The past week of UCF Knights sports saw one team make program history, another team edged out a win on the road, and two UCF alums join a new football league. Plus, we name the Knights of the Week and have a special interview in store for your latest Knight Cap for Thursday, February 24, 2022.
Women’s Basketball ranked in major poll
The UCF Women’s Basketball team was revealed at No. 25 in the USA Today/Women’s Basketball Coaches Association poll on Tuesday.
It marked the first time since the team was ranked in a major poll since it began playing in Division I in 1984.
The team also received votes for the AP Top 25 poll.
Head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson and the Knights can clinch the American Athletic Conference regular-season title with a win over Cincinnati on Saturday. Tip-off is 2 p.m.
If successful, it will be the first time the team has won a conference regular-season title since 2005.
Baseball edges out North Florida
The UCF Baseball team escaped Jacksonville on Tuesday with a 3-2 win over North Florida.
Runs were at a premium in this game, but the Knights got out ahead early thanks to redshirt junior center fielder Gephry Pena. He hit a triple in the 1st inning and would later score thanks to an RBI single by redshirt junior second baseman Tom Josten. Then, in his next at-bat in the 3rd inning, he hit a solo home run to put the Knights up, 2-0.
The Ospreys would come back over the next few innings with RBI singles in the 3rd and 6th innings to tie the game up, 2-2.
The Knights responded with what ended up being the deciding run of the game, which redshirt senior pinch-runner Trent Taylor scored on a wild pitch by North Florida relief pitcher Jason Gonzalez.
Sophomore pitcher Chase Centala got the starting nod for the Knights, but redshirt junior Zack Hunsicker was credited with the win in relief, his first of the season. Sophomore pitcher Ben Vespi earned his first save of the season.
The win brings the Knights to a 4-0 record, continuing its season-opening winning streak it started the prior weekend against Siena, which has its own article here.
The Knights’ road trip continues this weekend as they travel to Statesboro, Georgia to take on Georgia Southern in a three-game series. Game 1 starts at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Game 2 kicks off at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, and Game 3 begins at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Women’s Golf beats Six Top 20 Teams in Melbourne
The UCF Women’s Golf team finished in 5th place overall in the Moon Golf Invitational in Melbourne this week.
The team’s 863 (-1) tournament was enough to outscore six teams ranked in the Top 20, per Golfstat’s rankings. The Knights were ranked No. 30 at the time.
With this weekend’s finish, the team has finished in the top six in five of the six events it has competed in thus throughout the fall and spring.
Junior Tunrada Piddon led the team individually, finishing in a tie for 5th place overall with a 211 (-5) score for the tournament. Her 2nd-round score, 65 (-7), put her in a now five-way tie for the lowest single-round score in program history, alongside Kaeli Jones, Maria Balcazar, Elizabeth Moon, and her teammate, freshman Zoe Allaux.
Piddon was joined in the Top 20 of the individual standings by Allaux (T-14th), sophomore Camille Banzet (T-18th), and senior Alyssa Lamoureux (T-18th). Sophomore Jess Baker rounded out the field, finishing in a tie for 76th.
The team will have a week and a half before they travel to Gainesville for the Lady Gator Invitational on Mar. 5th and 6th.
Aric Almirola gets Top Five in Daytona
#UCF alum Aric Almirola (@Aric_Almirola) starts off his final full-time NASCAR Cup Series season with a 5th-place finish in the Daytona 500.— Bryson Turner (@itsBrysonTurner) February 20, 2022
This is Almirola’s 2nd-ever Top 5 finish in the Great American Race. pic.twitter.com/i4xpWzuDLR
UCF alum Aric Almirola finished 5th in the Daytona 500 on Sunday to begin his final full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series.
It was Almirola’s 2nd top-five finish of his career in the Great American Race, only beat out by his 2017 attempt, when he finished in 4th.
Ahh! I really thought it was going to happen today. We just didn’t have the run we needed at the end, but I couldn’t be prouder of this team to start off the season with a top-five and a clean racecar. #Daytona500 pic.twitter.com/x7e9Of4ZkE— Aric Almirola (@Aric_Almirola) February 21, 2022
Almirola’s final season in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Smithfield Ford continues next week as the Cup Series travels to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California on Sunday. The race will be broadcast live at 3:30 p.m. on FOX.
Pair of Knights alumni selected in USFL Draft
Two UCF Football alums were selected this week in the two-day United States Football League Draft.
