Heading into Friday night’s match against Houston, the UCF volleyball team knew that in order to keep its season goals intact, a win over the second-place Cougars was needed. The Knights (14-9, 6-6), behind a stellar 15-5 fifth set, were able to upend Houston for the first time since joining Conference USA in 2005, 3-2 (25-11, 19-25, 23-25, 25-15, 15-5).
UCF’s win over the Cougars (16-6, 9-3) snapped the visitor’s six-match winning streak.
Head coach Todd Dagenais is thrilled by the all-around effort his team put forth Friday night.
“That was a really good team that we just beat,” Dagenais said after the match. “I’m pretty excited that we were able to execute defensively like we did. It is something that we have been working on in practice all week long. We had that gameplan in place since the moment they beat us at their place.”
UCF executed a nearly flawless first set, winning 25-11, and never giving the Cougars a chance to climb back in. Behind junior Meredith Murphy’s (Austin, Texas) strong serving, the squad won seven-straight points on her serve to set the early tone. Junior Evija Vilde (Riga, Latvia) blasted six of her game-high 18 kills to lead the Knights to a .443 attack percentage in the frame.
Houston would bounce back quickly in the second, countering the Knights’ matchup that they exploited in the first set. The Cougars took the frame, 25-19, and were led by seven Lucy Charuk kills. The third set was much tighter, with both teams battling to 23-all until Houston won the last two points to capture the stanza.
The Knights would fight back and force a fifth set after taking the fourth, 25-15. Vilde added six more kills, and freshman DeLaina Sarden (Lawrenceville, Ga.) and senior Rachel Vukson (Oakville, Ontario) added five block assists.
After dropping the fifth set at Southern Miss a week ago, the Knights learned their lesson and came out firing, never stepping off the gas to take the set and match, 15-5. Vilde connected on three-straight kills to open the frame, and as a team, the Black and Gold connected on 8-of-9 attacks (.778) in the stanza.
“We have battled a lot of adversity this year in the fifth set, but tonight they weren’t going to let anything happen,” Dagenais said. “We created some Houston errors through our blocking schemes, and to connect on 8-of-9 shots shows that we did our part too. Again, credit goes to the players for battling through and finding a way to come out on top.”
For the match, the Knights wreaked havoc up front on the Cougars, holding the visitors to just .177. Overall, UCF swatted 11 total shots on the evening.
The complete team effort can be seen in the stats as both Vukson and Vilde combined for double-doubles, and four members of the team wound up with double-digit kills and double-digit digs. Murphy was the Knights’ top digger, racking up 23.
UCF will return to the court Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. when it hosts Rice in another crucial conference tilt.