Former longtime head coach Johnny McGregor, who stepped down last year to make way for Cothran’s innovative taste-testing philosophy, was thrilled upon hearing the results, exclaiming, “We did it! We finally did it! This team has been years in the making, even waiting out a pandemic, to compete.” Over the past 20 years, McGregor has led the team to over 15 top-three finishes. Yet, he has never quite been able to secure the top prize.
“I knew the team would be in good hands with Cothran as their coach,” he said. “She’s trained with me for years, developing a keen sense of what really hones and intensifies the palates of our students.” According to Cothran, countless hours of tasting and analyzing dairy products in the grueling morning hours is what separates these national champs from the rest of the competition.
“Nothing hits quite like a ‘high salt’ cottage cheese at 9 o’clock in the morning,” said Clemson’s Frances Schueren, the individual All Products winner and Milk Judging Champion of the competition. Schueren, originally from Pennsylvania, was heavily recruited by both Clemson and Penn State, whose acclaimed Peachy Paterno ice cream ranks second behind Clemson’s world-famous ice cream, according to the latest rankings from College Magazine.
When asked about the team’s greatest strengths, Cothran said, “We’ve always been strongest in ice cream since most of the team works at the ’55 Exchange.”
In addition to coaching and teaching, Cothran also serves as the faculty adviser for the ’55 Exchange, a student-run business enterprise that designs, manufactures, sells and serves Clemson’s world-famous ice cream, shakes, coffee chillers, cold brew coffee, smoothies and other Clemson products, like blue cheese and T-shirts. The ’55 Exchange helps fund the team’s travel and training expenses.
What does this all mean for the future of these elite tasters? Katie Hannahs, whose consistency across all products helped solidify the big win, is the production manager for the ’55 Exchange and will take her senior leadership skills with her to Kansas, where she has been drafted by the Schwan’s Company in the frozen pizza division. Reese Kauffman spent last fall interning with the Campbell Soup Company under the mentorship of two Clemson alumni, Katie Worley and Judith Trevino Isenberg, a nationally ranked taster during her time at Clemson. Kauffman will be finishing up his final semester at Clemson this fall while negotiating offers from major food companies. Reagan Ross, who anchored the team’s effort and is the director of quality for the ’55 Exchange, will be entering graduate school to work on a master’s degree in food anthropology. Team captain Frances Schueren, who spent a summer biking across the country to raise money for affordable housing grants through a nonprofit organization called Bike & Build, has been recruited by the nonprofit Mill Village Ministries in Greenville, South Carolina.
Redshirt alternate Ian Smith, a rising senior from Chicago, is expected to lead next year’s team. Clemson may need to look at securing some top NIL deals in an effort to keep him from entering the transfer portal. While they’re at it, they may also want to look at drafting a 10-year contract with a signing bonus for Coach Cothran. The future has never tasted so good for Clemson University’s Department of Food, Nutrition, and Packaging Sciences.