RV UCF (0-0) vs. Iowa State (0-0)
RV UCF (0-0) vs. RV Rice (0-0)
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) – The 2019 season begins for UCF Volleyball on Friday as the Knights head to the Rebel Invitational in Oxford, Miss.
The Knights open against Iowa State on Friday, take on Rice on Saturday and close out the weekend against the host Ole Miss on Sunday. All three matches will have live stats and Sunday's match against Ole Miss will air on the SEC Network+.
The Knights return five starters from last year, including AVCA All-American and the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year, McKenna Melville.
Melville, Kristina Fisher and Anne-Marie Watson earned all-conference honors last season and each was tabbed to the preseason all-conference team earlier in August.
Melville had a rookie season for the record books and 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.
Fisher 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. She was a consistent attacker throughout the year for the Black and Gold, hitting above. 200 in 20 matches.
Watson stepped up on the right side for the Knights, totaling 2.32 kills and 1.12 blocks per set during the regular season. She finished with an attack percentage above .250 and more than 10 kills in eight matches last year season. Watson 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
The Knights also return both setters in Erin Olson and Amber Olson. The sisters split action last season, with Erin averaging 6.18 assists per set and Amber averaging 6.11 assists per set. Amber was also tied for second on the team with 13 aces and Erin averaged 2.62 digs per set.
UCF will have to fill the gap left by four-year starter and All-American Jordan Pingel, who graduated after leading the Knights to the American Athletic Conference Championship in 2018. Graduate transfer Makenzie Kuchmaner should slide into the spot after four seasons at NC State. Playing every match in 2018, she posted a 4.69 digs per set mark on 516 stops over 110 sets. She also added a career-best 17 service aces and dropped 100 assists for a 0.91 assists per set mark.
The Knights open the weekend with the program's first meeting against Iowa State. The Cyclones claimed the 2019 National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC) title. Iowa State returns nine letterwinners from last season's team, including 2019 Preseason All-Big 12 right side Eleanor Holthaus and Argentina national team middle blocker Candelaria Herrara.
UCF faces a familiar foe in Rice on Saturday. The Owls, who received votes in the AVCA Preseason Top 25, lead the all-time series 9-4, but the squads have not met since 2012. Coming off a season in which they swept the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles, the Owls are picked to defend their reign as champions in 2019. Rice placed three players on the 12-person Preseason All-Conference Team, as Nicole Lennon, Grace Morgan and Anota Adekunlee each earned a spot. Lennon was also tabbed as the Preseason Player of the Year after garnering the postseason honor last season.
The Knights have played Ole Miss seven times, but the teams have not met since 1987. The Rebels hold a slight 4-3 edge in the all-time series. Ole Miss was chosen to finish 10th in the SEC while Emily Stroup was placed on the preseason all-conference squad.
The Knights open the home portion of the season hosting South Carolina, Albany and Kansas in the UCF Challenge. The three-day tournament begins Sept. 6 in The Venue.