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Knight Cap: Volleyball gets 6th consecutive sweep, Soccer seasons wind down

Plus: Anne-Marie Blaney breaks down the Cross Country team’s performance in the AAC Championship

Photo: Noah Goldberg

The past week of UCF Knights sports saw two teams compete in the American Athletic Conference postseason, another team sweep two more conference foes, and another team fighting to stay in contention for the regular-season championship. Plus, we name the Knight of the Week in your latest Knight Cap for Tuesday, November 2.

Women’s Soccer Exits AAC tournament in 1st Round

Barring an at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament, the UCF Women’s Soccer season ended on a sour note this week with back-to-back losses:

It all started with a road trip to Cincinnati, to conclude the regular season that ended in a 3-1 UCF defeat.

The Bearcats jumped ahead in the first half with two goals in the first 20 minutes.

The Knights would get one on the board in the 56th minute, thanks to senior forward Kristen Scott (her 10th goal of the season) with an assist from redshirt junior forward Anna Henderson:

However, Cincinnati senior midfielder Taylor Nuncio scored one more goal in the 69th minute to put it out of reach.

The Bearcats’ defense limited UCF to just four shots the entire match, with three of them on goal.

While UCF’s redshirt junior goalkeeper Caroline DeLisle saved two of those shots, Cincinnati’s three goals was the second most she’s allowed all season, beaten only by the Ohio State game.

The loss dropped the Knights into the No. 6 seed in the American Athletic Conference tournament, meaning they’d have to travel to Memphis in the first round.

It didn’t go so well, as Memphis dominated possession on their home pitch to defeat UCF, 2-0.

The Tigers assaulted the UCF net with 20 shots, eight of them on goal. DeLisle saved six of them, but the Knights could only respond with two shots of their own, with only one of them being on goal.

After a scoreless first half, Memphis struck in the 57th minute with an unassisted goal by freshman Jocelyn Alonzo:

The Tigers would follow it up with an insurance goal in the 68th minute by freshman Aubrey Mister:

The loss drops UCF’s RPI to 56th (as of this article’s writing), which does not do the team any favors in securing an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

The Knights will find out their fate during the Tournament selection show, which will stream on on Nov. 8 at 4:30 p.m.

Volleyball returns home, completes 6th consecutive sweep

The UCF Volleyball team returned from their four-game road trip this weekend and continued sweeping conference foes.

The Knights beat Tulsa 25-17 in all three sets to secure the sweep on Friday.

Senior outside hitter McKenna Melville led the team in kills (21) and digs (15), while freshman defensive specialist Katelyn Grimes dropped four aces. Fifth-year senior Anne-Marie Watson added another 13 kills and sophomore libero Chloe Scheer led the Knights in digs with 11.

After starting the month against Wichita State on the road and escaping with a five-set win, the Knights swept the Shockers on Halloween at home (25-11, 25-14, 25-17).

Once again, Melville led the team in kills (18) but came second in digs (8) to Scheer (11). Meanwhile, Watson and junior middle blocker Claudia Dillon each tied for the team lead in blocks, with six apiece.

The team hits the road once more next weekend, with a Friday match with Cincinnati at 6:30 p.m. and a 1:00 p.m. match with East Carolina on Sunday.

Men’s Soccer stumbles against SMU, losing regular-season title hopes

SMU repaid the UCF Men’s Soccer team for the Knights’ early season win by wrecking the Knights 5-0 on Halloween night. Senior midfielder Skage Simonsen recorded a hat trick, scoring his first three goals of the season. Senior Forward Wyatt Priest and senior midfielder Gabriel Costa added two more.

All told, SMU got 15 shots off, eight of them were on goal, while UCF only got seven shots off with one of them on goal.

With the Mustangs’ five goals, redshirt freshman goalkeeper Tyler Lavigne allowed the most goals in a single match this season. 9 of his 19 total goals allowed this season have come in the past two matches.

The Knights now come off back-to-back losses going into their final regular-season match of the season, a road tilt against American Athletic Conference regular-season champion Tulsa, who clinched the title after a 3-2 win over Temple on Halloween. The match will kick off on Friday at 8 p.m. and can be streamed live on ESPN+.

However, the team will be playing without its captain, Mauricio Villalobos Vega, in this match due to the senior midfielder receiving a second yellow card, and thus a red card, at the 63-minute mark.

A UCF win over Tulsa secures the team the No. 2-seed in the AAC tournament, but a UCF loss AND an SMU win over Memphis (which kicks off at the same time as UCF and Tulsa’s match) will drop the Knights to the No. 3 seed.

Cross Country competes in AAC Championship (feat. Anne-Marie Blaney)

The UCF Cross Country team traveled down I-4 to Holloway Park in Lakeland for the American Athletic Conference Championship on Friday morning.

