Knights Move into Sole Lead of The American

CINCINNATI, Ohio ( – The UCF volleyball team entered Sunday’s match at Cincinnati as a co-leader in The American Athletic Conference with the Bearcats. Five grueling sets later and powered by a pair of record-breaking performances, the Knights (18-3, 9-0) stood atop the conference by themselves with a 3-2 win over Cincinnati (23-25, 25-27, 25-15, 25-27, 15-6).

The Black and Gold faced one of the most electric outside hitters in the nation in Jordan Thompson. One of the keys heading into the match was stopping the high-powered Cincinnati attack at the net. The Knights did just that.

Finishing just a 1.5 block shy of the program record, the Knights recorded 21.5 blocks, the second highest total in program history. The majority of UCF’s rejections came from solid tandem blocks, including one triple block.

The Black and Gold set the program record with 41 block assists. Anne-Marie Watson and Kathryn Wesolich both broke the UCF record for block assists in a match with 12 apiece. They duo passed Piper Morgan’s 11-block assist outing against Temple on Nov. 24, 2000. With their 12 rejections, Watson and Wesolich are now tied for the second most blocks in a single game, behind a 13-rejection night from Morgan on Nov. 19, 1999 against Georgia State.

Cincinnati (18-3, 8-1) did its best to keep their attacks away from reigning American Defensive Player of the Week Jordan Pingel. The senior finished with 16 saves, while McKenna Melville notched 15, Kristina Fisher 14 and Erin Olson 10. The Knights held Cincinnati to .155 hitting for the match, including an -.091 clip in the third quarter.

Offensively, setters Erin and Amber Olson worked the ball around for a balanced attack. Four Knights posted double-digit kills, led by 23 from Melville. The Eagan, Minn., native stepped up time and time again with just four errors on 59 swings for a .322 clip at the net. Nerissa Moravec stepped up in the middle to hit .733 with 11 kills, matching her career high to go along with nine blocks. Kristina Fisher and Watson rounded out the hot hands with 10 kills each. Erin and Amber tallied 31 and 19 dimes, respectively.

Indicative of the entire match to come, both clubs struggled to create space. UCF opened a three-point lead at 7-4, only for the hosts to counter to take a 15-13 lead. The Knights leveled the set at 23-23, but Cincinnati received a pair of kills from Carly Nolan to take the opener. The Knights hit .265 to Cincinnati’s .276 mark, but the block only tallied a pair of rejection. Melville was flawless with six kills on nine swings.

Again, the Bearcats quickly erased an early lead for the Black and Gold. The hosts looked to be in command with a 17-13 advantage, but the Knights rolled off four straight points to tie the game. UCF staved off a pair of set points by Cincinnati to avoid trailing by two sets at the break. Tied 25-25, Moravec picked up a kill and then joined Melville for a game-clinching block. The defense stepped up with 5.5 rejections, led by a quartet of assists from Moravec.

Out of the break, the Knights took command of the third. An early three-point deficit quickly grew to a five-point advantage for UCF. After the Bearcats pulled within two, the Black and Gold opened a 20-12 lead that the hosts would never overcome. While the offense struggled to take command with a .094 clip, the block turned away seven Cincinnati attack, including five stops from Watson. Fisher sprang for five digs to keep Cincinnati’s attack from generating points.

The Knights were in command for the majority of the fourth game. UCF held at least a three-point lead on multiple occasions, but Cincinnati clawed back into the set each time. The Black and Gold had match point twice, only for the Bearcats to stay in the match. Four Knights recorded multiple kills, while six different players notched at least a trio of digs.

Not allowing the match to slip away like the fourth set, UCF jumped out to a three-point lead at 5-2 in the fifth. The hosts managed to trip the advantage down to two, but that as close at it would get. The Knights finished on a 9-2 run. Melville connected on four kills, while the block turned away a trio of attacks. UCF hit .353 to the Bearcats’ .000.

>> The previous block assists record was 32, both against Jacksonville in 1992 and 2004.
>> The record for most blocks in a single match is 23 against Samford in 1992.
>> The Knights extended their winning streak to 15 matches, which is tied for the seventh longest active stretch in the country.

Overall thoughts on the match…
I thought it was a special win. This was an epic battle with a team that deserves to be ranked in the 20 to 25 range, and it’s a shame that they’re not. Cincinnati is so athletic. They have such and experienced and talented team, including one of the best players in the nation.

Our team come out with the mentality that it wasn’t about trying to hit a home run. We were going to bunt, hit singles and keep scoring. We wanted to break the match into a bunch of little segmented games. Three of those sets were as close as you could play. This battle could have gone either way. We made some plays that we haven’t made all year, especially at the net. We held our composure better than any match this season. The fact that we got a win of this magnitude on the road and in the second match of the weekend is just a testament to our team’s resiliency.

On the block…
We knew that we needed to be disciplined at the net, which is something we haven’t been over the last few matches. Anne-Marie had to go up against Jordan Thompson head-to-head. Playing against someone with national team experience, not only did Anne-Marie do well, she racked up 12 blocks against one of the best players in the nation. I’m so proud of her for taking that challenge and owning it. She was incredible offensively, as well with 10 kills. We didn’t use Kathryn as much as we wanted to offensively, but she made up for it on the block.

On what he told the team after the match…
I told them that this win is nothing more than another win. It just put us in a position to round the halfway point in the conference with all of our goals in sight. We believe in ourselves. There’s simply no quit in this team.

On the rest of the defense…
Defensively, I thought we were really stable. The digs were distributed pretty evenly. They tried to keep the ball away from Jordan, which ended up allowing Kristina and McKenna to get some gids. Erin did a great job in the right back as well. We knew that we needed to be a blocking team and own the net against a team that’s more experience and physical than us. To own it at the level we did is really what led us forward.

On the flow of the offense…
Nerissa came up huge for us. They anticipated us being a heavy outside team. We had opportunities in the middle and she took advantage of them. McKenna carried a huge workload. Out of the back row, she came up big when we needed her. She was incredibly stable on long rallies. We did a great job of staying low error for the entire match while forcing them to commit 34. The setters did a great job of finding the hitter with the best chance to get a kill.