Top 17 UCF Sports Stories of 2017

Year In Review

Mike Hughes UCF USF War on I-4
UCFs Mike Hughes races to the end zone on his game-winning 95-yard kickoff return against USF. Photo: Derek Warden

In what has been arguably the most eventful year in UCF sports history, we give you our Top 17 UCF sports stories of 2017.

#17 – UCF Volleyball Makes NIVC Postseason

UCF Volleyball made its return to the postseason, accepting an at-large bid to play in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC). UCF last appeared in the postseason in 2014.

In 2017, the Knights posted a 20-14 record with a win in 1st round vs. UNC Greensboro before falling at Georgia in the 2nd round. The Knights finished strong, going 12-8 in the American Athletic Conference. The Black and Gold finished the conference slate with six straight wins, including five sweeps. UCF was the only team in The American to take league champions Wichita State to five sets.

#16 – Anne-Marie Blaney helps UCF win the AAC Indoor Track & Field Championship

UCF won the American Athletic Conference championship for the first time in the school’s AAC history. It was the program’s first indoor title since taking the 2013 C-USA crown.

Anne-Marie Blaney was named the Most Outstanding Track Performer at the championship, advancing to her first-ever NCAA Indoor Championships, where she placed eighth in the 5,000-meter run to earn All-America honors. Blaney’s year also included breaking¬†her own 10,000-meter school record at the Cardinal Classic on April 22. Blaney¬†led wire-to-wire in the race and crossed the line in 33:18.81.

Her mark was not only a personal best – it also ranked fourth in the nation in the event. Blaney broke her second school record in as many weekends after lowering her time in the 5,000-meter run at the Mt. Sac Relays on April 14.

Here is a feature on Blaney from Despina Barton of Spectrum Sports.

#15 – UCF Cheerleading finishes 4th at National Cheerleading Championships

Linda Gooch’s UCF Cheerleading team finished fourth, earning their 12th consecutive top-four fonish at the UCA College Cheerleading National Championships at Disney. UCF had an impressive run of three-consecutive runner-up finishes come to an end in 2017.

The Knights have now placed in the Top 10 of the College Cheerleading National Championships 22 times in the last 24 years under head coach Linda Gooch, including national titles in 2003 and 2007. Kentucky captured the national championship, while Alabama and Ole Miss rounded out the top three ahead of UCF.

#14 – UCF Women’s Basketball makes WNIT Tournament

A win over #22 USF would be the¬†signature win for head coach Katie Abramson-Henderson, as the Knights would go on an impressive run to 4th in AAC and make it to the semifinals of the American Women’s Basketball Tournament before falling to UConn. The Knights would earn bid to the WNIT and get the program’s first postseason win in program history with a victory over Stetson in the 1st round. The Knights would fall at Georgia Tech in the second round.

#13 – UCF Men’s Basketball Upsets #15 Cincinnati

The UCF Men’s Basketball team earned the first signature win of the Johnny Dawkins era on February 26th, as the Knights defeated American Athletic Conference-leading and #15-ranked Cincinnati by a score of 53-49 at CFE Arena.¬†The win was the fourth ever victory for UCF over a ranked opponent and the first since the Knights defeated #4 UConn in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament on Nov. 25, 2011.¬† It was the Knights’ second win over a ranked opponent at home and the first at CFE Arena.

#12 – UCF Women’s Basketball beats #22 USF

It was a landmark night for Women’s Basketball on February 14th. A career-high 34-point effort from junior¬†Aliyah Gregory¬†lifted UCF to a 66-62 win over #22 USF in the War on I-4 contest at the Sun Dome. The victory was the first for the Knights over a ranked opponent in the Division I era. The win was also the first for UCF over USF¬†since Dec. 10, 1980, which was a neutral site contest prior to the Knights moving to Division I in 1984-85, according to UCF Athletics.

#11 – Ashley Holder and UCF Women’s Golf win AAC Championship in dramatic fashion

Entering the final round trailing Houston by one stroke, things did not look for head coach Emily Marron and the Knights, as the Cougars quickly increased their advantage to four strokes at one point on the front nine. But the Knights warmed up after the turn.

UCF put together seven birdies on the back nine, while Houston faded with seven bogeys. SMU made a late charge and pulled within three strokes by the end of the tournament to pass the Cougars for runner-up honors. But the Knights’ poise down the stretch led to the conference championship, clinched by senior Ashley Holder’s putt on the 18th hole, which not only locked up the conference title for the team, but also for Holder, as she captured the elusive individual championship after Top-3 finishes in each of her previous three American Golf Championships.

Emily Marron appeared on the April 20th edition of the podcast to talk to Jeff Sharon about Holder and the team’s AAC Championship, which also locked up War on I-All-Sports trophy for UCF over USF.

Women’s Golf Head Coach Emily Marron Talks AAC Title

#10 – UCF Rowing 3-peats as AAC Champs, finishes 18th in NCAAs

The UCF rowing team captured its third straight American Athletic Conference title in 2017 with a clean sweep of all six events for the first time since joining the American Conference.

UCF Rowing head coach Becky Cramer would talk about winning third straight American Conference Championship with Jeff Sharon on the May 22nd edition of the podcast at the 30-minute mark:

UCF would make the NCAA Tournament and post its highest finish in program history, closing out the NCAA Championships 18th¬†in the team standings.¬†UCF’s finish marked a two-spot improvement from 2016 and was one spot higher than 2015.

