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Knight Cap: Men’s Soccer wins to open conferance play; Volleyball sweeps final tournament

Plus: An update on UCF alum Aric Almirola’s NASCAR Cup Series Playoff run

McKenna Melville
McKenna Melville
Photo: Derek Warden

The past week of UCF Knights sports saw one team have a favorable start to conference play, another team not have a favorable start to conference play, and an alumnus compete in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Plus, we name the Knight of the Week in your latest Knight Cap for Monday, September 20.

Men’s Soccer wins on road to open conference play

The UCF Men’s Soccer team opened conference play with a 4-1 victory on the road over Memphis.

The win elevates the team’s record to 3-3 overall and now 1-0 overall in the American Athletic Conference.

Sophomore forward Lucca Dourado scored two goals for the second consecutive match, one in the 17th minute and the other in the 78th minute. These were his sixth and seventh goals on the season. By scoring these goals, Dourado now leads NCAA Division I in goals per game, with 1.40, and is tied for the second-most goals scored by any NCAA Division I player so far this season.

Sophomore defender Anderson Rosa, however, was the one that got UCF started on offense, with a goal in the 11th minute. It was his first of the season and the second of his collegiate career.

Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore utility player Beto Ybach headed the ball into the net off of a corner kick in the 85th minute to score his first career collegiate goal.

The Knights were able to break through the Memphis defense numerous times throughout the night, getting 20 shots off, 11 of them On Goal.

On the other side of the pitch, Memphis got 11 shots off with five of them On Goal. One of those Shots On Goal made it into the net for Memphis’ lone goal of the night from freshman forward Lineker Rodrigues dos Santos for his first collegiate goal.

The other four Shots on Goal gave the Knights’ redshirt freshman goalkeeper Tyler Lavigne, making his second collegiate start, his four saves of the match. The match was Lavigne’s first full 90 minutes in front of the net as a Knight, however, since redshirt junior goalkeeper Matt Douglass was substituted into the North Florida game and played 18:47.

Will head coach Scott Calabrese be continuing with Lavigne going forward or is Douglas going to return as the starting goalkeeper? Time will tell.

This week, the team returns home to face Temple on Friday in a 6 p.m. match, which will be streamed live on ESPN+.

Volleyball sweeps Sunshine Challenge Cup

The UCF Volleyball team traveled to Boca Raton this week and defeated Florida Atlantic, Miami (FL), and Florida Gulf Coast to go a perfect 3-0 in the Sunshine Challenge Cup.

The trio of victories brings the Knights’ record to 7-5 heading into conference play.

“It was a program-changing weekend and puts us on course heading into conference play,” head coach Todd Dagenais said. “Things went the way we have been practicing and we did everything we wanted to do. We expanded our toolbox this weekend.”

The Knights’ tournament got started bright and early at 10 a.m. with their first match against Miami (FL). The Knights got out ahead early, winning the first two sets (25-23, 25-11), but the Hurricanes would battle back to take the next two sets (26-24, 25-22). It all came down to a final 5th set, which UCF would win, 15-9.

Senior outside hitter McKenna Melville led the team once more in kills with 21, followed by fifth-year senior right-side hitter Anne-Marie Watson with 12. Sophomore libero Chloe Scheer led the team in digs, with 18, closely followed by senior setter Amber Olson with 13.

Later that day, the team took the court at 5 p.m. for a rematch with Florida Gulf Coast. Less than a week prior, the Knights handed the Eagles their first loss of the season, 3-1, in the UCF Invitational. This week, the two teams met on neutral ground.

UCF overcame the Florida Gulf Coast’s nine aces to sweep the Eagles, 3-0, in closely contested sets (25-19, 25-22, 25-23).

Melville earned 14 kills during the match, leading the team, with junior middle blocker Claudia Dillon and freshman outside hitter Heidi Bonde just behind her, tied with 10. Scheer would lead the team in digs once more, with nine, while Melville and freshman utility player Katelyn Grimes were close behind, tied with six.

Like Florida Gulf Coast before them, host Florida Atlantic also got swept by the Knights, 3-0. However, this time the Knights won each set by a large margin (25-13, 25-9, 25-17).

Melville once again led the team in kills, with 12. Meanwhile, Scheer also once again led the team in digs, with six, followed by Olson, with five, and Melville and Grimes, who both had four.

Melville, Dillon, and Watson were named to the Sunshine Challenge Cup All-Tournament team with Melville also receiving MVP honors for the second consecutive tournament. In addition, Melville’s 56 points scored during the tournament was enough for her to become the NCAA Division I season-leader in points, with 260.5.

The team will begin conference play next week with two home matches. The Knights host East Carolina on Friday at 7 p.m., followed by a 1 p.m. match with Cincinnati on Sunday.

Women’s Soccer rebounds after loss to open conference play

The UCF Women’s Soccer team opened its conference schedule Thursday with a 1-0 on the road against Houston.

It was a match determined and dominated by defense. Houston broke through the UCF defense more often than vice versa. The Cougars got off 19 shots, five of them on goal, while the Knights only shot eight times, with only one of them on goal.

Redshirt junior goalkeeper Caroline DeLisle kept the Knights in the match, getting four saves on the night.

However, a goal in the 49th minute by Houston redshirt senior forward Jazmin Grant with an assist from graduate student forward Zionah Browne put the Cougars up early in the second half. That goal proved to be the difference-maker as UCF was unable to equalize, only getting off three shots in the second half.

Despite an unfavorable start to conference play, the team rebounded in the final game of its non-conference schedule, beating Stetson at home, 5-0.

The match kicked off three hours late due to weather delay, but senior forward Mallory Olsson wasted little time getting the Knights on the board with a goal in the 8th minute with an assist from redshirt junior midfielder Anna Henderson. Olsson would go on to get one more goal, unassisted, later in the match in the 51st minute.

