Todd Dagenais has had quite enough of being left out of the NCAA Tournament.
UCF's head volleyball coach has captained his team to five 20-win campaigns in the last seven years - their best stretch since the early-to-mid-'90s - and yet the committee has left his team out of the field all but the one time UCF won The American outright in 2014.
The reason? Three letters that have become a four-letter word: RPI.
No sport in The American was thrown into more upheaval in 2017 than Volleyball. The addition of Wichita State, an already dominant program in the MVC that went 20-0 in its first year in The American, changed the entire dynamic of the league. They finished with an RPI of 19.
Meanwhile, everyone else beat each other up. Temple, SMU and UCF all landed between 77 and 86.
The result: The Knights were crowded out of the NCAA Tournament yet again, thanks to a league whose tough competition got tougher, and a mathematical algorithm that apparently disagrees.
Dagenais says he has had quite enough of that, and though he has only one senior and six freshmen on the roster, his team has one of the toughest schedules it has had in a long time.
Here's everything you need to know about the UCF Volleyball Team heading into the 2018 season:
20-14, 12-8 AAC, 5th in AAC, Reached 2nd Round of NIVC
Normally, a record like that would get you at least some consideration for the NCAAs, but the injury bug hampered the Knights, with senior Taylor Wickey missing time and leaving a gaping hole in the middle. Starting two freshmen, two sophomore and a sophomore transfer added to some of the early growing pains.
After a 3-6 start to the conference slate, the Knights got hot down the stretch after shedding the injury bug, winning their last six and 9 of their last 11 in the regular season, and beating UNCG the NIVC First Round before bowing out to Georgia in Athens.
The Knights were picked to repeat their finish from last year, 5th in The American's preseason poll. Wichita State was picked to repeat as champions, followed by Cincinnati, Temple, and SMU. Wichita State is also receiving votes in the preseason Top 25. Also of note: SMU has finished at least tied for first or second every year The American has existed.
The Bearcats return AAC Preseason Player of the Year and Team USA prospect Jordan Thompson after a bizarre injury ended her 2017 campaign. No Knights were named to the preseason all-conference team.
Who's in Charge
Aside from Cheerleading's Linda Gooch, Dagenais is now the longest-tenured head coach on campus, entering his 11th year. He now stands three wins behind Laura Smith (188) for second all-time at UCF behind Lucy McDaniel. And if his teams' on-court performance wasn't enough already, his players have maintained a 3.0+ team GPA every semester for ten straight years.
Listen to Coach Dagenais preview the season with Jeff on the Black & Gold Banneret Podcast:
Who to Watch
#4 Jordan Pingel (Senior Libero - Colorado Springs, Colorado)
- 2017: 541 digs (4.23/set) - 4th most single-season digs in UCF history
- AAC Defensive Player of the Week only once (November 14, 2016)
Pingel is the only senior on the team. She has recorded three of the top four individual season totals for digs in school history (averaging 555 per season) and is just 335 away from the school's all-time career record of exactly 1,999, currently held by Meredith Murphy. Yet she's never been selected all-conference and has only been named Player of the Week once in her career.
#2 Erin Olson (Junior Setter - Cary, Illinois)
- 2017: 734 assists (5.43/set)
Olson was a revelation as the season went on, taking over more and more of the offense from Miranda Watkins, who graduated early. Now with no one else sharing primary setter duties, she is primed for a huge year in 2018 with an arsenal of weapons at her disposal. When she does take a breather, her younger sister Amber, a freshman, is expected to spell her.
#15 Kristina Fisher (Sophomore Outside Hitter - Austin, Texas)
- 2017: 367 kills (.218), 239 digs (1.87/set)
It was hard at times to believe that Fisher was a true freshman last year, but the Austin native slid easily into the starting lineup from the first match and played like a veteran the whole season. She ended up second on the team in kills and fourth in digs. With Kia Bright gone, Fisher will become the primary option on offense.
Who We'll Miss
Bright was a special talent and a firey competitor. She transferred from Auburn and immediately made her mark as an offensive weapon of the highest order, winning All-AAC First Team honors and honorable mention as an AVCA All-American in 2014. Following a devastating knee injury that ruined her 2015 season (and UCF's defense of their AAC title from the year before), she became a quintessential two-way outside hitter, taking All-AAC First Team honors again in 2016 and 2017. She led the team in kills and came in second to Pingel in digs last year. She finished 7th all-time at UCF in kills per set (3.33).
