They did it again.
It wasn’t easy, but the UCF Knights Volleyball team overcame losing their starting setter and a fierce challenge from the Temple Owls to win their third straight American Athletic Conference championship in a four-set victory, 25-20, 24-26, 25-13, 25-20.
McKenna Melville was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, posting 46 kills and 30 digs combined in the Knights’ two matches. Ever the personality, Melville told our Eric Lopez after the game that winning championships this being her third in three years at UCF - never gets old:
As great as Melville’s performance was, it wasn’t a solo effort. Anne-Marie Watson, who hit only .091 in Friday’s semifinal win over Tulane, hit .393 on Saturday to clinch all-tournament honors.
Watson after the match:
Nerissa Moravec also made all-tournament.
It was a bigger challenge than it was anticipated to be at the start of the week, after setter Amber Olson could not play due to what the television broadcast said was a COVID contact tracing issue. Emily Lawrence, a freshman from Hagerty High School in Oviedo, had to step in, and did in a big way with a team-high 28 assists on Saturday after posting 21 on Friday. Dresi Pass also posted 54 total assists for the weekend.
For head coach Todd Dagenais, it’s his fourth conference title and fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament. He was understandably relieved after the match:
The pressure was real. With only 48 teams in the NCAA Tournament field (only 16 of which would get at-large bids), had UCF lost, they may have been left out of the tournament. It did not look good several times through the nine sets UCF played this weekend, especially during Friday’s grueling five-setter against Tulane in the semifinals.
It didn’t get much easier Saturday after Temple evened the match with a 26-24 victory in Set #2. But after a monster third set and holding off the Owls in the fourth, the Knights finally earned the right to grab that trophy:
Dagenais joins Meg Colado (2001-2003) and Laura Smith (1994-1997) as the only UCF Volleyball coaches who have won at least three conference titles in a row and made the NCAA Tournament three years in a row.
It also continues a remarkable run for the Knights over the last three-plus seasons, who have won 77 of their last 92 matches overall, and 50 of the last 52 against teams from The American.
The NCAA Selection Show is scheduled for Sunday, April 4, at 4 p.m. on ESPNU.