As the first half was drawing to a close,junior defender Marta Estupinan, a transfer from Ole Miss, scored her first goal in a UCF uniform off a corner kick in the 44th minute. The assist went to senior midfielder Darya Rajaee.

For good measure, senior forward Kristen Scott scored a pair of second-half insurance goals. The first came in the 56th minute with assists from Henderson and fifth-year senior midfielder Madison Murnin. The other was scored in the 64th minute with an assist from Rajaee.

Scott and Olsson’s pairs of goals in this match put them at a combined 10 for the season, making up 59% of the team’s total goals this season.

Defensively, the team was not giving Stetson many opportunities. While the Knights were able to get off 18 shots, half of them on goal, the Hatters only got two shots off the whole match. While one of those shots was on goal, DeLisle stopped it to get her lone save of the night.

These two matches leave the team with a 5-3 record overall, but a 0-1 record in-conference.

The team will look to rebound in conference play this week since it hosts Memphis on Thursday for a 6 p.m. match. The match will be streamed live on ESPN+.

Aric Almirola exits NASCAR Playoffs

UCF alum Aric Almirola finished just two points shy of advancing to the Round of 12 of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

After a 16th-place finish at Darlington Raceway two weeks ago and a 14th-place finish at Richmond Raceway last week, Almirola entered the final race of the Round of 16 at Bristol Motor Speedway sitting in 11th place in the points standings, 3 points ahead of 12th place.

The Stewart Haas Racing driver almost had his playoff hopes end prematurely. After 176 laps of racing, a leak in the #10 Ford’s oil line was causing the car to smoke out of its rear. Since NASCAR feared it was leaking oil onto the track, Almirola was given a black flag. This meant that he had to go the pits immediately and fix the problem before he can continue racing, which could cost him valuable track position, and subsequently points.

Luckily, Almirola’s pit crew, led by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, replaced the oil line under the caution flag and was able to prevent Almirola from going one or more laps down.

Despite the quick oil line replacement and an 18th place finish at the half-mile track, it was not good enough to advance Almirola to the Round of 12.

“Disappointed to have it end like that just because we had battled so much adversity throughout the night, got into a position where we were running top 10, doing what we were needing to do,” Almirola said to NBC Sports.

Almirola will continue to race in the #10 Stewart Haas Racing Ford for the rest of this season. The NASCAR Cup Series races every Sunday from Sept. 26-Nov. 7. He will be racing to try and win his second race of the season after his win at New Hampshire qualified him for the playoffs in the first place.

Almirola has also said he expects to be back in the #10 with Stewart-Haas Racing next season, which begins with an exhibition race at the L.A Coliseum on Feb. 6, 2022, before heading to Daytona International Speedway to kick off the regular season with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20.

Women’s Golf Opens Season with Top 5 in Charleston

The UCF Women’s Golf team opened its season with a Top Five finish at the Cougar Classic in Charleston, South Carolina.

The team ended up in a tie for 5th with North Carolina at -3 for the tournament, finishing 20 strokes behind 1st-place finisher, Arkansas. This was thanks in large part to the first place individual finisher, Razorback redshirt senior Brooke Matthews, who broke the NCAA 54-hole record with a -25 tournament.

The team’s performance also earned them the #6 spot in Golfweek’s rankings, the highest ranking in any poll in program history, per UCF Athletics. As for the Coaches Poll, UCF received 30 votes and would be ranked 30th if the poll went beyond 25 teams.

Individually, the Knights were co-led by junior Tunrada Piddon and sophomore Camille Banzet, who both finished their tournaments tied for 10th at -4. They were joined under par by freshman Zoe Allaux finished a few strokes behind at -1, coming in tied for 19th.

The team will compete in their second tournament of the season next week at the Bryan National Collegiate in Greensboro, North Carolina from Sept. 26-28.

Knights of the Week

Two UCF athletes made history this week, so to properly highlight their achievements, both are being honored as Knights of the Week.

Nick Taylor- Men’s Soccer

Coming into the UCF Men’s Soccer team’s match with Memphis, fifth-year senior midfielder Nick Taylor had three assists this season.

During the 4-1 UCF win, Taylor assisted on Rosa’s 11th-minute goal, Dourado’s 78th-minute goal, and Ydrach’s 85th-minute goal, doubling his season total and becoming the NCAA Division I season-leader in assists.

In addition, Taylor also became the first UCF player to earn three assists in a single match since Oct. 5, 1997, when Rami Vehmas did it against Davidson. Neil Thompson also got three assists in a match earlier that season, on Sept. 19, against Alabama A&M.

The only players in UCF history to get more than three assists in a single match are the trio of players that have earned four assists in a single match: Ian Gill in 1985 vs. UW-Green Bay, Mark Lamb in 1987 vs. St. Thomas, and Vehmas in 1996 vs. Stetson.

Anne-Marie Watson- Volleyball

The fifth-year senior right-side hitter made 25 kills and 12 block assists in this week’s Sunshine Challenge Cup en route to the UCF Volleyball team’s 3-0 run in the tournament. She also earned herself a place on the All-Tournament Team.

However, that was not all. During the team’s first match of the tournament against Miami (FL), Watson made her 476th block assist of her collegiate career, breaking 2004 UCF Athletics Hall of Fame Inductee Tyra Harper’s (now Tyra Turner) record for the most career block assists in program history.

Harper played for the Knights from 1994-1997. Over that time, she amassed the most block solos (156), the most total blocks (631), and the second-most kills (1,932) in UCF history. Her 475 block assists have stood as the most by any UCF player in history for 24 years, until Watson.

Not bad for a walk-on from just across the Orange-Seminole county line.