The UCF Volleyball team (24-7, 14-2) defended their conference title as they took down No.1 seed Cincinnati (21-25, 25-16, 26-24, 24-26, 15-10) in the American Athletic Conference Championship in dramatic, five set fashion (25-6, 15-1) Sunday afternoon at The Venue located at Addition Financial Arena.
With the victory, UCF secured the automatic bid representing The American into the NCAA Championship. The Knights will make their 10th appearance all-time in the NCAA tournament.
“I am so happy and so proud of these athletes who have worked so hard.” – UCF Volleyball Head Coach Todd Dagenais.
“I am so happy and so proud of these athletes who have worked so hard,” says UCF Volleyball Head Coach Todd Dagenais. “There was a lot of pressure put on us … but I also knew Cincinnati was probably the team to beat this year. They are a tremendous team.”
Unanimous all-conference first-team selection McKenna Melville powered the Knights with 27 kills and 12 digs, adding in four blocks. Melville finished the tournament with 59 kills, 37 digs and seven blocks to earn championship Most Outstanding Player honors. All-conference first-team choice Anne-Marie Watson kicked in 11 kills, a .375 hitting percentage and nine blocks in the title match to join fellow all-conference first-teamer Kristina Fisher (12 kills, 13 digs) on the American Athletic Conference Championship All-Tournament Team.
The conference title garnered UCF an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Knights’ seeding, dates and location of play is all yet to be determined. The NCAA selection show will air on Sunday, Dec. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
The Bearcats struck first in the contest, but back-to-back rejections from the Knights gave them the early, 2-1 lead. UCF held onto its advantage later into their set as an Erin Olson service ace extended the lead to 12-9, but a five-point Bearcats run would put them up, 15-13 at the media timeout. As the Knights fought back, A Kristina Fisher kill cut the deficit to 21-19 and Cincinnati would call their first timeout. The Bearcats would recoup after the stoppage as they would go on to win the first set, 25-21.
UCF started off in control of the second set, going up 11-7 to force an early Cincinnati timeout. When play resumed, the Knights kept their momentum, outscoring the Bearcats, 3-1 over the next four rallies to bring the UCF lead to 14-8. UCF would only grow their lead as a McKenna Melville kill put them up 19-11, and another Cincinnati timeout was called. The Black and Gold would keep the pressure on as they went on to with the second set, 25-16.
The Bearcats seemed to be in control for much of the third set, leading by as many as six points at 18-12 before the Knights called for time. UCF closed within two at 18-16 before the Bearcats ran ahead to set point at 24-18. The Knights answered with an outstanding comeback, utilizing three blocks and a pair of Cincinnati errors to sweep the final eight points for the improbable, 26-24 set victory.
It was another classic of a set in the fourth, with the neither squad separating themselves by more than two points. Keeping with the same no-quit mentality they had in the third set, UCF fought off set point twice to square things at 24-all, but back-to-back Cincinnati kills provided the 26-24 winning margin to send the matchup to the fifth and deciding set.
The final set began in similar fashion to the rest of the match, with the two teams’ neck-and-neck. Jordan Thompson missed an attack out of bounds to give the Knights the 7-6 lead and UCF broke an 8-8 tie after a block assist and kill, extending their lead as high as 13-8 on the 6-0 run. A kill by the Knights on match point gave UCF its third overall American championship with a 15-10 victory.