The Cougars open the NJCAA Division III national championship against Cayuga on Thursday
By Matthew Ralph
When you turn over rosters the way teams competing at the junior college level do, finding consistent success can be a challenge.
But that’s exactly what Camden County College has done over the last six seasons, making it to the biggest stage year after year. By winning the Region XIX championship last week, the Cougars advanced to the NJCAA Division III national championship for the sixth straight season.
“The program has storied success so I’m just lucky enough to take over and continue building on that in my first year,” said head coach Kevin Nuss, who had only six returners heading into his first season at the junior college level. “We’re young so we’ve had our ups and downs but ultimately we’ve been able to find ways to win and develop as a team and grow.”
Nuss spent one season as an assistant in the program before coaching at Rutgers Camden, Saint Joseph’s and Brown University. He’s also spent summers coaching with the Ocean City Nor’easters in the Premier Development League.
In his first season as head coach of the Cougars, the team finished with a 15-2-1 record, reaching as high as No. 5 in the national rankings. Moving beyond just making it to nationals, where the program lost its last finals appearance back in 2016, and winning a national championship would be a leap for a program that often operates off the radar in a Philadelphia region with no shortage of college soccer.
Success this season has come from a core group of international players, led by Argentinian forward Lautaro Berisso, the Region XIX player of the year.
“The futbol here has been great, I’m loving it and each day we’re getting better and better,” said Berisso, who had eight goals and three assists as a freshman. “The life here is beautiful.”
Freshman defender Tobias Rawson Paz is also from Argentina and other leaders on the team have been Brazilians Lucas Pecegueiro (18 goals, 12 assists) and Lucas Teixeira (3 goals, 8 assists) and forward Ismail Kaya from Turkey (9 goals, 5 assists).
One of the draws of the program for international players is the opportunity to learn English, adjust to life in the United States and continue playing while completing a bachelor’s degree at another school. Being located near so many four-year schools in the Philadelphia region increases the opportunity for exposure.
“The program doesn’t have huge resources so it’s been a unique experience to try to take what we have and make the most of it,” said Nuss, who takes a similar professional approach to coaching at Camden County as he did in the NCAA and the PDL. “We’ve been able to do that, the program has been able to do that for several years now and I’m just happy to be part of it. “
The Cougars begin their quest for a trophy on Thursday as a No. 4 seed in the eight-team field in Herkimer, New York, where they’ll play fifth seed Cayuga at 1:30 p.m. Visit the NJCAA website for more information.