It has been a historic 48 hours for UCF Knights Volleyball.
On Friday night, the team clinched at least a share of its fourth consecutive American Athletic Conference championship Friday night in The Venue after sweeping Temple (25-14, 25-2, 25-17).
Then, on Saturday, second-place Houston, who was two matches back of the Knights and needed to win out to win the title, lost in four sets to SMU, handing the Knights the outright title and The American’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
It marks the first time since 1997 that the Knights have won four straight conference titles. The Volleyball team is also the first team since UCF Rowing to clinch four conference crowns in a row.
UCF head coach Todd Dagenais had a hilarious take on clinching the championship on Sunday afternoon:
OK… This might be one of the weirdest feelings in my coaching career… We clinch an outright conference championship while laying in bed watching my Packers lose to the Vikings on a last second field goal. I’ll focus on the positive! So proud of this group. @UCF_Volleyball— Todd Dagenais (@ucfvbtodd) November 21, 2021
The American held a postseason tournament to determine its automatic bid the last two years, but did away with it this season, giving the bid to the regular season champion. Hence, the somewhat anti-climactic moment.
Senior Knights Shine
The Knights celebrated their share of the title on Friday night before the home fans at the Venue.
“Where we are right now is because of us practicing what we preached all the way through all those matches, and that is just keep building, keep getting better and put ourselves in a position at the end of the year where we can clinch a co-championship and still have an opportunity to clinch a championship,” head coach Todd Dagenais said after the match. “So, this is exactly as we drew it up way back in August.”
Dagenais also said it was important for the team to clinch the “co-championship” at home so the fans could enjoy the trophy presentation. Plus, it was a fitting way to send off the team’s seniors in their final home match.
Four seniors were honored before the match, players that Dagenais called the most prolific graduating class in modern UCF Volleyball history: right-side hitter Anne-Marie Watson, outside hitter Tali Marmen, and middle blockers Nerissa Moravec and Kathryn Wesolich.
Watson, Moravec, and Wesolich are some of the first UCF Volleyball players to be a part of four conference championship teams since Tyra Harper, Maribel Marcos, Suzie Quiesser, and Elyse Schneider, who all played four seasons for the Knights between 1993-1997 when the team was the Atlantic Sun Conference champion for five straight seasons.
“I feel like it’s a good piece of closure, being able to go out and do that for our fans, for each other, for our family and our support systems,” Moravec said. “It’s just a really great feeling to be able to do that together.”
Outside hitter McKenna Melville and setter Amber Olson, both seniors, also join the list of Volleyball players to win four conference championships. However, they were not a part of the Senior Night festivities. Both players still have an extra year of eligibility thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and Dagenais said there were “still considerations to be weighed out.”
Additionally, Dagenais confirmed that Wesolich and Marmen will be transferring to use their extra year of eligibility elsewhere. He said Marmen has the chance to “be somebody’s [Melville]” and that Wesolich will be a great teammate and asset to any coach’s program. Wesolich officially entered the transfer portal on Thursday.
As for the match itself, UCF (24-6, 17-1 AAC) captured its 13th-straight win of its latest winning streak and its 16th sweep of the season. However, en route to that sweep, the Knights thumped the Owls in the 2nd set, 25-2, for what Dagenais said was the largest margin of victory of his tenure as head coach. Previously, that mark was a 25-5 win in the 1st set vs. McNeese State in 2008, Dagenais’ first season with the Knights.
“I mean, we spent a lot of time preparing for this match,” Dagenais said. “I can’t explain us hitting .400 against that block and that defense, it just was magic. I can’t explain holding them to no kills in the second set.
“Something was just going right.”
Melville led the team with 10 kills followed by Moravec (7), who got the final kill to win the 3rd set, and Wesolich and Watson, who both had six. Melville also led the team with 11 digs, closely followed by freshman libero Katelyn Grimes, with 10, and Olson, with nine.
Moravec and Watson also finished their match with five block assists, which puts Moravec two block assists away from passing Harper on the all-time career block assists list, a feat Watson accomplished back in September.
“I’ve loved playing next to [Moravec] all these years, we’ve been able to play for five years together now, which seems insane and it’s kind of crazy that we were able to do that,” Watson said.
The team will be hitting the road next week for its final two matches of the regular season, needing to win just one of them to clinch the American Athletic Conference championship outright. First, it is a 7 p.m. match on Wednesday against Tulane (16-13, 9-8 AAC), then the team travels to Houston for an 8 p.m. match against the Cougars. Houston (24-5, 14-3 AAC) is the only AAC team to beat the Knights this season.
“Right now, all focus is on Tulane because Tulane is the hurdle, but we also have to get ready for Houston because Houston is hungry,” Dagenais said. “They want to come out and prove a point.”
Despite the trophy presentation that was held after the match, Dagenais said that a lot of the team did not even touch it, because the trophy the team actually wants still needs to be won.
“That’s not the one that we want,” Dagenais said. “We want the one that comes with the automatic bid.”
For more from head coach Todd Dagenais after the match, check out his full post-match press conference here:
For more from the four honored seniors after the match, check out their full post-match press conference, plus a surprise special sendoff from Dagenais, here: