ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) – In a clash of the top two teams in the American Athletic Conference, the No. 22 UCF volleyball team flashed its trademark resilience on Friday night against Cincinnati in The Venue, rallying to win the final two sets to beat the Bearcats, 3-2. The win extended the Knights’ (23-3, 14-0) unbeaten streak to 20 matches and brought the Black and Gold within one win of clinching a share of the conference title.
The match lived up to all the hype. All-America and Player of the Year candidates McKenna Melville and Jordan Thompson powered their respective teams on offense and defense. Melville connected on 26 kills from 85 attempts for a .200 clip to go along with 20 digs. Thompson led the way with 31 scoring swings, but the Black and Gold kept her to .157 hitting on 102 attempts.
Much of the Knights’ success in bottling up Thompson came in the form of the block. UCF totaled 15 rejections, led by Anne-Marie Watson and Kathryn Wesolich with eight apiece, while Nerissa Moravec chipped in with six stuffs, including one solo.
In the back row, four players hit double figures in digs. Jordan Pingel continued be the rock that the Knights base their defensive performance around, as the senior totaled a team-high 22 saves.
UCF finished the match with a .232 attack percentage, including a pair of frames above .300. The defense stepped up when the Knights needed it most, holding Cincinnati to marks of .087 and -.038 over the final two frames.
The two clubs traded punched through the opening stages, before the Knights opened a six-point advantage at 21-15. Down, but not out, the Bearcats rallied with seven straight points to take the lead. Facing set point, Briana Garcia pounded one of her eight kills to keep the Knights in the game, but Cincinnati claimed the opener with a Thompson kill and an ace. Fisher was unstoppable in the opener with five kills on eight swings, including her opening three attacks. Pingel kept eight balls alive in the back row.
Similar to the first, neither side could create a sizeable gap, before the Bearcats took a 21-18 lead. The Knights battled back with kills from Wesolich and Melville to even the frame. Garcia again struck late with a kill before a Cincinnati error leveled the match up at 1-1. Melville pounded nine of her kills as the Black and Gold hit a match-high .396.
For the first time in the match, UCF could not keep pace with the visitors. The Knights clipped an early deficit down to three points, but Cincinnati closed out the set on a 11-4 run. The offense sputtered to a slow .103, while the Bearcats tallied their best attack percentage of the game at .353.
The Knights flipped the tables in the fourth. After struggling to find consistency, the hosts caught fire with an 8-2 run out of the gates. The Knights managed to grow the lead to as many as 11 at 21-10, before the Bearcats trimmed it down to seven. UCF pounded 14 kills with just a pair of errors. Melville drove home seven kills.
UCF continued its streaky start in the fifth with a 4-2 advantage after another kill from Melville. The lead was short-lived, as the visitors clawed back to take a 7-6 lead. From that point on, it was all UCF. Three straight blocks, a Watson stuff, a Watson-Moravec rejection and a Moravec block put the Knights up 10-7. Fisher put away the match with a powerful drive off the block. UCF scored five points off rejections in the final frame and totaled 10 digs to keep the potent Cincinnati attack at bay.
NOTES TO KNOW
>> The victory gave the Knights a new record for longest win streak as a member of The American, eclipsing the previous mark of 13 from 2014.
>> UCF is on the verge of capturing its second American Athletic Conference title and ninth conference championship in program history.
>> In two matches against the Bearcats, the Knights held Thompson under .200 hitting in both contests and totaled 36.5 blocks.
UCF plays its penultimate regular season home contest of the year on Sunday afternoon against ECU. First serve is set for 1 p.m.
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