The team took home a 7th-place team finish in the 6K run with 171 points, finishing 123 points behind conference champion, Tulsa.

Freshman Valerie Lastra led the team with an 8th-place finish with a 21:39.9 time, just over 30 seconds behind the individual champion, Witchita State senior Yazmine Wright. While she was among the lead pack early, she began to drop back around six minutes in.

UCF Cross Country legend Anne-Marie Blaney, now the Banneret’s resident guest-analyst for Cross Country and Track and Field, said that Lastra’s aggressiveness at the start of the race was a smart move.

“She really went for it and was like, ‘This is what I want,’ so I think that’s really important,” Blaney said.

Blaney also praised Lastra’s ability to hang on for a Top 10 finish despite losing the lead pack, calling it “crucial” and a “perfect spot to be as a freshman.”

“She didn’t just give up or, I guess, was mentally not impacted by that at all,” Blaney said. “Sometimes if people are continuously passing you, that can really kind of break your spirit.”

As for the rest of the team, junior Charlotte Crook and freshman Isabella Babilonia took home 34th and 35th with 22:52.5 and 22:53.1 times respectively. Freshman Kambry Smith and Lillian Holtery also finished close together, taking home 48th and 50th place with 23:21.7 and 23:22.6 times respectively.

Outside of the Top 50, freshman Alexandra Del Re finished in 59th with a 23:45.2, while freshman Rachel Wheatley came in 62nd with a 23:58.8. Freshman Mackenzie Czurak took home 68th-place with a 24:07.7 time and sophomore Mariana Rodriguez rounded out the field in 78th with a 24:37.1 time.

Aside from Lastra, the team’s seven scoring members all finished within just over a minute of each other.

“Cross Country’s a pack mentality sport,” Blaney said. “Your team really does need to stick together in order to score those points.”

Despite a mid-pack finish as a team, Blaney said that for a youth-dominated team such as this one, this performance bodes well for the future.

“The fact that they’re all young and still running pretty close together is awesome,” Blaney said. “I can see a lot of improvement just from these times, which is nothing bad with everything that happened this past year, especially with COVID.”

The team has a week’s rest before traveling to the John Hunt Cross Country Park in Huntsville, Alabama for the NCAA South Regional on Nov. 12. The Knights are currently ranked 14th in the South region.

For Blaney’s full breakdown on the conference championship, watch the video below:

Women’s Golf Concludes Fall Schedule

The UCF Women’s Golf team capped off its fall schedule in Wilmington, North Carolina in the Landfall Tradition.

The team took home 6th place with an 873 (+9). South Carolina ranked 6th in Golfstat’s rankings, who took home the team victory with an 849 (-15) score, 12 strokes ahead of second-place 15th-ranked Michigan. UCF’s 24th-ranked team did finish ahead of 9th-ranked Texas, 18th-ranked Florida State, 26th-ranked Virginia Tech, and 28th-ranked Purdue.

Sophomore Camille Banzet led the team with 215 strokes (-1), finishing in a tie for 12th. Sophomore Jess Baker and freshman Zoe Allaux both finished in a tie for 27th with 219 strokes (+3), while senior Alyssa Lamoureux finished with 221 strokes (+5) in a tie for 34th.

Junior Tunrada Piddon withdrew from the tournament after playing the first two rounds due to an unspecified injury.

However, she will have plenty of time to recover because the team’s next tournament is not until next year, when it hosts the UCF Invite at Eagle Creek Golf Club from Feb. 6-8, 2022.

Knight of the Week

McKenna Melville, Volleyball

One could point to the senior outside hitter being named AAC Offensive Player of the Week for the 4th time this season and the 11th time overall. One could also point out she got her 10th double-double of the season against Tulsa, meaning that she has gotten a double-double in 42 percent of matches so far this season.

However, that would just be scratching the surface of the feats Melville has been performing.

She ranks 2nd in Division I this season in kills (437), 6th in kills per set (4.97), 2nd in points (495.0), and 3rd in points per set (5.62).

This doesn’t even mention that, currently, her 1,806 total career kills ranks 7th in the nation for most career kills among active players.

She is also just five kills away from passing Miriam Metzcus for 3rd on the program’s all-time kills list, meaning that Melville is the first UCF player to reach this many career kills since the 90s.

Melville is also 345 kills away from the program’s all-time leader in kills, Renata Menchikova (2,151 kills), and she still has another season of eligibility left thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Including this season and the shortened 2020 season, she averages 451.5 kills per season.

In truth, McKenna Melville has done enough to get Knight of the Week honors practically every week. The only reason that hasn’t actually been the case is simply that choosing her for this slot is simply too obvious. However, sometimes, you just have to go with the obvious pick, and that’s the case this week.