The Spring 2021 season was a time of radical ups and downs for UCF Knights Volleyball. On one hand, they won another regular season title and their second straight conference tournament title. On the other, they suffered a heartbreaking loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Now as the fall begins, the Knights aim for their fourth consecutive AAC championship with a loaded roster, but will have to face the toughest schedule in program history on a short summer-only break.
16-2, 8-0 in The American, Regular Season and Tournament Champions, Lost in NCAA First Round
The Knights blasted through their COVID-delayed spring season with only one loss in the regular season (in five sets at Florida State), losing just six sets in 15 matches.
In The American Championship though, they had to grit through a difficult 5-setter against Tulane in the semis before holding off a scrappy Temple squad in the championship match.
Then it was off to the NCAA Tournament in Nebraska with high hopes, but those were dashed in shocking fashion at the hands of High Point in five sets.
Picked to win The American by the league’s coaches
The Knights are once again the favorites in The American, and unanimously so:
Defending #AmericanVB champion @UCF_Volleyball was the unanimous first-place choice by the conference head coaches in the 2021 American Volleyball Preseason Coaches' Poll! ⚔ pic.twitter.com/a2H3O7aMHs— American Volleyball (@American_VBall) August 18, 2021
And that’s no surprise, given they have the best player in the conference, Preseason AAC Player of the Year McKenna Melville:
Who’s in Charge
Dagenais enters year 14 at UCF as the Knights’ winningest head coach with 253 career wins.
His team is in the middle of a historic run right now, having won 75 of its last 90 overall and 46 of the last 48 against conference teams. He’s also the third UCF coach in the NCAA era to win three consecutive conference titles, and can become the first since Laura Smith to win four conference titles in a row and the first ever to go to four NCAA Tournaments in a row.
He was also inducted 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 - Senior Outside Hitter
We are watching arguably the greatest player in UCF history right now in McKenna. She’s at 1,369 kills for her career and is just 7 digs shy of 1,000, which would put her in the elite 1,000/1,000 club at UCF. She is a bonafide All-America candidate and could be UCF’s all-time leader in kills when it’s all over.
She has become such a weapon that Dagenais himself has said one of his biggest challenges has become finding someone to take the offensive load off of her.
#32 Anne-Marie Watson - Senior Right Side
Watson has become a defensive force as she enters her final season. The first-team All-AAC Preseason selection set UCF’s single-season record for block assists in 2019 and stands 271 kills away from 1,000 for her career.
Who We’ll Miss
#4 Arianna Arjomand
The Bishop Moore product was solid at the libero position for UCF last year. Her departure leaves that position open to competition between sophomore Chloe Scheer and freshman Katelyn Grimes.
Who’s New That’s Good
#11 Katelyn Grimes - Libero/Defensive Specialist
Grimes is a highly-touted freshman and AVCA All-Region performer from Ohio, but as mentioned above, will have to unseat Chloe Scheer for the full-time libero job. Even so, we’ll likely see both players platoon at times given the Knights’ need for depth, playing a full season in the fall immediately following a spring season.
Among those in the non-conference schedule: Georgia Tech, Penn State, Clemson, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida State, Georgia, and Miami.
If things go sideways early, don’t worry. With the conference tournament no longer taking place, The American’s automatic NCAA bid will go to the regular season champion. The conference slate is all home-and-homes, so it’s balanced. The early schedule should prepare the Knights well for the conference phase.
The Last Time...
UCF won an NCAA Tournament match: 2019. UCF knocked off Florida State in the first round for their first NCAA victory since 2003. Expectations were high last year, but were dashed in the first round. But this year, with a loaded team and the bitter taste of the spring still fresh, the Knights clearly expect to not only reach the NCAAs but make serious noise, with an aim at reaching the second weekend for the first time in school history.
What to Watch for
Depth. With the COVID seniors exception, UCF kept its roster together from last season, for the most part. However, with the season taking place immediately following the shortenes spring season, players could not rest as much as they typically would in a normal season.
So watch for the Knights to use a large number of players, including playing freshman that might not normally play under typical circumstances.