ORLANDO (UCFKnights.com) – The UCF volleyball team was selected to repeat as the American Athletic Conference champions in the preseason poll announced by the league on Thursday.
The 2018 American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year, McKenna Melville was a unanimous preseason all-conference selection. She was joined by senior Kristina Fisher and junior Anne-Marie Watson to put three Knights on the preseason squad.
“I’ve never been a big fan of preseason polls because so many things can happen in the offseason that can change the outcome of a season,” UCF head coach Todd Dagenais said. “We’re going to be a highly competitive team and put ourselves in position to compete favorably in the conference. I expect that this league is going to have multiple teams in the top 25 this season. I fully anticipate it being a two- or three-bid league for NCAA Tournament. I expect that we’ll be one of the top five conference in the country. I’m really looking forward to playing in a conference that’s going to be recognized nationally as one of the elite volleyball conferences in the country this year.”
UCF received eight first place votes and edged the 2018 runner-up Cincinnati by four points for the top spot of the preseason poll.
“Cincinnati returns the best player to ever play in the conference and could very easily be the preseason No. 1," Dagenais said. "Tulane brings back their entire team that was the hottest team in the league at the end of last season. Tulsa has had an influx of talent, including international talent, and will be competitive immediately. If you look at the conference, from top to bottom, this will be the most competitive season in league history. I really don’t see a difference between the top tier teams in the conference. It’s going to come down to who can win the close games, who can win on the road and who can execute the fundamentals under pressure. All of the teams at the top are good and the teams at the bottom have gotten better.”
The Knights were selected as the preseason favorites for the second time in The American, earning the distinction in 2015 after capturing the 2014 league title.
"While we’re thankful to have earned the respect of the league coaches, we know that the history of being placed in the top spot of the preseason poll hasn’t been good," Dagenais said. "Our goal now is to go out and change that. We have work to do to become the team we want to be, which is one who wins the conference, receives the NCAA bid and makes an NCAA Tournament run.”
Melville, who garnered AVCA All-America honors, had a rookie season for the record books in 2018. Unanimously selected to The American’s First Team in addition to Freshman of the Year honors, she was a force on the outside with a team-high 4.51 kills per set, the second-best tally in The American and 15th in the nation, behind a .246 clip at the net. Melville was also a solid all-around player for the Knights with 3.62 digs per set. In the 31-match season, the Eagan, Minn., native recorded 22 double-doubles, including a pair of 20-kill, 20-dig outings.
As a freshman, she ranked 13th nationally with 529 kills, 15th with 12.24 attacks per set and 1,432 total attacks and 14th with 587.5 points.
“McKenna has earned her respect after an incredible freshman year and her USA Volleyball experience over the summer,” Dagenais said. “While it’s no secret that we are going to lean on her, we will still be a balanced team that expects five to six players to do their job night-in and night-out. UCF has to be different – we depend on math, not on one person. People know that McKenna is a big part of what we’re trying to do. We’re really excited to see what she’ll do as a sophomore after her record-setting freshman season.”
Fisher made a big jump during her second season with the Knights, earning first team laurels last year. The Austin, Texas, native was second on the team with 3.07 kills and 1.53 digs per set and tallied a quartet of double-doubles, including a pair against fellow American Athletic Conference foe and NCAA Tournament team Cincinnati. As a sophomore, she touched 20 kills twice last 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.
“Tina has worked so hard from the point her freshman year trying to earn starting spot to where she is now,” Dagenais said. “To have her recognized last year as First Team All-Conference and now earning this preseason all-conference nod shows the league coaches have given her the respect she deserves as well.”
Watson, a second team honoree in the league in 2018, stepped up on the right side for the Knights. 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 last year season. Her blocking numbers ticked up significantly; she set the single-game record with 12 block assists on the road at Cincinnati, playing a huge role in holding The American Player of the Year Jordan Thompson under .200 hitting.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that the coaches have recognized the intangibles that Anne-Marie brings,” Dagenais said. “She has so much control defensively with her blocking. Last year she was an unsung hero for her defensive work. We won games based on her ability to lead and to shut down the opponent’s big hitter.”
Cincinnati’s Jordan Thompson was the unanimous selection to repeat as The American Player of the Year.
“I just want to congratulate all of the other individuals from the league on their preseason recognition,” Dagenais said. “Preseason all-conference is earned through hard work throughout year and by helping their teams improve.”
The Knights, who received votes in the AVCA Preseason Top 25, wrap up their preseason training with an exhibition contest at Florida on Aug. 24. UCF officially opens the 2019 campaign at the Rebel Invitational, hosted by Ole Miss, on Aug. 30.
Preseason Coaches' Poll
Points (First Place Votes)
7. Wichita State
Preseason Player of the Year
Jordan Thompson, Cincinnati*
Preseason All-Conference Team
McKenna Melville, UCF*
Kristina Fisher, UCF
Anne-Marie Watson, UCF
Jordan Thompson, Cincinnati*
Maria Mallon, Cincinnati
Caylee Parker, UConn
Shelby Martin, ECU
Hannah Flowers, Memphis
Jac’cara Walker, USF
Hannah Jacobs, SMU
Montana Watts, SMU
Lexie Douglas, Tulane
Erika Hansel, Tulane*
Taylor Horsfall, Tulsa
[*] - denotes unanimous selection