In 2019, the UCF Knights Volleyball team faces the the same question any team faces after a great season: What do you do for an encore?
First, you have to be a bit lucky. If you’re UCF Volleyball, that starts with only losing one senior from a team that went 27-4 and didn’t lose a single match in conference.
Second, you have to have a bit of unfinished business. Last year, the Knights hosted the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the NCAA era, but lost in the first round to an FGCU team they were playing for the third time that year.
And third, you have to adjust to being the hunted. UCF was picked 5th in the league last year, but are picked to win it this year, even with the new obstacle of a conference tournament.
The journey has gotten off to a good start with a 2-1 record at their season-opening road tournament at Ole Miss. As they begin their home slate this weekend, here’s everything you need to know about UCF Volleyball for 2019.
27-4, 18-0 and Champions of The American, Lost in NCAA First Round
It was a magical year. After a 3-3 start and a tough loss to UF in Gainesville, the Knights won an astounding 24 matches in a row, including all 18 in conference and 15 at home. It culminated with a final RPI of 10 and a top-25 ranking for the first time in program history.
UCF mostly just steamrolled people with 10 sweeps, but the Knights also won five five-setters, including two against their top challenger in the league and fellow NCAA entrant Cincinnati.
The Knights were picked to host the first round for the first time since joining the NCAA in the early 80s, where they would face Florida Gulf Coast for the third time that season, having beaten them twice. But with Erin Olson out due to an injury, UCF had no answer for Cortney Van Liew, and fell in five sets.
Picked to win The American by the league’s coaches
The Knights are the favorite in The American, with eight of the 12 coaches’ first-place preseason votes. Cincinnati, led by Team USA hopeful Jordan Thompson, had the other four.
The Knights are also receiving votes in the AVCA Coaches’ Poll through the first week.
Who’s in Charge
Dagenais enters year 11 at UCF as the Knights’ second-winningest head coach (212 victories) behind the legendary Lucy McDaniel. 24 more would put him at the top.
Dagenais has built his program into a well-oiled machine on and off the floor, with 62 of his players earning conference academic honors throughout his tenure, all while posting 20+ wins in six of the last eight seasons, including every season but one since joining The American in 2013.
He was also selected for induction into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in his native Michigan this summer.
Listen to Coach Dagenais preview the season on the Black & Gold Banneret Podcast:
Who to Watch
#20 McKenna Melville - Sophomore Outside Hitter
Last year’s American Freshman of the Year was a revelation, dropping 528 total kills (10th-most all-time at UCF) and adding 423 digs, which was 13th in the conference, even though she’s an outside hitter. Absent Cincinnati’s Jordan Thompson, who is a Team USA prospect, Melville is the most effective offensive weapon in the conference and arguably the best two-way player.
#15 Kristina Fisher - Senior Outside Hitter
Fisher enters her final year at UCF having finished 8th in kills in the league with 353. A four-year starter, she is expected to climb UCF’s all-time ranks in offense as the season progresses.
#2 Erin Olson - Senior Setter
Olson is the quintessential point guard. She and her sister Amber combined for more than 1,300 assists last season in a 6-2 offense that saw them flawlessly rotate in and out of the match and keep the offense humming. But an injury ended her season just prior to the finale against USF, and she missed the NCAA Tournament. As a result, nobody has a bigger chip on her shoulder than she does.
#32 Anne-Marie Watson - Junior Right Side
Watson, who along with Melville tried out for the USA National Collegiate Team this past spring, quietly destroyed everything in her path opposite Melville and Fisher. Not only did she compile a strong offensive portfolio with 262 kills, but she also was a stalwart on the front line, amassing 127 total blocks, helping UCF’s middles keep the opposition’s best hitters at bay. The Hagerty High School grad’s best performances came against Cincinnati, as she went toe-to-toe with Jordan Thompson and helped UCF to a pair of five-set wins.
Who We’ll Miss
#4 Jordan Pingel
Pingel was the Ionian Column upon whom UCF stood for four seasons. The Knights’ all-time leader in digs was also their undisputed emotional leader. Replacing her will be difficult, if not impossible, but as Dagenais and her teammates attest to, she was the one who established the team’s culture that the current crop must carry on.
Who’s New That’s Good
#29 Makenzie Kuchmaner - Libero/Defensive Specialist
THIS JUST IN @mkuchmaner9 3⃣2⃣ digs are a rally-scoring era PROGRAM RECORD for digs in a four-set match...— Wolfpack Volleyball (@PackVball) September 23, 2018
...It's also the most by any @ACCVolleyball player in a match this season
Congratulations Makenzie! #CanYouDigIt pic.twitter.com/Ydgxd8TWKo
Kuchmaner comes to UCF as a graduate transfer from North Carolina State, where she was a standout for four years. She, along with another newcomer in freshman Dresi Pass, will be tasked with filling the defensive hole left by Jordan Pingel this year.
#19 MaKenzie Chambers - Right Side
Chambers joins UCF with her twin sister, Morghan, to form a potentially devastating one-two punch for the Knights on either side of the floor. Although she’s the shorter of the two at an even six feet tall (Morghan is 6-2), she made her mark in high school as a two-way player, and already has 11 kills and 9 blocks this season.
Who’s On the Roster
- Four Seniors
- Five Juniors
- Four Sophomores
- Four Freshmen
- Two Central Floridians: Watson (Hagerty High School) and Faby Ribas (Dr. Phillips), a transfer from USF.
- Two sets of sisters: The Olsons - Erin and Amber - and The Chamberses - Morghan and Makenzie, a pair of freshmen from Dallas.
The Big Matches
- September 6 vs. South Carolina
- September 8 vs. Kansas
- September 20 vs. FGCU
- September 21 vs. FAU and Miami
- September 27 vs. UConn
- October 4 at Cincinnati
- October 11 at South Florida
- October 18 at Wichita State
- November 1 vs. South Florida
- November 10 vs. Cincinnati
- November 22-24: American Volleyball Championship at The Venue
The Last Time...
UCF won an NCAA Tournament match: 2003. The A-Sun champion Knights knocked off - wait for it - Cincinnati in the first round of the NCAAs in Gainesville that year before losing to Florida.
Last year, UCF could have had a rematch from the regular season with Florida on the Knights’ home court, but the FGCU Eagles had other ideas. There is little doubt that the disappointment of last season’s conclusion will be in the backs of the Knights’ minds as they chase another NCAA berth.
What to Watch for
The American Volleyball Tournament. For the first time in its history, The American is holding a tournament in volleyball. The decision was not unanimous (as Coach Dagenais said in his interview with us), but there are some benefits for UCF.
First, it will be held at The Venue, since UCF is the defending conference champion.
Second, it will be over before Thanksgiving, allowing the champion ample time to prepare for the NCAAs.
Third, it’s only a six-team field, with the two division winners (that’s also new this year) getting byes. This is a nod to the coaches who opposed the tournament, as it keeps the field small, allowing teams to bolster their RPI against fellow likely Top 100 squads, while still protecting the best teams in the conference regular season by giving them a bye.
Last year, five of the top six teams in The American all had an RPI in the Top 100, and Wichita State, who finished in 7th, was 86th.
Still, the shorter regular season and the tournament will present a whole new set of circumstances for UCF as the season winds down.
Who to Follow
- UCF Volleyball: @UCF_Volleyball
- Head Coach Todd Dagenais: @UCFVBTodd
- American Athletic Conference Volleyball: @American_VBall