The UCF Knights Volleyball team knocked off the top-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats in five sets at the Venue to win the inaugural American Athletic Conference Volleyball Tournament, clinching an automatic NCAA Tournament berth on their home floor.
McKenna Melville won Most Outstanding Player honors for the tournament with 59 kills in the Knights’ three matches over three days.
Although UCF and Cincinnati were clearly the two best teams in the conference this year, UCF had to play an extra match since they were both in the same division, and Cincinnati defeated UCF twice in the regular year. But the third time was definitely the charm for the Knights in the conference final.
Head coach Todd Dagenais referenced the Knights’ heart-breaking learning experience against then-top-ten Marquette at the start of the year after the match:
The match turned on two key moments.
Both teams split the first two sets. But in the third, Cincinnati built a lead and had set point at 24-18, needing just one more point to take a 2-1 lead in the match.
Then UCF ripped off a phenomenal eight consecutive points to steal the third, 26-24, in an amazing comeback, led by Lache Harper and McKenna Melville.
Cincinnati returned the favor by winning the fourth, 26-24, forcing a fifth and deciding set.
Adding to the drama, the UCF Women’s Basketball team, still dressed in their uniforms after their victory over Delaware moments before, snuck into The Venue to watch the final set:
In the fifth, it was tied 8-8, but then three attack errors by Cincinnati star Jordan Thompson and two kills by McKenna Melville gave UCF five consecutive points before wrapping it up, 15-10.
Nerissa Moravec finished it off at the net:
Moravec and her fellow frontcourt players were outstanding tonight, racking up 16 blocks to just two for the Bearcats. Lache Harper had 12 blocks and Anne-Marie Watson added nine.
In addition, UCF took advantage of Cincinnati’s mistakes, as the Knights committed just 10 attack errors on 183 swings to Cincinnati’s 32 on 209.
Jordan Thompson, Cincinnati’s All-American standout, still finished with 38 kills on 98 swings, but she was stifled by UCF’s front line of Moravec, Harper, Alli Sabol, Anne-Marie Watson and Melville, who accounted for all of UCF’s 16 total blocks, 15 of which were combo blocks.
For UCF, McKenna Melville racked up 27 kills on 81 swings, plus 12 digs. Kristina Fisher added 12 kills and 13 digs and was consistent in pressuring Cincinnati’s backcourt all day. Anne-Marie Watson added 11 kills to her 9 block assists.
Erin and Amber Olson combined for 46 assists and five Knights - Melville, Fisher, both Olsons, and libero Makenzie Kuchmaner, had double-digit digs.
Melville, Fisher and Watson were all named to the All-Tournament Team.
For the Knights, they have now won back-to-back conference titles for the first time since they won three in a row in the Atlantic Sun Conference from 2001-2003. It’s also the first time the Knights won a conference tournament since 2003, when they also clinched the A-Sun title on their home floor.
The win also ties Todd Dagenais with the late Lucy McDaniel as the winningest head coach in UCF Volleyball history with 236 victories.
The Knights now wait until the Sunday after Thanksgiving for the NCAA Volleyball Selection Show. UCF’s RPI was 28 before the weekend, and FigStats puts the Knights at 21 (one spot behind Cincinnati) in their up-to-the-second RPI predictions.
The Knights would likely have gotten into the NCAAs no matter what the result tonight, and in fact it probably won’t help the Knights anyway in terms of seeding for the NCAAs, either.
But it does allow the Knights to hang another banner from the rafters and bring home some hardware for the second straight year. And for a senior like Alli Sabol, that’s something worth celebrating: