The Black and Gold opened the tournament with a dominant 3-1 (25-21, 24-26, 25-11, 25-20) win over Florida Atlantic in the morning. UCF shut the top-ranked Owls (3-1) down to a sub .200 attacking performance, while setting a season-high in that category offensively.
In the nightcap, the Knights sent FGCU to its first loss of the year, with a 3-1 (25-22, 25-23, 18-25, 25-12) win. The Eagles (3-1) were forced into 26 errors with a hitting percentage below .200, as well.
MATCH 1: UCF 3, FAU 1
Three Knights reached double figures in kills, led by Kia Bright with 18. The redshirt senior posted a double-double with a .356 attack percentage and 11 digs, in addition to one block and one ace. Taylor Wickey chipped in with 12 kills and Alli Sabol finished with 11. Miranda Watkins and Erin Olson combined for 50 assists, split equally between the pair.
On the defensive end, the high-octane FAU attack could not get anything past libero Jordan Pingel. The Colorado Springs, Colo., native recorded a team-high 18 digs. The UCF back row only allowed a pair of service aces, a new season low.
The Knights played catch up in the early stages of the opening game. FAU committed seven errors, but neither side could create more than two points of separation. Kills by Anne-Marie Watson and Wickey provided enough of a gap for the Knights to take the first 25-11.
Alli Sabol took control to start the second. Back-to-back kills put UCF ahead, leading to an 11-7 lead. Miscues by the Black and Gold allowed the Owls back into the set, before a pair of Knight attack errors gave FAU the 26-24 win. Of the 14 errors the Black and Gold committed against the Owls, nine came in the second.
Coming out of the break tied 1-1, the Knights took over, jumping out to a quick 13-5 lead. Bright registered six kills, as UCF played its first flawless set of the season with a .500 attack percentage and no errors. Wickey and Sabol each posted a .667 clip at the net. The 14-point win was the largest set victory since the opening game at UCONN on Oct. 14, 2016.
FAU took the lead on the opening point of the set, but that was the final time the Owls would have an advantage on the Knights. Pingel, along with Bright and Miranda Watkins, combined for four service aces in the final frame. Six different players registered a kill for the Black and Gold
Head Coach Todd Dagenais after the match.
On the complete performance by his team...
"This was the number one offense in the nation. We knew they had the ability to score points in bunches. For us to hold them under .200 attacking was something that we had been working on all week. I thought the defense did a pretty good job. This match was another example of how our serve made our opponents predictable. We capitalized on that with quality digs and a good counter attack. It wasn't our cleanest match, but we played pretty well and pretty error free in three of the four sets. The 25-11 game reasserted that we are here for business. It was good to see the young players respond, knowing that we had to win that set.
"We continue to learn about ourselves. We continue to improve when we play against teams that have good attacks. We know that our bread and butter is going to be our defense. If we block and play defense well, we're going to be in every match, even if our offense isn't there. I thought we did a good job of utilizing our middles. The outsides did a good job of keeping FAU out of system. We took the number one offense in the country and did a nice job of holding them down."
MATCH 2: UCF 3, FGCU 1
After halting the top team in the country, the Black and Gold had to square off with the second best squad from opening weekend. FGCU could not muster an attack percentage above .150 against the UCF defense. Friday night was the third true road match for the Knights. They are now 2-1 on the season in those contests.
Four players reached double figures in digs, led by Pingel with 24. Bright, Watkins and Kristina Fisher checked in with double-digits. The block for the Knights played a large role in the 26 attack errors committed by FGCU. Bright, Wickey and Jeanne Westney each totaled three blocks.
On the attack, Fisher powered the Knights with 16 kills and Bright added 15 of her own. Fisher, Bright and Wickey each hit over .250. UCF tallied a .223 clip for the game, hitting at or above .250 in three of the four sets.
Both sides traded points early, but a three-point run, including back-to-back kills from Sabol, opened a 12-8 gap for the Black and Gold that they would never relinquish. The Knights limited FGCU to a .140 attack percentage, compared to a .326 clip for UCF.
Fisher appeared to put the Knights in control with a kill to make it 12-9. FGCU managed to climb back into the game, even taking the lead 22-21. Back-to-back Fisher kills helped UCF regain the lead, before Pingel closed it out with an ace.
UCF quickly opened up a 5-1 lead out of the gates, before the Eagles evened the set at 13-13. The hosts rolled off a 9-1 run to get back into the match.
Leading 7-6, Pingel landed her second ace of the night to jumpstart a 13-3 run, which featured kills from Fisher, Wickey and Watson.
Head Coach Todd Dagenais after the match.
On beating a top offense on the road...
"We're one of the few teams in the country that has had to play three true road matches this season. Defeating FAU this morning was big, especially considering that they were a swing away from beating Miami tonight. That win was a lot bigger than we thought it would be. Coming into FGCU, we knew it was going to be tough with the large crowd and great atmosphere. I was really excited to see how composed we were to start the match. We shot out of the cannon right away. That second set was an example of how we were calm and executed when we were ahead. We didn't hang our heads when we dropped the third set. We turned our focus to the next set in order to get the win. Jumping out quickly in that last set allowed us to not give them a chance to get back into it."
On the play of Kristina Fisher...
"She's growing. I think she wants to go out and be great every night. I think she's learning that in college volleyball that doesn't happen very often. She went out there and grinded her way to a very positive performance for us. Kia learned that a long time ago. Kills don't come as easy as they did in high school, and Kristina will learn that. I thought she's finally relaxing and settling in to playing at this level. For her to lead the team in kills tonight was really nice to see."
On the impressive defense across the board...
"I thought we were pretty good defensively. The team thinks they could have been better. That's how important they think defense is to our success. They want to find another gear in blocking and defensive. We did a really good job of stopping a team that put up massive numbers last week. Just listening to the team, they are thinking about how they can get better in their positioning and reads."
On the setting combination of Miranda Watkins and Erin Olson...
"I think both setters are doing a fantastic job of making good reads, making quality sets and giving our hitters a chance to score. Running a 6-2, the setters are not going to get the accolades, because they're splitting the assists. For two matches in a row, they both had more than 20 assists. They're pulling their weight in the rotations, and that's going to be so critical to allow us to start or finish in any rotation we want." HOLDING TOP OFFENSES IN THE COUNTRY
- Entering the weekend, Florida Atlantic was ranked first in the country with 17.11 kills per set and sixth in attack percentage at .345.
- The Knights held the Owls to a .194 clip and forced them into 25 errors on the morning.
- On the other side, UCF could not be stopped with a season-high .305 hitting percentage in the morning match.
- Similarly, FGCU was second in kills per set and 16th in attack percentage at 16.22 and .314, respectively. On Friday, the Knights held the Eagles to a .133 clip.
- Bright tallied her fifth consecutive double-digit kills match.
- Following the evening match against FGCU, the native of Starke, Fla., needs 15 kills to become just the 12th player in program history to record 1,000 in a career with the Black and Gold.
- Bright is a career .235 hitter in her four years at UCF.
- In her fifth collegiate match, Fisher led the team in kills and finished with a .262 clip at the net.
- Friday night marked also marked her first career double-double.
- The freshman ranks third on the team in kills per set this year with 2.09.
DON'T MISS OUT
UCF Volleyball hits the court for its 10th season under head coach Todd Dagenais. Don't miss a single minute of action at The Venue. Visit UCFKnights.com or call (407) 823-1000 for ticket information.
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