The 2023-24 UCF Knights Athletics season is underway, and in honor of UCF’s accession into the Big 12 Conference, we will present our version of 12 for 12. For the next 12 days, we will tackle what we think are the 12 biggest questions facing UCF Athletics in the coming year across all sports.
12. Which new UCF head coach will have the biggest impact?
UCF’s newest head coaches this 2023-2024 year include:
Mara Allen (Rowing)
Jenny Maurer (Volleyball)
Lloyd Bruce-Burgess (Men’s Tennis)
Bryan Harmon (Cross Country)
Rich Wallace (Baseball)
Jeff: Rich Wallace — Baseball
Rich played for Jay Bergman and coached for him for a hot minute back in the day before beginning his long and successful journey as an assistant at places like Notre Dame and Florida State. Because he’s an old head, he has tremendous support among the alumni, particularly UCF’s baseball alumni.
Of all teams, Baseball (at least outwardly) seems to have the strongest financial support from its former players, and Rich is their guy. After two outsiders at the helm (Greg Lovelady and Terry Rooney), those guys have been dying for someone from within the UCF orbit to return home to run the program, and now they have him. That means their expectations are also high, but Rich knows that better than anyone.
Combine that with Big 12 resources and I expect UCF Baseball to make a serious push to compete quickly.
Eric: Jenny Maurer — Volleyball
Since Maurer joined the coaching staff in 2016, UCF has made the postseason every year, including five NCAA Tournament appearances with five conference championships. She brought in players like McKenna Melville and Amber Olson.
Sometimes in a transition like this for a program playing in the Big 12, a familiar face but new voice in charge is good in the long run. Plus, unlike the other new head coaches on campus, Maurer has nearly a decade of experience as a Division I head coach on her resume.
Bryson: Mara Allen — Rowing
In the last few seasons under Becky Cramer and interim head coach Montia Rice, the rowing program lost its AAC dominance to former Knights assistant Kim Cupini and SMU.
Now, Mara Allen arrives in Orlando after eight seasons as an assistant at a University of Texas program that not only won eight consecutive Big 12 Championships but also two NCAA Championships in 2021 and 2022.
She knows what it takes to succeed on the national stage, and she now brings that experience with her to Orlando.
Derek: Wallace and Maurer
Florida is one of the best states for baseball recruiting, and Central Florida may be the best region in the state for that. If Rich Wallace can follow Gus Malzhan’s “Hometown Hero” recruiting ideology and keep talent local, then UCF Baseball could turn into a power program sooner rather than later.
Jenny Maurer might have pushed Rich as the new coach with the biggest impact, but since she was already an assistant coach under Todd Dagenais, and the offensive/setter coach, AND the recruiting coordinator responsible for bringing in players like McKenna Melville and Amber Olson, she has already provided a significant impact to the program. Now we get to see how much she can build on her existing successes.
Andrew: Rich Wallace — Baseball
As Derek said, Florida is a fertile state for baseball recruiting. With how strong the Big 12 conference is, players are going to be interested in coming. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, and UCF will offer them that opportunity. With Wallace being a UCF grad with coaching and recruiting experience at Florida State, he is primed to hit the ground running.
As Jeff said, there is strong support from boosters in regard to the baseball program. That could play a role in NIL opportunities or in other forms of support. The stadium has had some recent upgrades and a loyal following.