By Ben Spector
In November 2015, the Frederick Community College Cougars volleyball team stood at the top of the mountain, having just hit maybe the brightest moment in program history. The Cougars were about to begin play in the opening game of the 2015 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II volleyball tournament for the first time in program history.
According to then-Cougars head coach Ashley Rippeon, “It was the best season anyone had ever seen. There was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that went into making it what it was.
Even though the Cougars would be dispatched in two straight matches at the tournament, they had reached a milestone in program history and were charting new territory for the program.
Little did the Cougars know it, but this high point would be followed by one of the lowest points the program had seen.
Rippeon would resign from the program in middle to late January and the Cougars would begin the search for a new head coach with Athletic Director Rodney Bennett opening up the standard regional head coaching search immediately after Rippeon’s departure.
When no new applicants would apply for the job through that regional search Bennett would take another, more drastic step by expanding the search to the national level.
“To expand our net, so to speak we put the national search up for coaches,” he said. “It’s a pretty extensive search.”
But, when the Cougars still couldn’t find any applicants the decision was made to go ahead and pull the plug on the 2016-2017 season.
“Our first day of fall practice was August 1,” said Bennett. “Out of respect for all of our opponents, unfortunately, we had to make a decision earlier than we wanted to.”
In the end, it was a disappointing result for everyone involved as after the Cougars’ 2015 season having to cancel the program was something that nobody said they wanted to do especially after ending the season on such a high note last year.
“To see where the program had gone over the years, with Coach Rippeon and her staff was phenomenal,” said Bennett.
The cancellation was also hard on Rippeon who was disappointed by the cancellation even since moving on to her new job in California.
“It rips your heart out a little bit,” she said. “I’ve recruited those girls, I kind of feel like it’s almost indirectly on me.”
The disappointment wasn’t just shared by the administrators and officials either. It also hit home with the players, especially those players who still had one year of college eligibility left and were planning on coming back to the FCC Volleyball team to play for one more year. These athletes are now volleyball nomads as they will have limited options to continue their college volleyball careers.
“It was really sad knowing there wasn’t a season this year even after the success we had last season,” said sophomore outside hitter Haley Geick, who was planning on returning for the Cougars this year.
Geick, who mentioned that she had been courted by a few small NCAA Division II and Division III colleges before deciding to come back to play at FCC this year only to see the season get cancelled.
Rippeon mentioned one of Geick as one of the players that could have really flourished this season had the season not been cancelled due to the issue with finding a coach.
“Amy Gust and Haley Geick are two players that have incredible potential,” she said. “With more time you never know what could have happened.”
But, there is no team this year which means that there Geick’s volleyball career at FCC is almost surely over and possibly her whole volleyball career as Geick says she will have no chance to showcase her talents to prospective college coaches who may have had interest in her.
Volleyball program alumni have asked questions about what could have been done to prevent the communication lapses that caused frustration but past a few minor breaks between the administration and players there isn’t much blame to be assigned as it seems Bennett did all he could while still being official.
Players however said that they could’ve received more updates on the fact that there were issues finding coaches or that the season was in peril of being cancelled.
“Our assistant coach tried to keep us all informed,” said Geick. “But, there wasn’t a lot of information.”
[Editor’s Note: Frederick Community College recently hired a new women’s volleyball coach, but the season remains canceled.]