Who's New That's Good
#20 McKenna Melville (Freshman Outside Hitter - Eagan, Minnesota)
The Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year and a daughter of one of the greatest coaches in Minnesota history, Melville led her high school team to two state titles and nearly won a third as a senior. The All-American was recruited as a libero but grew to 6'1" by the time she got to UCF, so Coach Dagenais and Associate Head Coach Jenny Maurer decided to run with her as an outside hitter. She recorded a team-high 14 kills and reportedly zero freshman jitters in the Knights' exhibition match against Tampa:
No freshman jitters for Mac— UCF Volleyball (@UCF_Volleyball) August 18, 2018
14 kills for the rook pic.twitter.com/3V599rMKQZ
Who's on the Roster
- One senior
- Six freshmen
- Two players from Florida, including one from Oviedo
When the Big Matches Are
|Fri. 8/24||FGCU||Season opener @ Coral Gables. '17 A-Sun Runner-up. Picked 1st Pres.|
|Sat. 8/25||FAU||RPI #95. Picked 3rd C-USA Preseason. @ Coral Gables.|
|Sat. 8/25||@ Miami||2017 RPI #32, 2017 NCAA Tournament.|
|Fri. 8/31||Louisville||Picked 2nd ACC Preseason, 2017 RPI #26. In Gainesville.|
|Sat. 9/1||USC||Preseason AVCA #10. UCF won last meeting (2011). In Gainesville.|
|Sun. 9/2||@ Florida||Preseason AVCA #7. 2017 National Finalist. Last UCF win: 2014.|
|Fri. 9/7||FIU||UCF 31-21 all-time.|
|Fri. 9/14||FGCU||Second meeting of season.|
|Sat. 9/15||Yale||Ivy League co-champs '17, RPI #84. Last meeting: 1997 (UCF won).|
|Fri. 9/21||@ USF||Series: 45-34 USF. 2017 RPI #187.|
|Sun. 10/7||Wichita St.||Defending AAC Champs. Picked Preseason AAC #1. 20-0 in AAC 2017.|
|Fri. 10/12||Temple||2017: T-2nd AAC. Picked 3rd AAC Preseason.|
|Sun. 10/28||SMU||21-11 in 2017. RPI #81.|
|Fri. 11/9||Cincinnati||Jordan Thompson (CIN): '15 AAC Frosh of Year, '16 PoY (Injured '17)|
|Wed. 11/21||USF||Senior Day.|
The Last Time...
Last Conference Title and NCAA Appearance: 2014. The Knights were utterly dominant that year thanks to a group of players that all peaked at the same time. This year's group has the potential to do that as well, if not this year then quite soon.
Again, without a conference tournament, The American sends its regular season winner to the NCAAs. This ostensibly is to make the committee think twice before awarding only one bid to The American since more than one team would be winning on the final weekend. But so far, it hasn't worked:
What to Keep an Eye On
The RPI. NCAA Volleyball is a slave to it, unfortunately. And so far it has killed teams from The American. That's why Dagenais has loaded the schedule.
Consider this: Here's how many at-large bids The American has gotten since 2013, along with the number of 20-win teams in the league:
|Year||At-Large Bids||20-win Teams||Notes|
|2017||0||5||9 of 12 teams finished with 13 or fewer AAC wins.|
|2016||1 (Cincinnati)||4||2 19-win teams. UCF: 23-10 (Cincy: 22-10)|
|2015||0||3||UCF: 15-17 (Kia Bright injury)|
|2014||0||5||UCF won AAC (25-8, 18-2)|
|2013||0||3||Louisville won AAC, last year in the league.|
So the key will be the second weekend of the season against Louisville (an ACC favorite), #10 USC, and #7 Florida in Gainesville. If the Knights can come out of that tournament with at least one win, Dagenais' schedule gambit may indeed work.
Who to Follow
Fun fact: Last year, UCF Volleyball had the most re-tweets and the second-highest social engagement among volleyball programs in The American. Follow them and you'll see why:
- UCF Volleyball: @UCF_Volleyball
- Head Coach Todd Dagenais: @UCFVBTodd
- Associate Head Coach Jenny Maurer: @CoachJMaurer
- American Athletic Conference Volleyball: @American_VBall