ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) – The UCF volleyball team needed a gritty performance to outlast Yale in its final match of the VolleyKnights Invitational. The Knights earned their second tournament title in as many weeks with a 3-2 victory over the Bulldogs.
UCF (9-3) appeared to be on its way to a fourth straight sweep by winning the opening two sets, but Yale rallied to even the match to force a decisive fifth set. The final frame lived up the back-and-forth nature of the four previous sets. It took a late, five-point run for the Black and Gold to seal up their sixth straight victory.
Per usual, Mckenna Melville powered the offense with 24 kills at a .222 clip, matching her career-high set on Friday night against FGCU. Kristina Fisher came up big over the final two frames to finish with 14 kills. The offense posted a .217 attack percentage on 180 attacks.
Defensively, the Knights kept the Bulldogs to a .186 mark, with a pair of sets under .150. Jordan Pingel was all over the place with a season-high 29 digs. Freshman Amber Olson recorded her first career double-double with 10 digs to go along with 28 assists, the same number of dimes her sister Erin Olson finished with on Saturday. Melville also chipped in for 18 digs for her seventh double-double of the year.
The block flustered the Bulldogs’ attack throughout the match with a season-high 15 rejection. Anne-Marie Watson turned away eight attacks, while Nerissa Moravec finished with seven stuffs, and Kathryn Wesolich sent back six shots.
UCF jumped out to an early four-point lead in the opening set. Yale trimmed the advantage down to two at 22-21, but A block from Wesolich and a kill by Briana Garcia were enough to guide the Knights to an opening set victory. Melville totaled five kills, as Fisher and Watson posted a trio each. Pingel tallied eight digs in the frame.
Again, UCF took an early advantage, before the visitors rallied to take a 16-20 advantage. After a timeout by the Knights, Fisher kickstarted a 9-3 run to erase the deficit and take a two-set lead into the intermission. Similar to the first, Melville drove down seven kills, and Pingel kept seven plays alive with digs.
Yale came out of the break on a hot streak, scoring 10 of the first 13 points. UCF could only claw back within four on a handful of occasions. UCF hit .161 to Yale’s match-high .357. Moravec and Watson teamed up for a trio of rejections.
Neither side was able to create more than a three-point gap in the early stages. Trading points back and forth, the Knights took a 23-22 lead, but the visitors retook the lead with three of the final four points. Fisher was flawless with three kills on 10 swings and one solo block. Melville came up with eight kills and seven digs.
The Knights used a seven-point run to take a 9-5 advantage after the flip, but as with most of the match, Yale countered with a run of its own to take a 13-10 lead. Fired up after a timeout by head coach Todd Dagenais, the Knights scored five straight points to win the match – a Fisher kill, block by Wesolich and Watson, Fisher kill, Wesolich kill and a block by Watson and Wesolich. UCF held Yale to a -.036 hitting percentage with five blocks. Fisher posted a team-high three kills.
• Freshman McKenna Melville was named tournament MVP for the second straight week. The outside hitter totaled 5.36 kills per set at a .333 clip to go along with three digs per set. Melville also led the team with five service aces.
• Jordan Pingel earned a spot on the all-tournament squad with 57 digs over 11 sets for 5.18 per frame.
• Nerissa Moravec finished the weekend with 1.27 blocks per set. The redshirt sophomore also chipped in offensively with a .542 attack percentage and 15 kills.
On the intensity of the match…
I give Yale a lot of credit. They are a great team, which is why we wanted them to come down here. That was a war. We didn’t play our best today, but we found a way to win. We’re going to find ourselves behind in some situations. We found ourselves behind at 13-10 in the fifth, and that’s gut check time. I told them to sideout and play some defense. We were able to tie it up and finish it on a five-point run.
On how this prepares the team for conference play…
This match was great preparation. We’ve seen this kind of adversity throughout the nonconference season. Now, we take a deep breath, knowing that we came out of the preseason with a 9-3 record. I think we have a lot of resilience. We don’t break down in pressure situation. They do a lot of good things by taking it point by point.
On how the team rallied…
I thought our energy level and toughness of our team was great. Our bodies may not have been where we wanted them today, but we’re 12 matches into the season, and we played our third match in 24 hours. I was proud of how the team was able to battle, take some shots and find a way to win.
UCF will open its American Athletic Conference slate next weekend at USF on Friday.
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