By Megan Herboth
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) - The UCF volleyball team rallied for a five-set battle with Miami, but came up short in a 3-2 (22-25, 25-18, 10-25, 25-23, 10-15) loss to the Hurricanes in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the O'Connell Center on Friday evening. The Knights end the season with a 25-8 overall record.
"We knew this was going to be a challenge for us coming in because [Miami had] won 20 of their last 21 sets," UCF head coach Todd Dagenais said. "To take this game in five [sets] in a lot of ways is a win for us. We wanted to win and the expectation was to win. At times, they put a lot of pressure on us. I was proud of the way the team handled the third game and didn't give up from it. They came right back in the fourth game and executed the game plan exactly how we practiced all week."
After Miami opened the night with a kill, senior DeLaina Sarden responded with a kill of her own to tie the set. After a block from seniors Sarden and Loren Cory gave the Knights a 3-1 advantage, the Hurricanes played it back-and-forth in the early going.
A pair of UCF miscues gave Miami a 12-9 lead and prompted a timeout by the Knights.
After falling behind, 15-17, UCF scored three quick points to tie the set at 18. Miami pulled ahead again, but junior Abbie Fleener tallied her fifth kill of the set to cut the lead to two. Sophomore Kia Bright and Sarden followed with a block to pull the Knights within one, 22-21, but Miami closed out with a 3-1 swing to take the opening set.
Senior Kaye-Alese Green opened the second set with a perfectly placed drop to give the Knights the lead from the beginning. Senior Marie Reiterova served up UCF's first ace of the night to give UCF a 5-2 advantage and force a Miami timeout.
Bright served up an ace to give UCF an 8-3 lead and keep the pressure on the Hurricanes. Though Miami put together a handful of spurts to close the gap, UCF responded with a string of points of its own. The Knights never trailed in the set and Sarden evened the match a 1-1 with a kill.
UCF tallied the first point of the third set, but Miami went on an 11-0 run to take a big lead. Back-to-back kills from Sarden sparked a burst from UCF, but the Hurricanes controlled the set and cruised to a 25-10 set win.
Trailing 2-1 in the match, the Knights were in for a battle in the fourth set. Bright opened things up for the Knights with a kill, and UCF pushed out to a 7-4 lead. Miami came back to tie the set and the teams traded kills and points. Bright hit consecutive kills to push UCF's lead to two, 19-17 and a kill from Cory prompted a timeout for the Hurricanes.
Green and Cory teamed up for a block that gave the Knights a 23-20 advantage and force the second of Miami's timeouts. Fleener's kill gave UCF the 25-23 win and force a decisive fifth set.
Miami opened the fifth set with three quick points and UCF responded with an early timeout. Kills from Sarden and Bright cut the lead, but the Hurricanes answered with a handful of points to push their lead back up to six, 9-3.
After UCF's second timeout, the Knights rallied for a pair of kills, and Bright delayed the Hurricanes with three kills late, but Miami ended the match with a kill to take the 3-2 win and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
"It's a big mixture of emotions (right now)," Sarden said. "I thought I would be torn up after the game, but coach hit the nail on the head when we walked into the locker room. When I was getting recruited, there was a point in time where nobody knew who UCF Volleyball was. They didn't care whether they won or lost and the vision that coach put in for us is that we would be here someday."
Four Knights finished with double figure kills, led by Jale Hervey's 14. Kia Bright posted her 11th double-double match of the season, finishing with 13 kills and 10 digs with two blocks and an ace for UCF. DeLaina Sarden finished the night with 13 kills, five blocks and an ace in her final game as a Knight. Abbie Fleener hit .348 with 12 kills and a block.
Kaye-Alese Green tallied four kills on seven swings to hit .571 for UCF. Marie Reiterova posted 26 assists, nine digs and an ace on the night. Junior Dana Faught finished the match with 25 assists and nine digs, while senior Jade Hayes tallied a team-best 12 digs.