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Knight Cap: Men’s Soccer falls in AAC Championship, Volleyball Hits 11 Straight

Plus: Cross Country competes in the NCAA South Regional

Noah Goldberg

The past week of UCF Knights sports saw one team play in its 5th consecutive conference championship, another team continue its conference dominance, and another team make an important step in its development for the future. Plus, we name the Knight of the Week in your latest Knight Cap for Wednesday, November 17.

Men’s Soccer falls to #2 Tulsa in AAC Championship

Despite the UCF Men’s Soccer team making it to the American Athletic Conference Championship game for the 5th consecutive season, it was not able to replicate the win from last season. Though, that does not mean the tournament itself was a total loss.

The last time the Knights faced off with Memphis, they were stunned, 3-0. On Wednesday, in the American Athletic Conference Tournament Semifinals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, UCF returned the favor twice over.

The Knights secured their 5th consecutive appearance in the conference championship game with a 6-0 win over Memphis in an offensive onslaught.

It began early on when midfielder Rainer de Jesus, a fifth-year senior transfer from Lindsey Wilson College, scored his first UCF goal in the 4th minute. He was assisted by sophomore defender Anderson Rosa and sophomore forward Lucca Dourado.

Dourado himself would score a goal later on in the match, his 13th of the season, in the 28th minute. He was assisted by senior midfielder Mauricio Villalobos Vega and junior forward Gino Vivi.

Vivi would also get two goals for himself, both unassisted. The first one came in the 25th minute.

The second one, scored in the 59th minute, brought Vivi’s season goal total to six.

Fifth-year utility player Nick Taylor, the team’s assist leader, scored a goal for himself in the 38th minute, unassisted.

Finally, senior defender Yanis Leerman got his first career goal with a penalty kick in the 47th minute.

These six UCF goals came off of 21 total shots, with eight of them being on goal. Comparing that with the Tigers’ nine total shots with just one on goal shows that not only did the UCF offense continuously pepper the Memphis net, but the defense also ensured that Memphis had next to nil chances of getting a shot on goal.

Not many shots were directly stopped in this one, with the Tigers getting only two saves while redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Bernardo Brandao got one lone save in his second career start.

Additionally, both teams ended up with a similar amount of fouls, with the Tigers receiving 13 while the Knights got 12. Keep those numbers in mind for later.

For the second time in this month, the Knights lost to #2-ranked Tulsa on the road, 2-1. However, in this match, the conference championship was on the line.

The Golden Hurricane got on the board first with the only goal of the first half in the 32nd minute, courtesy of Tulsa sophomore midfielder Alvaro Torrijos.

The Knights equalized in the 57th minute with an unassisted goal by Vivi, his 7th goal of the season and 3rd of the tournament.

However, Tulsa midfielder Marcos Montero received an assist from sophomore forward Will Edwards and scored the game-winning goal for the Golden Hurricane in the 82nd minute.

Both teams finished the match with similar offensive numbers. UCF finished with 10 shots with three on goal while Tulsa finished with nine shots, also with three on goal.

In addition, due to these low shots on goal numbers, both teams had low save numbers, with Brandao once gain getting one lone save in his third career start while the freshman Golden Hurricane keeper, Alex Lopez, finished with two saves.

However, the two teams do vastly differ in the same category in their last encounter, fouls. The Knights finished with 14 fouls, one less than the last time they faced off against Tulsa which was the most fouls they committed in a single match all season. Meanwhile, Tulsa only committed five fouls.

There’s not enough time here to delve into UCF’s foul statistics and the role it played late in the season, but stay tuned to the Black and Gold Banneret for Eric Lopez and I’s Soccer post-mortem. I’ll break it down there.

In the meantime, the Knights did get four players onto the All-tournament team: Dourado, De Jesus, Leerman, and Vivi. Vivi also received the Most Outstanding Offensive Player award.

UCF finishes off its season with a 9-8 overall record and a 6-4 record in conference play.

Volleyball sweeps two more conference foes

The UCF Volleyball team began its final homestand of the regular season, sweeping two more conference opponents.

First up, the team handily swept Memphis on Thursday, 3-0 (25-18, 25-19, 25-14).

Senior Outside Hitter McKenna Melville got the double-double, leading the team in kills (15) and digs (14). Fifth-year senior right-side hitter Anne-Marie Watson came close behind Melville with 14 kills while senior setter Amber Olson led the team in assists (41) and came in a tie for 2nd in digs with freshman libero Katelyn Grimes (9).

The team’s sweep of SMU on Saturday showed more of the same on the stats sheet (25-16, 25-21, 25-20). However, head coach Todd Dagenais later said after the match that the Mustangs “run their middles as well as anybody in the country” and that “they kept us off balance a little bit.”

Dagenais said he was anticipating having to sacrifice Melville’s offense in this match to counteract SMU’s senior outside hitter, Rachel Woulfe since she “takes up half the court herself.” Yet, even with an initial game plan that did not call for her offensively, Melville managed to once again lead the team in kills (17) and digs (14).

“McKenna found a way to create and make her own shot and that’s what a great player does is find a way to create and make their own shot,” Dagenais said.

With her performance in this match, Melville became the Division I leader in total kills so far this season with 504 kills, also crossing the 500-kill mark for the season in the process. She also leads Division I in points, with 571.0.

As for the rest of the team, Olson once again led in assists (36) and finished in a tie for the 2nd-most digs, this time with sophomore libero Chloe Scheer (7). Additionally, junior middle blocker Claudia Dillon got the 2nd-most kills (9) while also leading the team in blocks (4).

