Dec. 23, 2009
By Sarah Tarasewicz
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Even though the tallies in the win column were fewer than they had planned, head coach Todd Dagenais and the UCF volleyball team still count the 2009 season as a successful one. The Knights finished the year with a 12-18 overall record, their second-best record since 2003, a 3-13 Conference USA clip and a No. 174 ranking in the final NCAA Volleyball RPI.
With injuries plaguing the squad for most of the year, UCF was able to start four freshmen and four first-time starters at different times throughout the season. The experience the young players were able to obtain in 2009 will only serve to improve the program in seasons to come.
One of those freshmen, Meredith Murphy (Austin, Texas), has already made a name for herself among the best to play at UCF. The libero established a new program single-season record with her 4.27 digs per set average, and also landed herself at No. 2 on the chart with 491 total digs during the year. Murphy also tied the third-highest mark on the single-match register when she totaled 33 digs against UAB on Oct. 2.
Another Knight that plastered her named all over the UCF record books was senior Erin Campbell (Kansas City, Mo.). The outside hitter became only the second Knight to be named to an All-C-USA squad at the conclusion of the season when she garnered second team honors, and became one of only four UCF players to post both 1,000 career kills and digs, registering No. 1,000 in both categories on the same night against East Carolina on Sept. 25. The senior finished her career ranking in UCF's all-time top-10 in six different career categories and in the top-five in three.
Prior to the beginning of the season, Campbell was awarded with a spot on the Preseason All-C-USA Volleyball Team, marking the first time the honor has been bestowed upon a Knight.
After the preseason league team was announced, the Black and Gold finally kicked off the season as the host of the Radisson-UCF Invitational. The Knights won the tournament crown after defeating Jacksonville, North Florida, Florida Atlantic and DePaul. Campbell was named the event's MVP, while fellow senior Andee Youngblood (Castle Rock, Colo.) and freshman Nicole Reidel (Denver, Colo.) joined her on the All-Tournament Team.
Youngblood also garnered C-USA Setter of the Week honors for her play during the Radisson-UCF Invitational. The weekly award was the first for Youngblood in her career and marked only the third time in program history that a UCF volleyball player had earned the distinction.
Youngblood and the squad then took to the road for the first time in 2009, defeating Bethune-Cookman in straight-sets in Daytona Beach to improve to 5-0 early in the year. The 5-0 start to the season was the best opening run for the Black and Gold since 1995 and marked only the fifth time in program history, and the second time since 1983, that the team opened a season with five-straight wins. Equally impressive about the run was the fact that after dropping its first set of the season to the Dolphins, UCF bounced back to win 15-consecutive sets.
The win streak was snapped three days later, however, in the opening match of the Baylor Classic, when the host Bears took a 3-0 victory from the squad. But, the next day the Knights were merely three points away from upsetting No. 24 Purdue. After falling in the first set, the Black and Gold rallied to win the second and the fourth, while holding a late lead in the deciding fifth set, but a 4-1 run from the Boilermakers stopped UCF short and gave Purdue the win. The Black and Gold rebounded and continued its winning ways later that evening with a 3-1 win over UTSA to close out the tournament. Following the win, Murphy, who was playing in front of her hometown crowd, was named to the Baylor Classic All-Tournament Team.
Two more wins, including a thrilling come-from-behind victory at UNC Greensboro in the second match of the doubleheader, improved UCF's record to 8-2 through the squad's first 10 matches, its best start through 10 matches since 2001.
The Black and Gold were only able to enjoy their early-season victories for a brief moment, as adversity struck the young squad following the doubleheader in North Carolina. Two of the Knights' starters, Reidel and Brittany Wallace (Austin, Texas), suffered season-ending injuries during the tournament, to go along with a season-ending injury already incurred by Renele Forde (Trincity, Trinidad and Tobago), heading into the much anticipated VolleyBowl II match up with in-state rival USF.
Despite falling short in the match-up with the Bulls, the Knights put on an intense show for the crowd of 1,603 UCF faithful that packed The Venue at UCF. The attendance for the match was the largest in program-history, beating out the former record of 1,568 fans which saw the Knights take on Stanford in 2008.
More adversity was on the horizon for UCF in the coming matches, as senior Lauren Williams (Lake Mary, Fla.) went down with an injury during warm ups of the Knights' C-USA opener against Southern Miss. The injury to Williams forced Dagenais to take freshman Tory McCutcheon (Milton, Ontario) off of the bench, and out of her redshirt year, to help the ailing squad. McCutcheon more than proved that she was up for the task, posting one of her finest performances of the season against the Golden Eagles.
From that match on, McCutcheon remained a mainstay in the Knights' starting lineup as they entered the C-USA portion of their schedule.
The injuries UCF incurred began to take their toll on the squad, as it was staring down the barrel of a seven-match losing streak heading into October, which included a hard-fought loss to Marshall on CBS College Sports. The nationally televised event was the first for UCF since Dagenais took over the squad in 2008 and the first since the Knights claimed the Atlantic Sun Championship in 2003. The match against the Thundering Herd also marked the first career start for sophomore Katie Riley (Merritt Island, Fla.).
With determination, heart and an overpowering performance, the Black and Gold snapped the skid with a sweep of Memphis at The Venue at UCF, and then went on to post its second-straight win with a victory over UTEP on the road the following weekend.
Williams finally returned to the court full time in UCF's "Dig for the Cure" match against Rice after missing nine matches due to injury, hitting .375 with seven kills in the contest.
Just as one senior returned to the court, another was forced to watch from the sidelines, as the injury bug bit Campbell, forcing the outside hitter to miss a pair of contests against East Carolina and Marshall.
With their captain coaching and cheering from the bench, the young Knights drew inspiration from their leader and took a 3-0 victory from visiting East Carolina to improve their record to 11-12 on the year and 3-7 in C-USA action.
The injury to Campbell and another injury, this time to sophomore Sara Rex (Oldsmar, Fla.), eventually took its toll on the team, however, as the Black and Gold closed out the league portion of its slate with six-straight losses and missed its opportunity to compete at the C-USA Championship and earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Knights were not done though, as they saved their most impressive victory of the year for last. In a rematch against the Bulls at the Corral on Nov. 25, UCF had five different players post double-digit kills and hit .329 as a team to knock the in-state rival out of NCAA Tournament contention with a thrilling five set victory.
The win over USF was a fitting send-off for the Knights' three seniors and offered up a glimpse of what the young squad is capable of in the future.
For the latest news on the Knights, log on to www.UCFAthletics.com - the official site for UCF varsity sports. The site, which also contains ticket and Golden Knights Club donor information, is also the home of UCF's new online apparel store. Also visit www.UCFPhotos.com, the exclusive fan source for UCF action sports pictures.