It took five sets, but the UCF Knights Volleyball team achieved what they set out to do at the start of the season on Friday, clinching a share of The American regular season title with a dramatic victory over the Houston Cougars on Senior Knight at The Venue.
UCF’s 3-2 (20-25, 25-20, 25-21, 19-25, 15-12) victory earned them a season split with the Cougars, and with both teams finishing 19-1 in the conference (and with no postseason conference tournament, they officially share the title.
Houston, however, earned The American’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament by virtue of having beaten UCF in four sets in Houston earlier this year, giving them a 5-4 advantage in head-to-head sets.
UCF is essentially a lock to go to the NCAAs as an at-large, finishing the regular season with a 27-1 overall record and an RPI of 18 coming into this weekend’s matches. The NCAA Selection Show is this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Going Out On Top
In possibly her final match at UCF, McKenna Melville was her usual spectacular self, putting up 29 kills — just one short of her career-high — on 80 swings, plus 11 digs. She moved past Tulsa’s Tyler Henderson into 9th place in the NCAA Division I all-time kill list, and is now second among players who played in the 25-point rally-scoring era, behind only Cincinnati’s Jordan Thompson. She is also now just 23 digs from 3rd all-time at UCF.
Fellow grad student Amber Olson added 60 assists, moving her career total to 3,907, which is third all-time at UCF.
Both players were honored alongside fellow seniors Kari Zumach, Dresi Pass and Makenzie Chambers after the match:
It was Claudia Dillon who could have been the MVP of the match, as she came on in the fifth and finished with a career-high 18 kills on 23 swings for a blistering .739 percentage on the night. Five of Dillon’s kills came in the fifth, including four of UCF’s final six points.
UCF led the match 2-1 heading into the fourth, and owned the tiebreaker at that point in the match, needing only to win that set to earn the auto bid. However, Houston jumped out to a 5-0 start in the fourth, and closed that set out to clinch the tiebreaker.
Nevertheless, UCF persisted, and out-hit Houston .258-.172 in the fifth to take the match and the share of the AAC championship in both squads’ final season in the conference before both join the Big 12 next year.
The conference title is also the sixth in 15 seasons for head coach Todd Dagenais, who met with the media afterward:
This is the first UCF Volleyball team to win five straight conference crowns, and the first UCF team in any sport to win five league titles in a row since Rowing did it from 2015-2019.
What Happens Next
UCF will now await the NCAA Selection Show on Sunday to see whether or not they host, or if not, where they go. There is an outside shot that the Knights could host the NCAA Tournament, but those odds took a hit after UCF couldn’t snag the tiebreaker vs. Houston.
According to Figstats, UCF’s record against the RPI Top 50 is 3-1, which is better than the teams in their vicinity, but even that may not be enough to push them into the Top 16, who would host the four-team regionals. UCF last hosted in 2018, with a final RPI of 11 and a 6-3 record vs. the Top 50.
We find out Sunday night at 7:30 p.m.