UCF Athletics: Best of 2019

With the distinct smells of mistletoe, eggnog and maybe even fruitcake still wafting around the neighborhoods, it's worth one last celebration of what merited the biggest headlines in the UCF athletic world in 2019.
Here's what Knight fans will remember most from the last calendar year: ?

  1. Near-miss at Fiesta Bowl—Maybe it's somehow fitting or ironic, or maybe simply a coincidence, that the top two events on this list are games UCF did not win. Still, a second straight appearance in a New Year's Six football bowl game—this time in Glendale at the Fiesta Bowl versus LSU--certainly captured the nation's attention. It came with an amazing 25-game UCF win streak. Though LSU prevailed 40-32, it's also worth noting that since that time quarterback Joe Burrow and the Tigers have yet to lose. As good as Burrow was (394 passing yards and three TD passes in a nine-minute span of the first and second periods), UCF fans will forever suggest they would love to do this one again with a healthy McKenzie Milton under center—but, alas, that wasn't to be. The Knights actually led 14-3 (after a 93-yard Bam Moore interception return) and trailed only 24-21 at halftime.  
  2. Near-miss against Duke—This one was even more painful, if only because of how close the Knights came to pulling off what would have been the biggest upset of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship. Aubrey Dawkins had the game of his life (32 points, 12-of-18 shooting, including five of seven from the three-point line) and Tacko Fall (15 points) earned his stripes on a big stage in Columbia, South Carolina. B.J. Taylor's drive to the hoop and Dawkins' attempted tip-in both came tantalizingly close to dropping in the final second of the 77-76 Duke win. UCF's first-round win over VCU marked the Knights' first NCAA Championship victory. This was UCF's first NCAA Championship appearance since 2005 and the program's first at-large berth. At nine, it marked the highest the Knights have been seeded (the previous high was 14th in 2004). Imagine what the reaction would have been had UCF been able to finish off the Blue Devils in this marquee coaching matchup between Duke Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski and his first Blue Devil star, Johnny Dawkins.
  3. Gasparilla Bowl was key—UCF's victory over Marshall in Tampa to end the 2019 season may not have moved the needle as much nationally, especially after New Year's Six appearances the previous two seasons. But don't underestimate the worth of the Knights' 48-25 triumph. The win gave UCF at least 10 wins in three straight seasons, marked a second postseason victory in three years and pushed the four-season victory total to 41 for the Knight seniors. Coach Josh Heupel (now 22-4 as a head coach) will add to the culture of his program with sustained success and so 2019 added another layer of exactly that to his program's resume. 
  4. Women's golf ends 22nd at NCAAs--The Knights finished 22nd in their second trip to the NCAA Championship. But maybe more noteworthy was the manner in which UCF earned its way to that championship in impressive fashion after qualifying at the NCAA Cle Elum Regional. The Knights shot eight-under-par on the final nine holes to finish sixth in the event (only the top six teams out of 18 advanced out of the regional round) and punch their ticket for the first time since the 1995-96 season. Ana Laura Collado stayed in the top two for the entirety of the regional with the best 54-hole score of her collegiate career to finish tied for second overall. UCF competed as the No. 13 seed at the regional event and finished way better than that. That marked the 14th NCAA regional appearance for the program and the sixth appearance in the last nine seasons. UCF finished second at the American Athletic Conference Championship for the second straight season, while AAC Freshman of the Year Elizabeth Moon finished second overall.
  5. Men's soccer, NCAAs and Cal Jennings—The Knights finally ran out of overtime magic in a third-round NCAA game at league rival SMU after the team had thrived in extra-time affairs. UCF finished the 2019 campaign at 15-3-2 and had a mark of 7-1-2 in overtime. First-team All-American Cal Jennings and Gino Vivi each had three golden goals on the year while Yoni Sorokin buried the other. UCF matched its highest win total in a season with those 15 total wins, the first time in the Division I era it accomplished such a feat (also in 1976). The trip to the Sweet 16 was the farthest the ninth-seeded Knights had advanced in the NCAA Championship. In its seventh trip to the big dance, UCF triumphed over Missouri State in overtime in the second round to punch its ticket to the third round. The Knights tied American Athletic Conference rival SMU in Dallas during the regular season, lost in overtime to the Mustangs in Orlando in the conference championship game, then fell (again in OT) in Dallas to end the year. The Knights checked in at No. 10 in the final United Soccer Coaches Poll after earlier claiming the No. 5 spot for the highest mark in program history. The Knights finished at No. 6 in the final release of the men's soccer RPI, after climbing as high as No. 3. Top Drawer Soccer also had the Knights pegged No. 10 in its final poll.