Cornerback Rashard Causey Jr., who played for the Knights from 2015 to 2018, was selected in the 11th round on Tuesday by the Tampa Bay Bandits.
Causey signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent in April 2019 but was later cut and signed with the Denver Broncos in August. He joined the Miami Dolphins practice squad in December and signed a futures contract with the team in January 2020. He was waived by the team on March 12.
The next day, center Jordan McCray, who played for the Knights from 2010 to 2013, was selected in the 20th round by the Birmingham Stallions.
The USFL will be the 4th football league McCray has been a part of since his days as a Knight: He was a part of the Packers, Vikings, and Panthers organizations in the NFL from 2014-2015, an Orlando Apollo with the AAF before being signed by the Chicago Bears in 2019, and then a Tampa Bay Viper in the XFL in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Locking down the offensive line pic.twitter.com/CQbVswC6GA— Birmingham Stallions (@USFLStallions) February 23, 2022
The USFL will have a supplemental draft on March 10th to fill out each team’s roster of 38 active players and a seven-player practice squad. The league’s inaugural season kicks off on April 16.
Women’s Tennis goes 1-2 in road trip
The then-No. 19-ranked UCF Women’s Tennis team started with a 4-1 win over LSU on Friday but dropped its matches with No. 21-ranked Miami (FL) on Sunday, 5-0, and Florida International on Monday, 4-1.
The stretch drops the team to 4-4 overall and 0-3 against ranked teams. It also puts the team at 18-20 for the season in singles play matches and 11-10 in doubles play matches.
After this road trip, the team returns to the USTA National Campus for a 10-match long homestand. First up, this weekend, the team takes on No. 3-ranked Oklahoma on Friday at 5 p.m. and No. 17 Baylor at noon on Sunday.
Knight(s) of the Week:
Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, Women’s Basketball
Eric Lopez did a good job explaining it during his breakdown of the women’s basketball team’s 68-31 win over Temple, but considering the team was ranked for the first time in the Division I era this week, the sentiment is worth repeating here.
Since Coach ABE was hired back in 2016, she has led the team to a 20-win season in every single season, barring the abbreviated 2020-21 season (which, even then, she still had 16 wins).
With her 5th 20-win season this season, she now has the same number of 20-win seasons of every single UCF Women’s Basketball head coach in the NCAA era before her combined: five.
Now, Coach ABE has coached this UCF team to its first ranking in a major poll in the Division I era and is on the precipice of the program’s first regular-season conference title since 2005.
So, for all her achievements these past six years, and perhaps for the ones to come in the near future, she earned this week’s co-honor.
Ben Vespi, Baseball
Sophomore relief pitcher Ben Vespi only had one other save in his collegiate career before Tuesday. It was last season against Wichita State. In that game, he allowed one hit, struck out one batter, and pitched into one groundout and one lineout. Tuesday was much different.
He was coming in mid-inning, the Knights up 3-2. The pitcher before him, FIU transfer William Saxton, allowed a walk, so the winning run for the Ospreys was at-bat. That batter hit a single, and the following batter put down a sacrifice bunt.
Vespi now had the two potential runs that could give North Florida the win in scoring position with only one out. He then proceeded to strike out the next two batters to give the Knights the win.
Redshirt junior center fielder Gephry Pena may have scored two runs that day, but those came early in the game. Plus, it would not have mattered had those two Osprey baserunners got back to home plate.
So, Vespi gets this week’s on-field honor for getting the baseball team out of a late-game jam to keep its season-opening winning streak alive.
And now.... a special preview:
The UCF Track and Field team will be heading to Birmingham for the American Athletic Conference Indoor Track and Field Championship, which starts on Friday, Feb. 25.
Sophomore sprinter and hurdler Rayniah Jones threw out the first pitch for last Sunday’s baseball game against Siena due to her NIL partnership with Addition Financial she announced last month.
For today’s game, @UCF_Track’s @RayniahJones takes the mound for the 1st pitch.— Bryson Turner (@itsBrysonTurner) February 20, 2022
Jones holds the school records in the 60-meter and 100-meter hurdles and competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Trials.
She and her teammates compete in @AmericanXCTrack Indoor Championship on Feb. 25. pic.twitter.com/EHBk9wYAuX
So, I caught up with Jones after the game to speak with her about getting to throw out the first pitch, her NIL deal with Addition Financial, the upcoming AAC Indoor Championship, and more: