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Volleyball’s Drive for Five Off to Big Start

Knights start the season with victories over Syracuse and Kansas State

#20 McKenna Melville celebrates a point against Syracuse.
Noah Goldberg

Even the longest of journeys begins with a single step. The UCF Knights Volleyball team’s journey toward what they hope will be their fifth consecutive conference title began with two big steps on the Venue floor over the weekend.

The Knights opened with a sweep of the Syracuse Orange, and wrapped the weekend with a thrilling five-set victory over the Kansas State Wildcats in a preview of what we can expect from the Big 12 next year and beyond.

Knights Squeeze Orange on Opening Knight

UCF started 1-0 with a sweep of the Syracuse Orange on Friday night, but that wasn’t the only headline.

McKenna Melville eclipsed her first of hopefully several milestones this season, becoming the second Knight in history (alongside Renata Menchikova) to record 2,000 career kills with her tenth on the evening:

Melville finished the match with 19 kills on .421 hitting.

But key the UCF’s dominance were the newcomers who made their debuts on Friday:

  • Abby Hansen, the graduate transfer from Oregon, recorded six kills on a blistering .455 clip.
  • Kari Zumach, another transfer from Indiana, dropped five kills and three block assists.
  • Emily Wilson, a sophomore from Estero via the University of San Diego, added five kills of her own.

Ever the team player, Melville downplayed her milestone in the post-match presser:

UCF’s victory came at the expense of Syracuse head coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam, who had been the head coach at Temple for the past 11 seasons before moving up to Central New York to take over the Orange this year.

Big Night vs. K-State

So that set up a huge match on Saturday with the Kansas State Wildcats, a future Big 12 opponent and NCAA participant last season (RPI #54).

The intensity in the Venue was palpable, especially in the third set, as K-State fought off five set points and nine Melville kills to eek out a 30-28 victory and go up 2-1 in the match.

But then in the fourth, the Knights found their footing again, with five kills from Hansen and three from Heidi Bonde, who Todd Dagenais sprung on the Wildcats in the second and finished with 11 for the night, and forced a fifth set, 25-21.

From there, UCF’s defense held K-State to zeroes for the set (7 kills, 7 errors). Bonde and Zumach killed two each in the set, and Melville ended it with her 27th kill on the night:

In addition to her 27 kills on 69 swings, Melville added 12 digs and three blocks for a double-double. Amber Olson put up 58 assists the night after she appeared to hurt her ankle but stayed in to dish out 32 against the Orange.

For Dagenais, it was a tempting glimpse into the future of his program:

It was K-State’s first loss on the season (5-1), and UCF’s first victory over a Big 12 school since 2019.

Other Storylines


With 46 kills and 16 digs en route to being named the AAC’s Offensive Player of the Week over the weekend, McKenna Melville now has 2,036 kills and 1,392 digs for her career. Here’s where she stands in UCF’s and the NCAA’s all-time annals:

  • 252 digs behind Miriam Metzcus for third all-time at UCF in digs
  • 115 kills behind Renata Menchikova for #1 all-time at UCF in total kills
  • 445 kills from tenth place all-time in NCAA Division I history in total kills
  • 464 kills from becoming just the tenth player in NCAA Division I history with 2,500 kills

Watts Inducted into Ring of Honor

Former UCF volleyball star Emily Lambert, nee Watts, who played from 2002-2004, was inducted into the program’s Ring of Honor at the Venue on Saturday during the break:

Lambert was one of several stars on the 2003 team that won the Knights’ third consecutive A-Sun Championship and defeated Cincinnati in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament in Gainesville. Her 29 kills in the A-Sun Championship Match that year pushed UCF past Georgia State, and Watts to the A-Sun Tournament MVP award that year.

Watts still lives and works in Central Florida with her husband, former UCF Baseball player Dave Lambert, and their two daughters. She is the first of four honorees this year, including her 2003 coach Meg Fitzgerald, teammate Tanya Jarvis, and DeLaina Sarden.

#DripU at the Venue

Prior to the opener, UCF unveiled new uniforms for the 2022 season, and they were a sensation:

The European-style tanks include the new Knighted font, which was initially revealed with this year’s football uniforms.

Reportedly the uniforms, which were designed with input from the players, are not complete yet, and as Chloe Scheer’s libero jersey revealed, the home whites aren’t in yet, either. So we expect more reveals in the coming days and weeks as supply chain issues work themselves out.

One last thing...

Sportsmanship ain’t dead.

Next up: UCF is home this weekend for another non-conference tournament:

  • Friday, 4:30 p.m. vs. UNC-Wilmington
  • Saturday, 7 p.m. vs. Miami
  • Sunday, 5 p.m. vs. Illinois-Chicago