TAMPA, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) – The UCF volleyball team entered Friday night’s monumental clash with rival South Florida with a lot on the line. The Knights were riding a six-match winning streak, opening American Athletic Conference play and, most importantly, playing for three points in the War On I-4.
What transpired over the next five sets attested to the resiliency of the 2018 squad. The Knights (10-3, 1-0) turned in an inspired performance to come from behind to win on the road in five sets against their rivals (22-25, 25-20, 18-25, 25-23, 15-10.
UCF put a trio of players in double-figure kills. Per usual, McKenna Melville led the way with 21 scoring swings, her third straight match over the 20-kill plateau. The right sides came up big for the Knights. Briana Garcia went for a career-high 14 kills on the night, and Anne-Marie Watson struck for 13.
Offensively, the Black and Gold had to fight through a season-high 28 errors, despite picking up at least 13 kills in three sets. After a trio of sub-.200 sets to start the match, the Knights finished strong with clips of .264 and .259 to finish above .200 for the sixth straight match. Erin Olson and Amber Olson combined for 52 assists over the five sets.
On the defensive end, Garcia posted five rejections, including one solo, as UCF totaled nine blocks for the match. Middles Nerissa Moravec and Kathryn Wesolich were a part of seven swats to disrupt the Bulls attack. Libero Jordan Pingel saved one of her best performances for her final time in Tampa with 21 digs, while Melville and Erin Olson both picked up double-doubles with 16 and 14 digs, respectively.
Indicative of the next four frames, the two sides went blow-for-blow in the opening set. The hosts managed to create just enough space with a three-point swing to take an 18-14 advantage. Melville finished with four kills in the set.
Feuled by the opening set loss, the Knights found their rhythm in the second set, jumping out to a 13-4 lead. UCF never allowed South Florida to close the gap within four. The block was the catalyst for the Knights, recording four swats, led by a pair from Moravec. Watson was flawless with three kills on seven swings.
Both ball clubs had their chance to take control of the match with a tightly-contested third frame. Six straight points gave the Bulls a 20-13 lead that put the Knights’ backs against the wall. Garcia sparked a late run for the Black and Gold, as she finished with four kills on seven attack.s
Looking to avoid their first defeat in three weeks, UCF found its rhythm on offense. The visitors went on a 7-3 run midway through the game to take a 15-8 advantage. SOUTH FLORIDA battled back to even the frame at 22-22. A Nerissa Moravec kill split a pair of scores by Melville, as the Knights responded to win three of the final four points. Melville took her game to another level with nine of UCF’s 20 kills.
In the decisive set, UCF twice appeared to take an insurmountable lead, only for the Bulls to rally. Tied at 5-5, Garcia scored three of the next four points for the Knights. Out of a timeout, South Florida cut the lead down to three, but Watson and Melville provided the final push for the Black and Gold to close out the match.
NOTES TO KNOW
>> UCF is now 2-0 on the year in five-set matches.
>> The three points were the first of the year for UCF, which has won the rivialry series the first two years of the trophy’s existence.
>> The win marked the Knights’ 10th straight victory over the Bulls.
>> This is the third fastest the Knights have reached 10 wins in a season in the Todd Dagenais era.
Overall thoughts on the match…
We knew this was going to be one of those knockdown-dragout kind of matches. Our match against Wofford, where we had to win a match, even though we didn’t play very well, really prepared us for tonight. We still found ways to score points when we needed to.
It’s a conference win. It wasn’t pretty, but conference wins are rarely pretty. To do so in a packed gym and a hostile environment. It was sure nice to come out with a win with the cards stacked against us. We grew up a little bit. We are still growing and learning every day. We had so many players step up for us when we needed it. We’ll get a few days off and go back to being 0-0, as we prepare for the next 17 matches.
On South Florida…
I thought they were awesome in their offense. They’re way better on defense. They played with a high volleyball IQ. I think we did the things we needed to do to come here and get a win. We’re fortunate to come away with a win. We adjusted to the things that they were doing well. I’m proud of our young team to not give up.
On the turning point late in the match…
Anne-Marie came up with a big block. She followed that up with a huge kill, which kind of sent a statement to their huge crowd that we were going to win the match. Their crowd played a huge role in the match, but our team found a way to tune them out. Briana Garcia came up with big kills that were swings the left side didn’t have to take.
UCF will hit the road next week for a pair of matches at Tulane and Memphis.
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