The yearly tradition returns to the Black & Gold Banneret: the annual honors for UCF Knights Athletic performance and achievement known as The Black & Gold Banneret Awards — The Bannies.
This particular category focuses on the signal-callers in men’s sports that are tasked to train, develop, motivate, position, and prepare their athletes in their quest to charge on to victory.
Here’s how it works: We, the staff, put together our nominees for each award. You can listen to our nominations podcast episode here. Over the next couple of weeks, we will open fan voting for each award. Each staff member gets one vote, and the winner of the fan vote will get one vote. If there is a tie, the fan vote will be the tiebreaker. We will announce the winners in two weeks.
With all that in mind, on to the nominees for 2022’s Story of the Year:
UCF is invited to join the Big 12
Men’s soccer to join the Sun Belt Conference
When the Southeastern Conference surprised the world and announced that the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners were leaving the Big 12 Conference for the SEC, the college world exploded. The Big 12 was already a small conference with only ten members, so with your blue-chip programs leaving and being down to eight-member schools, things didn’t look good. The remaining eight were looking to jump ship to another power conference except for one thing: No one came to their rescue.
Since the remaining eight were not going to be picked up by the Big Ten or PAC-12, it was decided they were going to reload and used this as an opportunity to grow back to 12 members. This gives them more stability and inventory. When the conference looked into expanding back in 2016, UCF was one of the teams to do the dog and pony show. While the conference was paid not to expand, the front office remembered. UCF’s run in football and men’s basketball could not have come at a better time, creating a resume that would be very difficult to beat.
The rumor mill was churning and on September 10, 2021, the UCF Board of Trustees voted to accept the invitation to join the Big 12 Conference. They are joined by AAC mates Cincinnati and Houston and BYU from the West Coast Conference.
Conference realignment isn’t easy. UCF, along with Cincinnati, and Houston spent months negotiating a buyout that would allow them to join the Big 12 in 2023. After starting at the outlandish ask of $45 million, the schools whittled down the AAC. Nearing the 11th hour, it was agreed upon that each school would pay $18 million on a payment schedule. As of this writing, UCF has already paid $5 million of it.
UCF’s journey from Division 1 nobody to power conference team has been a long one. It started in 1990 with the America South Conference, followed by the Sun Belt Conference, Trans Atlantic Atheltic Conference/Atlantic Sun, Mid-American Conference(for football), Conference USA, American Athletic Conference, soon, the Big 12.
To add to the drama, the story hasn’t ended. Last week, USC and UCLA accepted invitations to the Big Ten and causing another potential round of realignment. While the Big 12’s final membership might change, short of a catastrophic disaster, UCF will become a member of the Big 12 Conference on July 1st, 2023.
The only sport on the outside looking in is men’s soccer. The Big 12 does not have enough teams that sponsor the sport, so they needed to figure out their affiliation. There were two realistic options: Keep the team in the American as an affiliate member or move to the Sun Belt Conference. UCF ended up joining the Sun Belt, fully removing themselves as AAC members. The Sun Belt also houses the other power conference schools that sponsor men’s soccer that their home conferences do not, including Kentucky and South Carolina from the SEC and West Virginia from the Big 12. The SBC also has a new member in Marshall, who won the 2021 national championship.
Women’s Basketball wins The American
Since the formation of the American Athletic Conference until the end of the 2019 season, UConn has owned everyone. They went coast-to-coast and won every single AAC tournament. The Huskies left for the Big East in 2020 and the conference has been up for grabs. The 2021 team was a good team that fell short in the AAC tournament final. The 2022 team was on a whole different level.
The Knights had three, that’s right, three losses during the regular season. There was an early-season home loss to Tennessee, a road loss to Iowa, and a dud at Cincinnati. Other than that, no one was able to take this team down. This team looked like it could be the one to finally cut the nets down in Fort Worth.
The team that stood in their way was the team that took them down last year, South Florida.
Last year, the Knights went 1-2 against the Bulls. This time, UCF busted out the brooms with a three-game sweep. In the first matchup, they won 67-51 on ESPNU. For the second, a 54-33 drubbing in Temple Terrance on ESPN 2. The AAC final was the closest of the three games, but it was destiny for the Knights as they once again defeated the Bulls on national television(ESPNU) 53-45.
The team got to celebrate and cut down the nets before coming home and preparing for the NCAA Tournament. Even though they had the AAC’s automatic bid now, the Knights were selected as the seventh seed in the Bridgeport bracket to face the tenth-seeded Florida Gators. The Knights would win 69-52 before falling in a close contest 52-47 against, you guessed it, UConn.
This team might be one of the biggest “what-if” stories in UCF history. What if they found a way to defeat UConn? What if they didn’t lose to Cincinnati, which was a team they should have defeated? What if they lost elsewhere in the season? The team was good enough, any of these scenarios might have led to a longer run in the NCAA tournament.
Orlando hosts the NCAA Softball Regional
In softball and baseball, the postseason has 64 teams. They are then broken up into sixteen groups of four called regionals. The top seeds in each group are the top nationally-ranked sixteen teams in the country and host the regionals. The regionals are miniature double-elimination tournaments. The regionals are then bracketed so that the winner of the top nationally-ranked team’s regional would then play the winner of the sixteenth nationally-ranked team’s regional in a best of three super regional. The winner would then go into the College World Series. Only once do I ever recall a national seed not hosting a regional, which was UCF in 2001. That’s a different story for another day. At this point, UCF has never hosted a regional in either sport.
After a thrilling walk-off win over a ranked Georgia to kick off the season, the 2022 UCF softball team had a monster season. Boasting a 29-5 home record as part of a 49-14 season along with the AAC tournament title, the Knights were one of the teams on the fringe of possibly hosting a regional.
Unfortunately, UCF had to wait for the end of the selection show to find out their fate, but clues were dropped along the way. Texas was another team on the fringe and their primary competitor for a national seed. Once their name was mentioned as a two-seed in another regional, the level of anticipation and tension jumped up a few levels. When it was revealed that UCF was not going to be in the Gainesville regional, the excitement ramped up even more as UCF usually ended up in an in-state regional. Things reached a fever pitch at the selection show watch party when the 15th seeded bracket was announced and UCF still had not been announced, as this all but cliched them a national seed. Once UCF’s name was called, Krakatoa erupted as UCF softball officially entered uncharted waters. It’s worth noting ESPN did have a crew on-site.
UCF ended up as the 16th national seed and they would host 24th-ranked Michigan, South Dakota State, and Villanova. So not only did UCF get the opportunity to host the regional, the games were something special.
After making short work of Villanova, the Knights and the Michigan Wolverines had an epic showdown in front of a sold-out stadium. Michigan, who had already defeated UCF handedly earlier in the season, was up 2-0 going into the bottom of the sixth. The Knights picked up a run on a double by Ashleigh Griffin. UCF would then tie the game at 2-2 on a double by Maddie Benjarano. The game wouldn’t see another run until Benjarano hit a game-winning double in the 11th inning for a 3-2 final. Kama Woodall would have a legendary performance, pitching a complete game on 181 pitches.
Michigan would claw their way back to playing UCF, but the Knights were well-rested and easily finished the Wolverines off to give UCF their first-ever regional victory. They would move on to the super regionals against eventual national champion Oklahoma, but it doesn’t take away what the softball team accomplished.
Who wins the 2022 Story of the Year Bannie?
This poll is closed
UCF Invited to Big 12 (+ Sun belt for Men’s Soccer)
Women’s Basketball wins AAC
Orlando Softball Regional