ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) – The UCF volleyball team returned to The Venue for the first time in 283 days on Friday afternoon for the first day of the UCF Challenge. After such a long time away from playing in at home, the Knights celebrated their return with a party of sorts – a block party.
Over the course of two matches, UCF totaled 28 blocks and allowed opponents to hit above .165 in just one out of seven sets. The Knights improved to 5-4 on the year with victories over FIU and UIC.
MATCH 1 vs. FIU
The Knights brought the block party back in force in the home opener, as the defense paved the way to a 3-0 (25-16, 25-21, 25-23) victory over in-state rival FIU. The Black and Gold held the Panthers under .165 hitting in all three sets.
Middle blocker Kathryn Wesolich was nothing short of a brick wall at the net. The rookie notched nine block assists in her first match in The Venue to tie for the fourth most in a single outing in program history. It was the most by a UCF player since Taylor Wickey turned away nine attack against Memphis last season. Anne-Marie Watson chipped in with six blocks, as the Knights finished with a then season-high 13 blocks.
McKenna Melville and Jordan Pingel were solid in the back row with 37 combined digs, split 20 and 13, respectively. On the offensive end, Kristina Fisher led the way with 11 kills. It was her third straight match in double figures. The Knights also excelled in the serve game with six aces.
After a tightly contest opening stage, the Knights broke free with a four-point run to take a 14-9 lead. UCF finished strong on a 10-5 swing, featuring a trio of kills from Fisher. The Austin, Texas, native recorded skills on 14 flawless swings. The Knights held the Panthers to a match-low .088 clip behind five blocks.
UCF held an early advantage in the second set, that grew out to four points at 16-12. The Panthers managed to draw level at 20-20, but the Black and Gold closed it out with five of the final six points, including a pair of blocks by Wesolich and Watson.
The two clubs traded blows with neither side able to create more than a three-point gap. FIU appeared to be nearing a third-set victory with 20-18 advantage, but a solo block by Briana Garcia and an ace by Jordan Pingel leveled the set. UCF fired off the next three points to take command and close out the set. The offense was led by Garcia, Melville and Watson with a trio of kills apiece.
MATCH 2 vs. UIC
UCF made it perfect home opening day with a 3-1 (25-16, 20-15, 25-12, 25-16) win over UIC in the nightcap. Erin Olson and Melville each posted double-doubles to lead the way.
After the Knights rode their defense to victory in the opener, they put together one of their most complete games of the year with a season-high 15 rejections on defense and a .325 clip at the net offensively.
UCF notched its most blocks in a game since Nov. 3, 2011, when it rejected 15 attacks at Memphis. Nerissa Moravec posted a career-high 10 blocks, eight assists and two solos, to tie the sixth most rejections in a match in program history. The redshirt sophomore also added an errorless .545 clip and six kills.
The Knights featured a trio of player with double-figure kills. Melville tallied 16, followed by Fisher with 13 and Watson with 11. Erin Olson ran a near flawless offense with 25 assists to help the Black and Gold record at least 12 kills in three sets. She also added 13 digs for her first double-double of the year.
UCF flew out of the gate in the opener with a 5-2 lead. After the Flames evened the score at 9-9, the Knights broke free with five straight points, eventually closing on a 16-8 run. Fisher found her groove early with seven kills, as the Black and Gold committed just one error for a .483 attack percentage.
UIC bounced back in the second. Six errors hindered UCF’s ability to stay with the visitors. The Flames posted a .263 clip compared to the Knights’ .135 mark at the net. The hosts shaved a five-point deficit down to two-points at 21-19, but the Flames held on to even the score into the break.
Denied its second straight sweep, UCF brought the hammer down in the third. The offense churned out 12 kills on 23 swings for a .478 attack percentage. With the frame tied 6-6, the Knights flew away by scoring 15 of the next 16 points. Moravec and Watson were a formidable duo at the next with three combined blocks.
The Knights outlasted the Flames in the final set with 16 kills. After a cagey start, the Black and Gold jumped on a 12-3 run to take command of the game. UCF finished it out with the final four points. The offense enjoyed balance, as four Knights tallied at least three kills.
On the performance of the block…
Well, we we’ve been spending a lot of time working on our block and trying to get our block consistency down. There’s still a lot of balls that are rattling through. That’s a part of our game that’s going to evolve as we get better and do a better job of getting ourselves in front of the hitter.
On the flow of the second match…
I thought we were really good in game one. The numbers prove that we were rolling. In game two, we lost our energy. We went a little bit flat, and we had a hard time of getting it back. The errors that kept us two and three points behind. I thought we had a gut check in game three. We came right back and almost hit .500 with just one error. The fourth set was the gritty one for me. We hit .300 and did a good job of keeping them off balance. Four was the critical set that I thought we were trying to execute the things we needed to execute.
On where the team is almost 10 games into the season…
I’ll say what I said a few weeks ago. I like where we are, but I love where we’re going to be. I think the team is taking one step at a time. I want us to get one-percent better every day. We got one-percent better today, and hopefully, we can come out and do that same thing tomorrow. We want to continue to get better every day. We have a long way to go before we’re able to realize what we are capable of being.
The Knights will close out the UCF Challenge on Friday against Wofford at 2 p.m. Admission is free to the game, so join the Knights prior to the UCF Football game at 6 p.m. Fans will be required to park in the free football lots on campus.
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