By Megan Herboth
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) - After storming through the American Athletic Conference season, the UCF volleyball team pulled in a pair of the league's top honors Monday.
Senior DeLaina Sarden was voted the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and earned her second consecutive unanimous First Team All-Conference honors while UCF head coach Todd Dagenais earned his first Coach of the Year honor.
A trio of Knights joined Sarden as First Team All-Conference selections, marking the first time in UCF history that four Knights earned first team recognition. Senior Kaye-Alese Green and sophomores Kia Bright and Jale Hervey all received first team accolades.
"To put four players on First Team All-Conference, for as much as we spread the ball around, really is a pleasant surprise," Dagenais said. "It's something I did not expect at all. Dana Faught and Marie Reiterova deserve honorable mention, at least from me, for getting four of their hitters all-conference recognition."
Sarden, who also earned Offensive Player of the Week honors Monday, led the conference with a .510 hitting percentage, finishing the regular season with 321 kills and just 68 errors. The Lawrenceville, Ga., native ranks second in the nation with a .458 overall hitting percentage. Sarden became the 10th player in UCF Volleyball history to reach 1,000 kills and currently ranks eighth all-time with 1,190 kills. One of the top blockers in UCF history, she ranks second in solo blocks (85), block assists (372) and total blocks (457). Sarden earned Conference USA Freshman of the Year honors during her rookie campaign in 2011 and is the first UCF player to garner Player of the Year honors since 2003.
"I was really hoping that coaches would look at DeLaina as a Player of the Year candidate despite the fact that she plays middle hitter," Dagenais said. "It's not often that a middle hitter earns Player of the Year, but DeLaina's numbers are right up there with the talented outside hitters of the conference. I thought she really deserved it."
Green ranked second in The American with a .430 hitting percentage. The Jacksonville, Fla., native ranks eighth in the nation with a .426 hitting percentage. Green was an all-conference preseason selection after earning second team honors last year. She averages 1.83 kills per set and 0.81 blocks per set for the Knights. "The past couple of years, Kaye-Alese Green has been so close," Dagenais said. "She just didn't receive the sets that she needed to be given that kind of mention. This year, her hitting percentage and her threat has really allowed the players around her to be even more successful."
Bright and Hervey made immediate impacts in their first season at UCF. The pair of outside hitters have combined to lead the team in 26 of UCF's 32 matches this season. Dating back to her freshman campaign at Auburn, Bright has never finished with fewer than five kills as a starter. She has 42 collegiate starts and has only finished with fewer than seven kills on one occasion this season. Hervey has tallied double figure kills in 23 matches and has only finished with fewer than six kills once this season.
"To have Kia and Jale both be named first team is special," Dagenais noted. "The fact that they've been able to keep their hitting percentages high despite the fact that we're out of system so much is probably why they were honored by the coaches."
Bright averages 3.03 kills per set for the Knights and ranked in the top 20 in the conference in kills (3.03), points (3.56) and digs (2.71). Hervey leads the team with 3.50 kills per set and ranked in the top five in the league in both kills per set (3.50) and points per set (3.91).
Dagenais was voted as the American Coach of the Year by his peers. He led the Knights to a 13-0 start in conference play, the longest winning streak since 1997, and the first league title since 2003. Under his guidance, UCF finished with an 18-2 record in The American, the most league wins in program history. The Knights posted a .444 hitting percentage at East Carolina, which was an AAC record at the time. UCF recorded a second .444 hitting percentage at home against Houston.
"I want to thank my colleagues for the honor of being named Coach of the Year in the American Athletic Conference," Dagenais concluded. "Especially since so many coaches in the league have done a great job of improving their teams over the past year. This is really a tribute to the work that the whole coaching staff has done in their individual areas. Recruiting, scouting, doing everything it takes to keep our team competitive. When somebody gets Coach of the Year, it really means Staff of the Year and we're proud to have earned this honor."
UCF Volleyball, which is presented by Radisson-UCF Area, open the NCAA Tournament at 4:30 p.m. on Friday with a first round match against Miami in Gainesville. Single session tickets are $7 for adults, while all-session tickets are $10 for adults. For more information or to order online, visit GatorZone.com/tickets.