By Megan Herboth
Radisson UCF Invitational Tournament Central
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) - One word seemed to be a theme in the UCF Volleyball preseason interviews: championship.
"I think the first goal is to make the NCAA Tournament," head coach Todd Dagenais said. "How do you do that? One way is to win your conference (championship), so our goal is to put ourselves into the position where we can win the conference."
The road to a title will not come easily, as the Knights will face two teams that rank in the top-10 in the AVCA preseason poll and two additional teams that were receiving votes in the three weeks following the season opener. UCF will take on three of those teams away from Orlando. The fourth team, Marquette, will be the lone home match of September.
The roster is a huge asset for the Knights, as they bring back veterans at every position, including senior middle blockers DeLaina Sarden and Kaye-Alese Green, both of whom were All-American Athletic Conference Preseason Team selections. Seniors Ashley Gialenios and Loren Cory bring starting experience to the outside and right side hitting positions, respectively. Senior libero Jade Hayes, who set a program-record with 4.61 digs per set while tallying a career-record 530 digs last season, brings experience to the back row and senior setter Marie Reiterova, whose 2,405 career assists rank fourth on the all-time leader list, brings two years of starting experience to the lineup.
"The leadership that the seniors provide to the younger players and the new players is absolutely priceless," he said. "The contributions that all six of them are making to this team is really going to help propel us to the goals that we have for this year."
UCF also added depth to each position. Sophomore transfers Kia Bright and Jale Hervey join the outside hitting rotation along with sophomore Taylor Gallart. Galienios has also taken reps with the right side during the preseason with Cory and junior transfer Abbie Fleener. Sophomore Taylor Wickey and freshman Ann Richards will learn from Sarden and Green as middle blockers.
Sophomore Shelby Foyer and freshman Halle Scott give Dagenais some defensive specialist depth while junior Dana Faught and sophomore transfer Nahely Molina also bring experience to the setting position.
"It's good to be deep, to have options," Dagenais said. "It's good to be athletic and have players, especially upperclassmen, that can play multiple positions. I love where we are in terms of team chemistry and unselfishness."
Last season the Knights recorded their second 20-win campaign under Dagenais and finished third in the American Athletic Conference. Bringing back the experience and adding depth to each position garnered a second place selection for UCF in The American's 2014 preseason coaches poll. The Knights are seeking their first conference championship and NCAA appearance since 2003.
UCF Volleyball, which is presented by Radisson - UCF Area, faces Eastern Kentucky for the first match of the season at 3:00 p.m. on Friday at The Venue at UCF.