ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) – Back at home for the first time in American Athletic Conference play, the UCF volleyball team squared off with Tulsa for conference supremacy. Anchored by a stellar performance by libero Jordan Pingel, the Knights (13-3, 4-0) bested the Golden Hurricane (11-5, 3-1) over four sets (25-20, 25-22, 20-25, 25-23) to remain perfect in league play and notched their 10th straight win.
Both ball clubs placed offense at a premium with stellar defense throughout the match. Pingel guided the Knights in the back row with a match-high 28 digs, as the Black and Gold held the Golden Hurricane to a .170 clip at the net. McKenna Melville added 19 digs and Amber Olson chipped in with 11. The block came up big for the Knights in key situations throughout the contest with nine rejections. Middles Nerissa Moravec and Kathryn Wesolich evenly split eight blocks.
Pingel’s opposite number Taylor Horsfall, the reigning American Athletic Conference Libero of the Year, finished the night with 27 digs to keep the potent UCF offense to just .166 hitting. Melville struck for 17 kills to lead the Black and Gold and record her 10th double-double of the year. Moravec for efficient at the net with 11 kills on 20 swings for a .450 clip. Kristina Fisher posted a strong performance with 10 kills and just two errors on 33 attempts.
The opening frame was all UCF. The Black and Gold jumped out to a six-point advantage at 10-4. After the visitors shaved the lead to four, the Knights went on a 7-3 run, led by a pair of blocks by Wesolich and Briana Garcia. The block turned away five Tulsa attacks in the opening set, led by a trio of rejections by Wesolich. Pingel recorded seven digs from the back line. Melville, Moravec and Garcia combined for 12 of UCF’s 13 kills.
UCF could not break free from the Golden Hurricane in the opening stages. Tied 11-11, UCF took control with a 6-2 run, with a pair of kills by Melville. Tulsa climbed all the way back to one point, but UCF struck back with a 9-7 streak to finish the game. Melville was all over the place with seven kills and six digs in the frame.
Out of the break, the Knights’ aspirations for a sweep were thwarted when the visitors hit a match-high .200. Despite closing a four-point gap down to one at 21-20, UCF fell on the wrong side of a four-point run by Tulsa. Pingel went for seven digs in the set, while the block failed to register a rejection for the only time in the match.
The match looked destined for five sets when Tulsa took a five-point lead early in the frame. Following a timeout by head coach Todd Dagenais, UCF caught the visitors at 16-16. The rally was sparked by a pair of kills from Anne-Marie Watson and a block by Garcia. From that point on, the Black and Gold trailed for just one point the rest of the match. Watson put the Knights ahead for good with a kill at 23-22, but for Moravec added some insurance on the next point with her final kill of the night. Pingel was a thorn for the Tulsa attack, as she saved her best for last with 11 digs out of 52 attacks by the Golden Hurricane.
NOTES TO KNOW
>> UCF is 4-0 in American Athletic Conference action for the second time in program history. The first occasion came in 2014, when the Knights won the conference title.
>> Anne-Marie Watson came up big in the final set with five of her eight kills in the match.
>> Pingel is now 69 digs away from 2,000 for her career and the all-time program record.
Overall thoughts on the match…
That was what you would come to expect of two teams battling for the top spot in the conference. I have to give credit to Tulsa. Their defense was absolutely sick. That was the best defensive team that we faced all year. There was no way to score out there. We really had to manufacture points. We did a great job of slowing them down and not letting them score. Our defense allowed our offense to go score points.
On the play of Jordan Pingel…
Jordan was amazing tonight. Our defense was centered around her performance. Facing one of the top liberos in the conference tonight, Jordan did all the little things she needed to do to keep Tulsa off the board and allow our offense to manufacture points.
On being back home for the first time in conference play…
Being at home is always a good thing for us. Our fans are always worth a couple points for us, and tonight they took it to the next level. It was a big advantage for us tonight in a match that was decided by so few points.
On overcoming the deficit at the end…
Alli and Kathryn really provided the turning point for us with their block in the fourth set. If you look back at that timeout we took early on, I told them that we weren’t going to change anything, and just execute our gameplan. We caught them at 16-16, and from that point, it was just who wanted it more. Fortunately, it went our way tonight.
The Knights will face reigning champions Wichita State in The Venue on Sunday at 1 p.m. The match will be Dollar Hot Dog Day.
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