By Megan Herboth
TAMPA, Fla. - Trailing 21-24 in the fourth set, the UCF volleyball team went on a 5-0 run to defeat in-state rival USF, 3-1 (19-25, 25-21, 25-17, 26-24) in an American Athletic Conference thriller at the USF Corral on Wednesday evening. The Knights (12-5, 5-0 AAC) extended their conference winning streak to seven matches, dating back to the 2013 season.
"We walked into an absolute hornet's nest and found a way to come out with a win," UCF head coach Todd Dagenais said. "This was the toughest match that we've played all year. It was really uncomfortable for us. Every mistake was amplified by the crowd, every USF rally was amplified by the crowd."
The Knights took an early 7-4 lead, but USF used the momentum from the crowd to tie the score at 10 and then take a 13-10 lead. Senior DeLaina Sarden pulled UCF back within one, 17-16, with a kill, but the Bulls used a 4-1 run to put some distance between the teams. The Knights hit just .050 in the opening and USF took a 25-19 set win on an attack error.
Three attack errors from the Bulls and a block from Sarden and junior Abbie Fleener gave the Knights a quick 4-0 lead in the second set. UCF continued to extend the lead, going up 16-7 and forcing USF to use its second timeout. A late Bulls rally slightly slowed the Knights, but junior Dana Faught set the ball up for a Fleener kill to give UCF the 25-21 win and pull the teams even in the match.
The teams traded leads to open the third set, but a 4-0 run that featured an ace from Sarden and a kill from sophomore Jale Hervey put the Knights up 10-6. Consecutive kills from sophomore Kia Bright, senior Loren Cory and Hervey put UCF ahead 21-11 and kept the Bulls at bay. Bright gave the Knights a two-set lead in the match with a kill that sealed a 25-17 third set victory.
USF led for most of the fourth set, going up 15-9 after three consecutive kills by the Bulls. UCF maintained its composure and chipped away at the lead. Fleener and Sarden hit back-to-back kills to force a USF timeout and Hervey's kill cut USF's lead to four, 19-15. Kills from Sarden, Cory and Hervey again cut into the Bulls' lead. Facing set point, the Knights put together a huge run to pull out the match victory.
"Scoring five straight points when you're down 24-21 is almost unprecedented," Dagenais said. "I thought our resolve was incredible. We made difficult plays. I really believe that we earned that match."
UCF hit .259 for the match, hitting.483 in set three and .325 in the fourth set. The Knights posted nine team blocks and served up four aces.
Hervey was one of three Knights to hit double figures in kills, leading the team with 17. Sarden tallied 15 kills and hit .650 while serving up a pair of aces and posting a match-high seven blocks. Fleener finished with 11 kills and hit .381 for the match. Senior Marie Reiterova posted a double-double, tallying 29 assists and a match-high 14 digs, and Faught recorded 25 assists for UCF. Senior Jade Hayes recorded 11 digs, while sophomore Shelby Foyer notched 10 digs.
Next up, the Knights travel to Greenville, N.C. to take on East Carolina at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
UCF Volleyball is presented by Radisson- UCF Area. For more information on how to purchase tickets, visit UCFKnights.com or call 407-UCF-1000.