By Garth Shanklin
A few years ago, the University of Cincinnati Clermont soccer program didn’t exist. The school had a successful volleyball program in the fall and in the winter the basketball teams were also winners, but no team took to the pitch. That all changed last year, as the school successfully launched both a men’s and women’s soccer program.
Women’s head coach Blaine Callahan was hired last year to coach the women’s team, and he faced challenges with recruiting players immediately.
“I got hired extremely late in the process, which put us behind the eight-ball recruiting wise,” Callahan said. “All my players from last year were existing students, and the challenge was getting those girls in shape to play college soccer and finding people to play.”
Callahan said he started with a list of three emails and had to build the team from there. Once he completed the roster, the team then faced the on-field challenge of playing matches against established programs.
“We had our challenges, but we were battling existing programs that had been around and were established a long time,” Callahan said. “We tried to hang in games as much as we can. We improved each game, and our confidence was higher at the end of the season than at the beginning.”
As the team prepares for the 2016 campaign, they’ll have the luxury of four returning players to the squad, including two captains and goalkeepers from last season.
“I’m excited for those four players to come back, they’re graduating and they’re a good cornerstone,” Callahan said. “They’ve been around for a few years and they’re helping with our freshman.”
As for the rest of the roster, Callahan had to recruit them to the team. While the team will be young, especially on defense, Callahan believes they have prepared themselves well for next year.
“We spent a year recruiting them and I brought them in specifically to play soccer at UC Clermont,” Callahan said. “They’re outstanding players. Sarah Ventura from Anderson is dynamic striker. Our back defense all freshman but we’re in line for a good next season.”
The freshman have been practicing with the team for a few months now, according to Callahan, which should only help aid their development.
“We’re a great group of freshman, they worked extremely hard all summer,” Callahan said. “With them being freshman I was able to get them June 1, which is rare in collegiate soccer. They’ve been practicing for three months.”
Callahan said the team’s goals for this season are simple: they want to win games. While the squad still is young, both on the field and off, they have already created a few rivalries.
“We want to have close to a .500 record,” Callahan said. “They’ve created a rivalry with some of the local colleges like Southern State, Cincinnati Christian and Mount St. Joseph. Some have a sibling rivalry with some of the players that have siblings that play at other schools.”
Neither the men’s nor women’s team have a home field yet, though construction on a field on-campus is in the works, according to Callahan.
“We just broke ground on our new field, which is going to be located on campus next to the student activities center,” Callahan said. “We ran into some snags, so they’re going to bring in dirt and build on top. This year our games will be played at Voice of America Park.”
As for the men’s team, they hope to hold their games at the stadium on the campus of the West Clermont High School next season, once that stadium has been built, that is. Much like the women’s team, men’s head coach Peter Ohmer said he was hired late in the process in 2015, making recruiting players difficult.
“I was hired in Feburary, which by then most recruits have an idea as to where they want to go,” Ohmer said. “Luckily, I had a few people who helped me get in contact with some kids who were interested.”
Ohmer aded that he hoped to be able to keep the players at UC Clermont as long as possible, touting the school’s affordability as a selling point.
In terms of the on-field play, the team currently fields a roster with five freshman and five sophomores, including several local players. Goshen’s Alan Fastovich and Batavia’s Morgen Walker join a trio of Amelia graduates, Keeghan Manzi, Scott Ervin and Randy Ervin, on the squad. Josh Williams, also from Amelia High School, is a sophomore on the team.
Three players return from last season, along with a transfer from Rio Grande.
Ohmer said the team hopes to improve their facilities by adding a field near the gym, making it easier for his players to go from the practice field to the weight room.
In other long-term goals, Ohmer said he’d like the team to be bumped up to the NAIA level, and he’s scheduling opponents designed to help them do just that.
“We’d like to get to NAIA,” Ohmer said. “I’ve designed a difficult schedule, hopefully we can go in there and compete against those teams.”
The UC Clermont women’s team held their home opener on Wednesday, Aug. 24. The result was not available before press time. Their next matchup takes them to Mount St. Joseph on Sept. 1 at 7:30 p.m. The men’s team takes to the road to face off against Mount St. Joseph in their regular-season opener at 1 p.m.