Wrapping Up Opening Weekend

GREELEY/FORT COLLINS, Colo. (UCFKnights.com) - Playing its second and third matches against tough opponents in a 24-hour span, the UCF volleyball team wrapped up opening weekend with a Saturday doubleheader.

The Knights (1-2) pushed Duke to the brink in a five-set thriller, falling 3-2. In the nightcap, the Black and Gold jumped out to an early lead, but could not hold off Colorado State's offense over four sets.

UCF found itself in a similar position on Saturday afternoon. Trailing 2-1 for the second straight contest, the Black and Gold needed a big fourth set in order to keep the match alive. The Knights rallied to take the fourth, but Duke (2-0) used a fast start in the fifth to claim the match, 25-18, 15-25, 17-25, 25-23.

Kia Bright powered the offense, tallying 19 kills for the second match in a row. Sophomore Alli Sabol set a new career high with 16 kills. Libero Jordan Pingel led a contingent of three Knights in double-figure digs at 16. Taylor Wickey hit a commanding .471 (10 kills on 17 attacks), the second highest clip in her career.

Neither side could break free in the early stages of the opening set. After Wickey notched a kill to pull the Knights within one, Duke sprang a 12-7 run to win the first while hitting. 387.

The second set was never in doubt for UCF. Jumping out to a quick 9-2 lead behind three Sabol kills, the Knights disrupted the Blue Devil attack limiting the ACC foes to an .028 attack percentage. Setters Miranda Watkins and Erin Olson each recorded an ace, as the teams went into the break tied at 1-1.

Kills by Bright and Anne-Marie Watson, along with a Watson, Nerissa Moravec block, brought the Knights back to within two at 9-7. Duke took control of the momentum by scoring 10 of the next 11 points.

Trailing 7-5 in the fourth, Watson scored one of her six kills on the afternoon to spark a run for the Knights. Six of the next seven points went in favor of the Black and Gold. Again, Duke looked to put the game to bed with a three-point lead at 20-17, but an ace, a kill and a block leveled the game at 20-20 for the Knights. A pair of Blue Devil miscues later put the Knights up 24-22, before Wickey evened the match with a kill.

UCF struggled to maintain its fourth-set form in the final game. The Knights committed four errors with a .053 hitting percentage, while Duke posted a .412 clip and nine kills.

* UCF finished with 12 blocks, split between four solos and eight assisted.
* Taylor Wickey recorded a team-high five blocks, two solos and three assisted.
* Redshirt-freshman Nerissa Moravec notched a solo and an assist in the first match of her career.

Head coach Todd Dagenais after the match:

On the team's performance in its second five-set match in 12 hours...
"I saw a team with no quit. They had to play two five-set matches in 12 hours. It's a pretty thing tough to do. Duke had to do the same thing after their match with Colorado State last night. They had a lot of experience and are certainly a top-30 team. I thought we stood up to the challenge really well. I think there were times that we could have broken down, but we did not. We kept coming back and having runs. I think the fight of the team is something that is going to really benefit us during the season. I think this match is a great learning experience in so many ways."

On being able to battle back and hold off elimination in the fourth set...
"I think being able to sit down and take a breath gave us a chance to look at the situation and execute. We could have looked at the scoreboard and panicked, or say 'Look, this is where we are, let's execute and try to find a way out of it.' We found ourselves doing that a couple times, and we managed to find a way to execute out of it. I give the team a lot of credit for their execution, and they made a really good team beat them on the court."

Following the grueling fifth-set loss to Duke, the Knights had to pack up their gear and travel to Fort Collins for a matchup with Colorado State. The Rams were playing their first match of the day after losing a heartbreaker to Duke on Friday night.

The two sides battled in a tight affair prior to the intermission, but the Rams took advantage of Black and Gold miscues in the third and fourth to win, 19-25, 27-25, 25-14, 25-18.

The Rams took a quick 3-0 lead out of the gate. Kristina Fisher notched the first three kills of the first to keep the Knights within striking distance. The turning point for the Black and Gold came with four straight points, aided by a pair of CSU errors, to make it 17-13. Back-to-back kills by Sabol sealed the first set victory.

CSU made a nearly identical run to start the second before the Knights leveled the scores at 7-7. Neither side could create more than a two-point gap until the hosts grabbed a 23-20 lead. A pair of errors and a Wickey kill would tie it up at 23-23. The two sides traded points until the Rams, then ahead 26-25, were awarded the set on a double-touch call.

Out of the break, the Knights could not keep pace with the Rams. After climbing back to an 11-8 deficit, UCF was on the wrong end of a 14-6 run. CSU outhit the visitors .345 (14 kills, four errors) to .062 (nine kills, seven errors), while Bright notched five kills.

A CSU serving error, a Wickey ace and a Watson kill gave the Knights their first lead to open a set in the match, putting the Rams on the back foot. The two sides went back and forth until UCF trailed by one, 12-11, on a Watson kill. CSU took control with an 8-2 run, halted only by Lache Harper's first block of her career, but the Knights could not climb out of the hole.

* Pingel was impressive on Saturday night, racking up 19 digs and kept sevenar thundering CSU attacking from hitting the ground. .
* Only four Knights got in on the blocking action, with Bright and Wickey tying for the team lead with four.
* Sabol notched her second straight 10-kill outing.

Head coach Todd Dagenais after the match:

On playing third match in 24 hours against another top team...
"I saw resiliency more than anything else. The schedule for this weekend was challenging. When you talk about playing a great team in Northern Colorado at their place, turning around to play a program in Duke and play a top-15 team in Colorado State, I thought we handled the challenge very well. With that being said, we still have things to work on.

"I thought they handled this weekend with poise. They allowed themselves to bend but not break. I really thought they did a nice job, but dropping the second set and not coming out in the third like we wanted to, I thought the weekend caught up to us. We started making mental mistakes that we had not made all weekend. If we execute the way we did for most of the weekend, and we sustain that execution, we can find ourselves in a pretty good place at the end of the year."

On the servers disrupting opponents' offenses...
"I thought our serving game set the pace for everything. I thought assistant coach Brian Doyon did a great job of calling the match. I thought he put Colorado State in positions where they had to fight out of it. Sometimes they did because they were an experienced team, but sometimes that generated points for us. That allowed our block to get into position and get touches. There are certainly some things we have to work on, because there were ball we thought we could have touched or should have blocked because of a technical or skill issue, something we can fix pretty quick. All in all, I think blocking is ahead of where we wanted it to be, and it can get even better.

* Bright tallied 53 kills on opening weekend for an average of 3.79 per set with a .255 attacking percentage.
* The Knights registered at least 10 blocks in each of the first three games of the year.
* Wickey recorded 14 rejections, averaging one block per set, while seven players tallied multiple blocks.
* Watson and Fisher played in all 14 sets finishing with 20 and 22 kills, respectively.
* Pingel tallied 3.5 digs per set.
* Bright, Wickey and Olson each posted three service aces.

The Knights will travel to Fort Myers, Fla., next week for the FGCU Sunshine State Challenge, where they will face Florida Atlantic, Florida Gulf Coast and Miami.

UCF Volleyball hits the court for its 10th season under head coach Todd Dagenais. Don't miss a single minute of action at The Venue. Visit UCFKnights.com or call (407) 823-1000 for ticket information.

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