The team has its final home match of the season against Temple on Friday at 7 p.m., but before that, it will have a midweek matchup with USF at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. Despite the team already sweeping the Bulls in Tampa last month, Dagenais said the match’s status as a rivalry game makes it a “trap game.”

“They could make their entire season by knocking us off,” Dagenais said. “So, it’s our job to find out what are the ways they can do that and make sure that doesn’t happen.”

For more from head coach Todd Dagenais after the match, check out his full post-match press conference here:

Cross Country finishes season off at NCAA Regionals (feat. Anne-Marie Blaney)

While they will not advance further to the NCAA Championships, the UCF Cross Country team reached heights not seen in years for the program in the NCAA South Regional in Huntsville, Alabama.

The Knights took home 15th place as a team with 455 points, tying the program’s 2nd-highest team finish in the NCAA South Regional. The only higher finish was in 2014 when the team took home 14th place.

The team was led by freshman Valerie Lastra, who took home a 78th place finish with a 21:51.68 time.

The rest of the team’s top 5 runners (the ones whose points counted for the team total) all broke their 6K personal bests in this race.

Junior Charlotte Crook finished in 86th place with a 22:02.52 time. Freshman Kambry Smith finished in 97th place with a 22:12.85 time, beating her personal best by over 30 seconds.

Freshman Isabella Babilonia broke her personal best by just over 40 seconds with a 22:21.32 time, taking home 103rd place, while fellow freshman Lillian Holtery was not far behind in 106th place with a 22:23.24 time, beating her personal best by just under 55.5 seconds.

Freshman Rachel Wheatley also earned a new personal best with a 23:03.22 time that got her 145th place, beating her old mark by just under 28 seconds.

Sophomore Mariana Rodriguez rounded out the team’s seven runners with a 169th place finish with a 23:29.63 time.

The Banneret’s new resident Cross Country/Track and Field analyst Anne-Marie Blaney had this to say about the team’s performance:

(Note: Blaney’s reference to “finishing just a few places apart from each other” refers to how the team’s Top 5 runners finished within 31 seconds of each other. All seven runners finished within 1:37 seconds of each other.)

With that, the season draws to a close for this youth-dominated Cross Country team. However, Lastra, Crook, Rodriguez, and more of the Cross Country roster will be back in 2022 for the Indoor Track and Field season which kicks off on Jan. 14, 2022, with the Clemson opener in Clemson, South Carolina.

Women’s Tennis closes out fall schedule in dual events

The UCF Women’s Tennis team concluded their fall schedule with players at two different tournaments in the Sunshine State, the UNF Invite and the W25 Daytona Beach Women’s Open.

Junior Marie Mattel and redshirt junior Nandini Sharma competed in both the doubles and singles draws at the UNF Invite. In doubles action, the duo went 1-2 for the tournament, losing in both their semifinal and 3rd place matches. However, their lone win did come against the No. 29-ranked Clemson duo, sophomore Jenna Thompson and junior Eleni Louka (6-2).

In singles action, Mattel exited her flight tournament after losing in her first match to No. 45-ranked Auburn junior Carolyn Ansari (6-3, 4-6, 6-0).

Sharma had better luck in her flight, upsetting Thompson, who ranks No. 83 as an individual, in her first-round match (6-2, 6-1). However, she fell in the next round to Florida freshman Alicia Dudeney (6-2, 6-4).

Meanwhile, sophomore Nadja Bay Christians, senior Evgeniya Levashova, and redshirt senior Valeriya Zeleva were competing in Daytona Beach.

In singles action, Christians was eliminated in the first round of the qualifying draw by fellow Spaniard Leyere Romero Gormaz (6-0, 6-1). Levashova was also eliminated in her first match, but it was in the first round of the main draw to Irina Fetecău of Romania (6-2, 6-1).

In doubles action, Levashova and Zeleva won their first two matches, including one against the tournament’s No. 4-seed, Australian duo Abbie Myers and Ivana Popovic, before falling in the semifinals to the duo of Australian Alexandra Osborne and American Alycia Parks (6-2, 0-6, 14-16).

This concludes the fall schedule for the Women’s Tennis team. The team will return for the 2022 ITA Kickoff Weekend on Jan. 28-29 as they host UC Santa Barbara, Auburn, and Arizona State.

Women’s Basketball splits first two games

The UCF Women’s Basketball team began its season with a 68-39 win over Duquesne and a 49-41 loss to Tennessee, both in Addition Financial Arena.

For more about the team, check out Kyle Nash’s articles that previewed the 2021-22 season and broke down the team’s loss to Tennessee and Noah Goldberg’s photo gallery from the Duquesne game.

The team will hit the road to take on Virginia on Wednesday at 7 p.m. and will be streamed live on ACC Network+ before returning home to Orlando to host Belmont on Sunday at 2 p.m. in a game that will stream live on ESPN+.

Knight of the Week

Nerissa Moravec, Volleyball

Only three players in UCF Volleyball history have ever recorded 500 career blocks and 400 career block assists: Tyra Harper, Anne-Marie Watson, and now, after Saturday’s SMU match, redshirt senior middle blocker Nerissa Moravec.

Watson may have the edge on Moravec in career blocks. However, in terms of this season, Moravec ranks 34th in Division I with 118 total blocks, 19 more than Watson. She is also ranked 30th in Division I, and 1st in the AAC, in blocks per set with 1.30.

Dagenais said he was “excited” upon learning of Moravec’s milestone.

“That’s what she does for this team better than anything else, is that she is such a solid blocker,” Dagenais said. “We built our blocking assignments around her, so to hear that I’m so proud of her because sometimes she sacrifices on the offensive end so that the outsides can have the glory.”

Well, this week, it’s Moravec’s turn for glory.