Melville Named American Freshman of the Year

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) – When the American Athletic Conference postseason awards were announced on Tuesday, the UCF volleyball team took home two of the major honors and had four players earn all-conference honors.

Head coach Todd Dagenais was named The American Coach of the Year for the second time in his career. Outside hitter McKenna Melville was named the league’s Freshman of the year and was a unanimous First Team selection.

Libero Jordan Pingel finally received her due as a First Team All-Conference honoree, and Kristina Fisher notched her first conference honor as a member of the First Team. Right side Anne-Marie Watson was tabbed to the league’s Second Team.

Coach of the Year: Todd Dagenais
Freshman of the Year: McKenna Melville
The American First Team: McKenna Melville, Jordan Pingel, Kristina Fisher
The American Second Team: Anne-Marie Watson

Melville far exceeded the expectations placed on a freshman this season. The rookie from Eagan, Minn., quickly adjusted to the collegiate game, leading the Knights in kills, attacks, service aces and points. Melville ranks 15th in the nation in points and 16th in kills per set. While she has been one of the best offensive players in the country, the freshman has developed into an all-around threat with 21 double-doubles, including two 20-20 matches this season. She averaged 4.5 kills, 3.63 digs and .44 blocks per set this year.

“There are a lot of great freshmen in this conference,” Dagenais said. “This has been one of the deepest freshman classes in the conference’s history. Several teams relied heavily on their first-year players this season, and so did we. McKenna is absolutely deserving of Freshman of the Year honors. We have relied on her to step up in some big matches for us this season, and she’s done it every time. She has played a much higher level than most freshmen. If it were not for Jordan Thompson at Cincinnati, I think McKenna would have deserved Player of the Year honors. People will notice her hitting, blocking and defense, but she also done a great job of being a leader off the court. I’m very proud of what she’s been able to accomplish, and I look forward to watching her continue to grow.”

In her swansong campaign with the Knights, Pingel finally received her all-conference nod. After breaking the career digs record earlier this season, becoming the first player in program history to surpass 2,000 digs in a career, the lone senior on the 2018 roster is just two saves away from breaking the single-season record. Pingel is averaging 5.10 digs per set, also a program best, which ranks in the top 50 in the nation. In addition to her command on the court, Pingel has been the heart and soul of the team, leading the Knights to a UCF DI record 24 straight wins. The libero has also chipped in 20 service aces, good for second on the team, and recorded a .959 reception percentage on 510 attempts.

“I’m glad to see that Jordan is finally getting the love she deserves,” Dagenais said. “She deserved to be First Team for many years, but she deserved it even more this year. She put together three nearly record-setting seasons, and she will finally break the single-season record this year. She’s our all-time school record holder. It means that other coaches recognized how much she does for us. I’m proud that she received First Team honors. It’s only a small tribute to what she’s done for us this season, in addition to everything she’s done for this program over the last four years.”

Kristina Fisher has had a big sophomore jump in her second year with the Knights. The Austin, Texas, native ranks second on the team with 3.07 kills and 1.53 digs per set. Fisher has a quartet of double-doubles, including a pair against fellow American Athletic Conference foe and NCAA Tournament team Cincinnati. The sophomore has touched 20 kills twice this season with the first time coming in a sweep of then-No. 3 USC. Fisher was a consistent attacker throughout the year for the Black and Gold, hitting above. 200 in 20 matches.

“It was a great surprise that the coaches saw what we’ve always seen in Kristina,” Dagenais added. “She has played huge role for us this season and provided great performances in so many big matches. She has really improved in so many areas of her game. So for her, as a sophomore, to receive First Team recognition is a really special honor for her and the program. It just shows how important she is to our success and what a huge part she has had in a very special year.”

After an impressive freshman campaign, Watson has stepped up on the right side for the Knights in 2018. The Oviedo native totaled 2.32 kills and 1.12 blocks per set during the regular season. An efficient hitter, Watson finished with an attack percentage above .250 and more than 10 kills in eight matches this season. Her blocking numbers have ticked up significantly this season. She set the single-game record with 12 block assists on the road at Cincinnati earlier this season, playing a huge role in holding The American Player of the Year Jordan Thompson under .200 hitting.

“I am so happy that the coaches in the conference recognized what Anne-Marie brought to our team,” Dagenais said. “I think of her hitting numbers are a little bit above average for the top right sides in our league, but her blocking numbers were off the charts this season. Numbers you would expect to see from a middle. She may not have always scored points the way some right sides score points on the attack, but she scored a lot more on the block. She forced teams into reformulating their game plans to avoid hitting to her.”

The Knights will open the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night at home for the first time in program history. UCF will face FGCU at 7 p.m. For information about tickets, click here

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