2010 UCF Volleyball Season Preview

Aug. 25, 2010

="" alt="Knight Head" border="0" class="imported"> Read John Denton's Knights Insider | ="" alt="Twitter Logo" border="0" class="imported">Follow us on Twitter | ="" alt="Facebook Logo" border="0" class="imported">Get social with the Knights on Facebook

By Sarah Tarasewicz

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Due to a long-enduring string of injuries which plagued the UCF volleyball team last season, head coach Todd Dagenais was forced to send six different freshmen and three sophomores, onto the court at different times throughout the year. The situation was not ideal for the Black and Gold in 2009, but the experience the young Knights received will definitely pay large dividends in 2010 with those student-athletes being a year older and exceptionally wiser.

Juniors Kristin Fisher (Clearwater, Fla.) and Sara Rex (Oldsmar, Fla.) will be looked upon to lead the fresh-faced squad this season, a group which consists of four juniors, four sophomores and seven freshmen.

A season ago, Fisher led UCF with 24 service aces, while ranking second on the squad with 359 kills, a 3.18 kills-per-set average, 12 block solos and 407.5 points as an outside hitter. She was also one of only three Knights to play in all 30 matches.

Rex was also a major role player in UCF's system in 2009, finishing her sophomore season with a .285 hitting percentage, 100 kills, 62 total blocks and a 0.83 blocks-per-game average. The middle blocker would have tallied even higher numbers had she not missed the final six matches of the year due to an injury.

The duo will have a different path to lead their young squad down than their predecessors, however, as Conference USA coaches and league officials have done away with the C-USA Volleyball Championship starting this season. In order to be crowned the league champion and earn C-USA's automatic bid into the NCAA Championship, the Knights must win the regular-season title.

Despite having a new schedule and more than a handful of talented new faces, the Black and Gold may be more poised than ever to make a run at the C-USA title.

Thanks to long hours logged on the recruiting trail in the offseason, Dagenais and his staff were able to put together an extremely talented group of newcomers in 2010. One so talented, in fact, that the class was named one of the top-100 in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com.

"We recruited the freshmen not only because of their ability, but mostly because of their personalities," Dagenais said. "They have just fit right into the group. The recruiting process has become so involved. They come to campus so many times and spend so much time with our players, that our team is just waiting for them to get here."

Those recruits will have an immediate impact on how successful this season can be, already vying for spots in the Knights' lineup.

Two newcomers are battling for the job as UCF's setter, with both junior transfer Rachel Vukson (Oakville, Ont.) and freshman Marie Reiterova (Luxembourg, Luxembourg) proving early that they could both start on the floor come the season-opener on Aug. 27.

"I was hoping that maybe we would know for sure who our setter would be right now," Dagenais said. "But, Marie has had a little injury that has sidetracked her for a couple days, and in the meantime Rachel has come in and had all of the reps with the first team and has done an outstanding job. So, we have a setter battle on our hands right now."

Vukson is extremely familiar with the rigors of playing in C-USA, having transferred to UCF from league-foe Tulsa. With the Golden Hurricane, Vukson was named to the C-USA All-Freshman Team in 2008, while compiling 1,902 assists, 74 kills, 47 service aces and 95 blocks in 225 sets played in her career.

Reiterova, however, is very comfortable with the way Dagenais runs his offense, having played all spring with the Black and Gold after enrolling at UCF in January. Reiterova played for both the Luxembourgish National Team and the Czech Junior National Beach Volleyball Team prior to making her way to Orlando, which gives her immense international experience despite coming in as a rookie.

One would imagine that Meredith Murphy (Austin, Texas) would have the libero position on lock heading into late August, having broken the UCF single-season record with a 4.27 digs-per-set average and played in all 115 sets as a freshman last season, but fellow sophomore Dani Harrison (Tallahassee, Fla.), in Dagenais' opinion, is one of the most improved players since the end of last season.

"The other battle that I am shocked we are having is the battle at libero," Dagenais said. "It is not that Meredith has gone backwards, it is that Dani could very well be the most improved player that we have had since January. I know at the very least we are going to have outstanding back-court play. We just might end up bouncing back-and-forth between the two of them for a while."

