished last season with 11 wins in 26 games under head coach Josh Hamer, who said he wasn’t sure how the season would unfold, given the fact he was hired as the team’s coach at an unusual time.
“I was hired late in the season and didn’t really know what to expect, coming into a team I didn’t really recruit,” Hamer said. “Yet, it was a really good season. I don’t think our record really reflected the heart that our players had. They really played a tough schedule and fought really hard. Although it wasn’t a winning record, I feel it was a successful first season.”
Hamer added that the 2015 campaign was more of an adjustment period for both he and the athletes themselves, and that 2016 should be the year where the coaching staff begins to implement their vision.
“Last season was all about getting acclimated to the school and trying to have a smooth transition between an existing program and the things I wanted to implement,” Hamer said. “This season, the difference is all about the culture and the philosophy of the new coaching staff.”
That philosophy focuses on three main aspects that Hamer says helps the athletes become better players and people.
“We have three things that we focus on: character, tradition and excellence,” Hamer said. “We preach to our athletes about being a good character person, and we’re starting those traditions that we want to have with the program. We’re pursuing excellence not only on the court and in the weight room but also in the classroom. We really stress the pursuit of excellence over perfection.”
Two key players in the Cougars’ pursuit of excellence are juniors. Sydney Beckelhymer attended Colerain High School, and although she is listed as a junior on the team’s roster, she will enter her second season on the Cougars in 2016.
“She’s a junior in the classroom, but she’s really only a sophomore as far as eligibility goes,” Hamer said. “Last year, she was third in digs for the USCAA and she was only our libero for two-thirds of the season. She earned her way into that spot, so she’s been working hard in the offseason and I really feel like she’s going to lead the USCAA in digs.”
In addition to Beckelhymer, Western Brown graduate Kasey York is expected to have a large role on the court for UC Clermont this season.
“She was a utility player, she played wherever we needed her to be,” Hamer said. “Over the offseason, she put in more work than anybody. She added two inches to her vertical jump. She’s one of our captains this year and she’s just a true leader on and off the court. She’s been a great example for hard work and she’s helped all the freshman with the process of scheduling classes and meeting with advisors.”
The team added seven freshman to the roster, including a pair of athletes from Clermont County: Amelia’s Ashley Fraley and Goshen’s Rebecca West. The team also added a sophomore from West Union, Taylor Martin, to the roster. Martin played basketball for UC Clermont last year, and averaged 9.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. With eight of the 10 players currently on the roster not playing for the team in 2015, Hamer said this year’s team is completely different than the 2015 squad.
“We really had to recruit a whole new team,” Hamer said. “The team we came into was senior-heavy…We’re a brand new team this year for 2016.”
Despite the roster turnover, Hamer said the team still has high expectations and firmly believes the team can qualify for the national tournament in Virginia Beach, Virginia from Nov. 10-12.
“Expectations are really high,” Hamer said. “We’d like to earn that national bid this year. We’re lucky enough to have a competitive schedule. We’re actually playing last year’s national champion, Florida College, in a tournament in Berea, Kentucky. We’re also playing Rochester College, they ended up third and we get to play them twice last year.”
The Cougars will participate in the North-South Battleground Classic, hosted by Berea College from Sept. 23-24. They open the regular season with a road tri-match against West Virginia Tech and Alice Lloyd on Aug. 20, 2016 at noon.
The Lady Cougars return to campus for their home opener against Edison Community College on Aug. 26 at 6 p.m.