#9 – UCF Men’s Golf Wins 2nd-ever NCAA Regional, finishes top 15 at NCAA Championships¬†

UCF Men’s Golf head coach¬†Bryce Wallor¬†led the Knights to their first NCAA Regional title since 2009 and just the second in program history by winning the¬†NCAA College Grove Regional, knocking off¬†#2-ranked Vanderbilt, #14 Clemson and #39 Kennesaw State. Those three teams finished tied for second at 1-over for the tournament, while UCF finished 1-under. The win meant UCF was returning to Nationals for the first time since 2013. Wallor would join the podcast on May 25th, talking to Jeff Sharon about winning the regional.

PODCAST: Golf Coach Bryce Wallor, Baseball & Tacko Fall

UCF would go on to finish in the Top 15 at NCAA Nationals.

#8 – UCF Men’s Tennis gets new home, makes NCAA Tournament for first time since 2005.¬†

2017 was the biggest year for the Tennis program at UCF. First, it started with the Knights’ Tennis program opening a new home at the new USTA Complex at Lake Nona.

The Knights would have memorable season, hosting American Championship Tournament at Lake Nona, and reaching AAC Championship match after 4-0 win over Tulane. The Knights would fall to USF in the final match but would still qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005.

#7 – UCF Women’s Soccer beats #4 North Carolina in OT

UCF Women’s Soccer was coming into 2017 with questions after missing NCAA Tournament in 2016. The Knights were not expected to contend for the American Atheltic Conference championship. But we would soon find out that the Knights were in for a special season as they hosted the flagship program in Women’s Soccer, #4 North Carolina, on August 25th.

The Knights trailed 1-0 early, but bounced back to even the match, which would go into overtime. In one of greatest soccer matches ever played at UCF, Christine Creighton would score the game-winner in the 2nd OT to give the Knights a 2-1 win over the Tar Heels, and give head coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak and the Knights their signature win in 2017, setting the tone for a memorable season.

#7B – UCF Women’s Soccer wins AAC regular season title

The Knights would return to the top of The American, winning the regular season title for the third time since 2013 and the arrival of Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak. The Knights dominated the conference, going undefeated with only draws against Cincinnati and USF. The draw against the Bulls in the regular season finale locked up the regular season championship. UCF would end up ranked in top 10 most of the year and would end up as a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

#6 – UCF Baseball returns to NCAA Tournament, wins AAC Regular Season Championship

Not much was expected of UCF Baseball under Greg Lovelady, who was entering his first season as head cachh of the Knights. UCF was predicted to finish closer to bottom of The American than the top.

But led by great pitching and timely hitting, UCF was in the mix for the regular season title heading into the last weekend of regular season against USF. It would come down to the last game of the regular season and a winner-take-all game.

Led by Joe Sheridan, the Knights knocked off USF 3-2 to win the AAC regular season championship. The Knights would make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012 and play in the Tallahassee Regional.

#5 – UCF Basketball makes NIT Final Four

The biggest non-football story of the year in UCF sports was Men’s Hoops’ incredible season, making a deep run all the way to the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden. Not bad for a team that in preseason was predicted to finish near the bottom of The American under first-year head coach Johnny Dawkins.

The Knights started the NIT by defeating Colorado at home. They would then go on the road to face Illinois State, who was one of first teams left out of the NCAA Tournament. The Knights had to dig themselves out of a big hole early but came back from behind to knock off Illinois State.

The Knights would then host Illinois with the winner advancing to the Final Four in what would turn out to be UCF Hoops’ first-ever sellout. The Knights knocked off Illinois to advance to New York.

#4 РUCF wins War on I-4 classic over USF to advance to AAC Title Game 

It was the biggest War on I-4 football game ever. The winner would advance to the AAC Championship Game and move one step closer to the Peach Bowl. The Bulls have never won a conference title and were the preseason favorites, having never gotten this close to a championship. The Knights came in undefeated and standing in USF’s way.

The game would be a big TV success for ABC, as it did not disappoint. The game did a monster rating locally as Orlando registered a 11.1, which was the highest-rated UCF game in Orlando since the Fiesta Bowl vs. Baylor. Nationally, the game did 3.2 rating, which was the 3rd-highest rated Black Friday game on ABC since 2002.

3 – Josh Heupel named UCF Football’s Head Coach

With Scott Frost leaving UCF for Nebraska, the question would be who would Danny White hire to replace Frost? Names like Kevin Sumlin were rumored to be in the mix for the Knights’ head coaching job, as well as offensive coordinator Troy Walters. But White once again would play it close to the vest like he did when he hired Frost in 2015. When no one even knew he was a candidate, White hired Missouri offensive coordinator and former Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel to be the new head coach of the Knights just a few days after the team won the AAC title.

#2 – Scott Frost leaves UCF for Nebraska

The story that was a big focus in November and into the championship game was if Scott Frost would stay at UCF or go elsewhere. Frost would become the most talked-about coach on the annual coaching carousel.

Florida and Tennessee were linked to Frost but it was Nebraska, where he called home as a player, that would end up landing Frost, which broke during overtime of the AAC Championship Game.

After the AAC celebration, Frost broke the story to the team that he was leaving on a day that was one the of most emotional and surreal days in school history. Frost would go on to be named National Coach of the Year

#1 – UCF Football goes 12-0, wins American Conference to play in Peach Bowl

The biggest story of the year for UCF was Football, for the first time in program history, going 12-0 and winning the American Athletic Conference and accepting a bid to play in the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl against Auburn, thanks to the highest-scoring and most memorable conference championship game in school history.