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UCF Volleyball’s NCAA Trip Begins vs. Pepperdine

Knights face Waves in LA to start difficult NCAA draw

Nerissa Moravec Volleyball Photo Courtesy: UCF Athletics

The UCF Knights Volleyball team’s fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament run begins Friday night in famed Pauley Pavilion on the campus of UCLA against the Pepperdine Waves. First serve is set for 7:30 p.m. ET and the match will be televised on ESPN+.

Here are a few things you need to know heading into tonight’s first-round matchup:

Game Day Guide

When: Friday, December 3rd, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Pauley Pavilion, on the campus of UCLA


How to Watch

Stream: ESPN+

About Pepperdine

The Waves (22-5) finished third in the West Coast Conference and have an RPI of 37, just 15 spots back of UCF. Two of their losses were to WCC champs BYU, who are the #11 overall seed. It’s their 23rd NCAA Tournament appearance, but their first since 2018.

The Waves are led by Rachel Ahrens, a 6-4 senior outside hitter who is 12th in the nation in points (560) and 16th in total kills (464), not far behind UCF’s own McKenna Melville.

Things to Know

We’re not in Gainesville anymore!

This is a rare setting for UCF volleyball. The last seven times the Knights have gone to the NCAA Tournament, they’ve been sent to Gainesville for the first weekend. It has not typically gone well:

UCF Volleyball in the NCAA Tournament since 2000

Season Record Qualified Final RPI Location First Round Second Round
Season Record Qualified Final RPI Location First Round Second Round
2001 19-7 Won A-Sun 94 Gainesville L to FIU, 3-0 -
2002 22-13 Won A-Sun 112 Gainesville L to 5 Florida, 3-0 -
2003 23-7 Won A-Sun 72 Gainesville W vs. Cincinnati, 3-2 L to 3 Florida, 3-0
2014 25-8 Won AAC 35 Gainesville L to Miami, 3-2 -
2018 27-4 Won AAC 11 Orlando L to FGCU, 3-2 -
2019 25-8 Won AAC 24 Gainesville W vs. Florida St., 3-2 L to 10 Florida, 3-0
2020* 16-2 Won AAC 9 Omaha** L to High Point, 3-2 -
2021 26-6 Won AAC 22 Los Angeles ? ?
* - COVID season played in Spring of 2021, ** - Entire NCAA Tournament played in Omaha

The only two times they weren’t:

  • 2018: UCF hosted, but lost in the first round to FGCU. More on that in a sec.
  • 2020 (actually Spring 2021): The entire tournament was held in Omaha, Nebraska.

Prior to this season, the last time UCF played outside of the state of Florida in a normal NCAA Tournament was back in 1997, when UCF’s all-time leader in kills, Renata Menchikova, led the Knights to a stunning first round win over Clemson in Madison, Wisconsin. That was the first time UCF had advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament since UCF began competing in the NCAA.

Stay healthy

UCF has been beset by bad injury luck in their last two best chances to get to the second weekend.

In 2018, UCF hosted as a national seed for the first time since the AIAW days. But prior to the final match of the regular season at South Florida, the Knights lost starting setter Erin Olson. She was unable to play in the first round match against Florida Gulf Coast, and the Eagles upset the Knights in five.

In the Spring of 2021, UCF was favored over High Point in the first round and had a good chance at the second weekend with Purdue waiting in Round 2, but again got bit by the injury bug when setter Amber Olson (Erin’s younger sister) went down prior to the tournament. Although she was able to play, she ran out of gas after the first three sets with UCF up 2-1, and High Point rallied again to beat UCF in five.


McKenna Melville UCF Volleyball
McKenna Melville
Photo: Noah Goldberg

This could be McKenna Melville’s national coming-out party. The senior from Eagan, Minnesota comes into the tournament ranked as follows nationally:

  • 1st in total kills (578)
  • 1st in points (657.5)
  • 4th in total attacks (1427)
  • 5th in points per set (5.67)
  • 7th in kills per set (4.98)
  • 12th in attacks per set (12.3)

If that sounds pretty historic, it’s because it is.

She has 1,947 career kills heading into this tournament, which is second all-time at UCF regardless of era, behind only Renata Menchikova, who has 2,151, but played in the side-out scoring era, where you weren’t awarded a point unless you won it on serve.

It’s entirely possible that McKenna could eclipse 2,000 kills this tournament, especially if UCF gets to the second weekend.

But wait...there’s more!

She also has 1,344 career digs heading into the weekend, which ranks fourth all-time at UCF, and two of the three players ahead of her were dedicated liberos, Jordan Pingel and Meredith Murphy.

Oh, and she and leading setter Amber Olson are both coming back for one more season regardless of what happens this weekend:

Defense wins championships

Anne-Marie Watson of UCF Volleyball
Anne-Marie Watson
Photo courtesy: UCF Athletics

In the midst of all the McKenna Melville stuff, let us not forget that UCFs strength is its defense, particularly the blocking pair of Nerissa Moravec and Anne-Marie Watson.

Moravec and Watson, who are both playing their final season at UCF, are currently second and third all-time at UCF in total blocks, and Moravec is 8th nationally in blocks per set with 1.39 and 9th in total blocks at 145.

Lest we forget AAC Setter of the Year Amber Olson, who is having a career season as UCF’s primary setter. She is currently 28th in the nation in total assists with 1,155.

Bottom line: This won’t be easy.

It should be a tight one at Pauley Pavilion between two of the best-hitting teams in the nation. First serve is at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+.