Freshman Roxy Mendez (Orlando, Fla.) also looks to make a name for herself in the back court this season. The Orlando native led Timber Creek High School to the Florida 6A State Championship in 2008 as its libero, before being named to the all-state, all-metro and all-conference first teams as a senior.

"Roxy could definitely get some early time playing back row for somebody," Dagenais said.

Outside Hitter
With Fisher having established herself as the Knights' top outside hitter, Dagenais is looking to have a tough decision to make as to who will claim the No. 2 outside hitter spot.

"Kristin will for sure be a staple in that outside hitter position," Dagenais said. "She will be one of the more consistent hitters in the conference. She has overcome so much to be able to do that and we are very proud of her."

Having made a full recovery from an ACL tear incurred early last season, redshirt junior Brittanie Wallace (Austin, Texas) is the prime candidate for the number-two spot. A transfer from Sam Houston State last season, Wallace saw action in eight matches, totaling 12 kills, 14 digs and two blocks before being sidelined.

"Brittanie now has overcome the ACL injury and is jumping higher and is faster than she has ever been," Dagenais stated. "She's had a nice preseason camp where she is fighting for some playing time."

After redshirting the 2009 season, Angelica Crump (Atlanta, Ga.) is also making noise as one of the top outside hitters for the Black and Gold after putting up some impressive numbers against BIG EAST opponents Marquette and USF during UCF's spring campaign.

"Angelica is just a tall, raw athlete," Dagenais said. "She has vastly improved since last season. She put up over 20 kills against Marquette and turned around and put up 20 kills against South Florida in spring competition. We can't ignore that kind of production. So it sure seems like Angelica has an inside track at the other outside hitting position opposite Kristin, but Brittanie will be in there as well.

Freshman Katie Tatum (Roxboro, N.C.), a two-time Piedmont Athletic Conference 6 Player of the Year, could also be a potential threat toward the latter part of the season. Tatum averaged 4.70 kills per set as a senior at Person High School, while also leading her team to two North Carolina 4A State Championships.

"Katie has the ability to play a little bit for us," Dagenais said. "We are just trying to get her stronger and trying to get her into college volleyball shape. Once those two things happen, I think she could play a huge factor somewhere down the stretch."

On the right side, sophomore southpaw Evija Vilde (Riga, Latvia) will likely remain the mainstay after tallying 255 kills, 57 blocks and 288 points as a rookie.

"Evija more than likely has secured her spot in the right side with that left hand," Dagenais said. "I really think that she is going to have a great year. Our outside hitting core is as strong as a group as we have has since we've been here. In college volleyball you need to have strong outside hitters, because outside hitters win the match."

Middle Blockers
Along with Rex, the Black and Gold have immeasurable depth at the middle hitter position. Dagenais returns Rex, sophomore Tory McCutcheon (Milton, Ont.) and redshirt freshman Nichole Riedel (Denver, Colo.), while also welcoming in freshmen Kaye-Alese Green (Jacksonville, Fla.) and Allison Rinderknecht (St. Augustine, Fla.).

McCutcheon finished her rookie season ranked fifth in C-USA with a .327 hitting percentage, and also added a team-best 63 blocks and a 0.84 blocks-per-set average in only 18 starts. Originally slated to redshirt the 2009 season, McCutcheon missed the first 11 matches of the year before being called into the C-USA opener against Southern Miss due to injuries incurred to her teammates.

One of those teammates was Riedel. After suffering a season-ending injury only 10 matches into her freshman campaign, Riedel returns to the court healthy and eager to continue the dominance she showed early last season when she was named to the Radisson-UCF Invitational All-Tournament Team. The Denver native registered 50 kills, 28 blocks and 11 service aces in nine starts.

"Nichole is completely over her torn abdominal muscle and has had a great preseason camp," Dagenais said. "We have started to explore moving her into some different positions as well. Middle is her best position, but we think somewhere down the road she may be a better right side hitter."

Rinderknecht is the only newcomer vying for a middle blocker position on the floor this fall, as fellow freshman Green is recovering from an injury incurred back in March. Rinderknecht was a three-time all-county honorable mention selection at St. Augustine High School and led her team to the regional semifinals in 2008.