On Friday, the NCAA announced that they would work on hosting “scaled back” fall Championships in the spring. They also announced all fall athletes will gain one extra year of eligibility.
Then on Tuesday, The American announced that they are moving Olympic fall team sports to the spring.
“We remain committed to providing our student-athletes a quality experience and competing at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics,” said American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco in a release Tuesday. “We were prepared to conduct competition in the fall in men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball, but moving to the spring was in the best interest of our student-athletes as it will align our schedules to allow our teams to compete for national championships.”
I applaud Aresco and the league for making this decision, not forcing the Olympic sports to play in the fall and giving them the opportunity to compete for an NCAA championship come spring. It is a huge break for the UCF Knights, who were left with only a conference championship opportunity in the fall but will now have a chance to compete for both a conference and a national title in the spring.
But what does this change mean for each UCF fall team sport? Let’s break it down.
Head Coach Todd Dagenais and UCF Volleyball will be looking to three-peat as AAC Champions and make their third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. They notched the program’s first NCAA Tourney win since 2003 with a first-round, five-set victory over Florida State last year. Another tournament appearance in the spring would match these Knights with the 2001-03 UCF teams that won three straight A-Sun championships.
The Knights will also be aiming to reach their first Sweet 16. UCF has made it to the round of 32 twice in the Division I era (1997 and 2019). The format of the “scaled back” NCAA Championship, which has yet to be announced, could have a significant impact on whether the Knights can pull that off in the spring of 2021.
The Knights are led by McKenna Melville, who is to enter her junior season. Melville has already accumulated 1,076 kills in her first two seasons, which puts her on pace to break UCF’s school record of 2,151 career kills, held by UCF hall-of-famer Renata Menchikova. Melville has also accumulated 800 digs, which puts her on pace to finish in the top three all-time in digs. Melville is a two-time All-American and would join Delaina Sarden as a three-time All-American if she were to be honored in spring of 2021.
Melville will still have a chance to join Tyra Harper as marquee UCF players to lead the Knights to four NCAA Tournament appearances and four conference championships.
Anne-Marie Watson enters her senior season ranked second all-time in block assists with 378, trailing only Tyra Harper (475), and 4th in total blocks with 395, trailing the record also held by Harper with 631.
Watson is one of three seniors along side Nerissa Moravec and Faby Ribas, who have the option of getting that extra year of eligibility for the spring and fall of 2021 seasons.
A key question moving forward for Volleyball would be what will the schedule be like for the spring? The American had announced on August 5th a plan for a two-division format in which each team will play the other teams in its division twice at the same site while letting each team schedule three weekends for non conference games.
But will that still be the case? The conference tournament is scheduled to be hosted by Cincinnati. Will that conference tournament still happen? It all may depend on the NCAA Tournament format and criteria.
UCF Men’s Soccer
Scott Calabrese and his Men’s Soccer team were in the running to make three straight NCAA Tournaments which the program has done just once before (2002-2004). UCF would have been favorites for an AAC three-peat going into the season despite losing two-time All-American Cal Jennings.
However, with no NCAA Championship in the fall, questions surround what the roster roster would look like for spring of 2021.
UCF has seven seniors, headlined by goalkeeper Yannik Oettl, Yoni Sorokin, and Louis Perez all of whom have been all-conference performers, with Oettl the reigning two-time AAC Goalkeeper of the Year and Sorikin the 2019 AAC Midfielder of the Year, and Perez a third team All-American in 2018. Another key senior is Hattabiou Barry, who would have been counted on to help replace Jennings’ scoring.
The big question will be how many of them will be around to participate in a spring season with potential pro opportunities out there, starting with the MLS SuperDraft, scheduled for January of 2021, as well as possible opportunities overseas.
Another question will also be the schedule. The American’s six men’s soccer teams were going to play a 10-match double-round-robin schedule of conference matches this fall with possible non-conference games during the midweek and the regular season champion hosting the four-team conference tournament. Will that still be the case in spring? We don’t know yet, but I suspect the regular season schedule formula will be similar.
UCF Women’s Soccer
Women’s Soccer is looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017 and they are certainly would-be favorites for the league title alongside Memphis and USF. UCF has four seniors, headlined by midfielders Mollie Rouse and Madison Murnin, who has already completed her master’s degree. Like Men’s Soccer, Women’s Soccer players may get the opportunity to play professionally in 2021.
The good news for UCF is even if they were not to have any seniors returning for spring 2021, Head Coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak has added one of her strongest recruiting classes, ranked 22nd by Top Drawer soccer. Chemistry will key for both Women’s and Men’s teams with short season and potential roster adjustments.
The American had planned this fall for the nine women’s soccer teams to play an eight-match single-round-robin schedule of conference matches with possible mid-week non conference matches. I can see a similar formula in the spring.
UCF Cross Country
Cross Country has a very young roster with only a couple of seniors in Jessica Dolan and Victoria Jung.
Dolan finished second at the 2019 UCF Cross Country Invitational running a personal best time in the 6K.
Jung redshirted the 2019 cross country season, but finished 38th overall at the AAC Championships in 2018 and figured to add depth for coach Bryan Jackson, who runs the Cross Country and long distance group as an assistant to Head Coach Track & Field Dana Boone.
It will be interesting what the NCAA & AAC do with the Cross Country Championships. According The American’s press release, “A decision regarding cross country competition will be forthcoming pending further NCAA clarification.”
The issue with a spring Cross Country season is the outdoor Track and Field season. It may be difficult to fit Cross Country in the spring. One can argue that Cross Country is the safest sport of them all and can still be held in the fall or winter. But we shall see what the NCAA & American decide.
In the end, what we do know is that all UCF fall athletes will get an opportunity to compete for conference championships and NCAA championships like they normally do in the fall. They just will have to wait a few extra months longer than usual.