  6. Volleyball AAC title and NCAAs--The Knights' historic 2019 season came to a close in a loss to No. 10 national seed Florida in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Championship. A significant first-round win over Florida State advanced the Knights to the second round for the first time in the Todd Dagenais era and the third time in program history. The Knights' appearance in the NCAA Championship marked their 10th in program history. The NCAA loss brought the season record for the Knights to 25-8, tied for the second best mark since 1997. UCF defended its conference title as the Knights took down No.1 seed Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference Championship in dramatic, five-set fashion in Orlando—after dropping both regular-season matches against the Bearcats. Most amazing in that title match was UCF's third-set win. The Bearcats led 18-12 and then ran ahead to set point at 24-18. The Knights answered with an outstanding comeback, utilizing three blocks and a pair of Cincinnati errors to sweep the final eight points for the improbable, 26-24 set victory—setting the stage for that fifth-set triumph.
  7. 4x100 relay unit headlines women's outdoor track--UCF's 4x100 relay squad closed out the 2019 track and field campaign with second-team All-America honors at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Shaniya WilliamsCiara HolbackBeyonce Defreitas and Loren Gallmon--UCF's fifth 4x100 relay squad to advance to the NCAA championship meet in the last seven seasons--finished 14th overall at 43.82. The quartet posted the best UCF relay finish since the 2014 group finished 11th and produced the fastest time by a Knight relay squad at the championships since 2013. Gallmon became a two-time All-American, having earned second-team honors as member of the UCF 4x100 relay that finished 16th overall at the 2017 NCAA outdoor championships.
  8. Women's tennis makes third round of NCAAs--After its best season in program history, the UCF women's tennis team jumped four spots to No. 19 in the season's final edition of the Oracle/ITA team rankings. The Knights wrapped up their most accomplished season—as UCF made it past the first two rounds of the NCAA Championship for the first time in program history before falling to Pepperdine in the round of 16. It was the first time the Knights won the American Athletic Conference title. UCF also achieved its highest win total in a single season, posting a 24-4 record.
  9. Rowing team ties best NCAA finish--With all three of its boats posting top-20 listings, the UCF rowing team matched its best team finish at 18th overall at the 2019 NCAA Championship. UCF's varsity four continued to make history, earning the highest finish by any UCF boat at the NCAA Championship. The Knights posted their highest point total (31) at the championship while collecting their fifth-consecutive top-20 team finish. One day after qualifying for its first C final, UCF's varsity four squad of Carlee HoschouerChiara CiulloJessica MattesonPaula Parks and Amy Van Ryn made history again, matching their seed with a 15th-place finish overall. The 2019 American Athletic Conference rowing championship once again belonged to UCF as the Knights claimed their fifth consecutive team title.
  10. Men's tennis and women's hoops also advance to NCAAs—The UCF women's basketball team finished with a 26-7 record (13-3 AAC), an NCAA Championship appearance (first-round loss vs. Arizona State), its first NCAA at-large berth—and also received votes in Associated Press top 25 for the first time. The UCF men's tennis squad ended with a 15-11 record, an NCAA Championship appearance (lost vs. Florida State in the first round) and its second NCAA berth in three years. UCF finished 62nd in the NACDA Directors' Cup standings, yet of those institutions with 16 sports only Vanderbilt (45th) rated higher. The Knights finished ahead of 10 programs from Power 5 conferences—including four from the Atlantic Coast Conference, three from the Pacific-12, two from the Big 12 and one from the Big Ten. According to CBS Sports, UCF had the 17th best year in the nation thanks to its across-the-board athletic performance. The Knights were the only team in the top 25 from the American Athletic Conference, as Cincinnati came in tied for 38th.

 And here's how UCF made headlines in 2019 off the fields of play:

  1. UCF sells out 2019 Spectrum Stadium season ticket allotment--For the first time in school history, UCF sold its entire football season-ticket allotment. That unprecedented demand for UCF football tickets prompted the Knights' athletic department for the first time to create a formal waiting list for future season tickets.
  2. RoofClaim.com becomes field sponsor at UCF—RoofClaim.com, a subsidiary of Jasper Contractors, reached an agreement to become the first-time field sponsor at Spectrum Stadium, the home of UCF football. The RoofClaim.com logo was displayed in two locations on the field for every UCF home football game and other events held on the playing surface. RoofClaim.com also holds the naming rights to the UCF men's and women's basketball court at Addition Financial Arena—with that agreement beginning with the 2018-19 season. In addition, RoofClaim.com has its name and logo on the backdrop for all UCF football press conferences and media availabilities—as well as additional Spectrum Stadium signage.
  3. UCF stands alone with successive all-winning athletic teams--UCF was the only athletic program in the country that saw all of its head-to-head sports post winning records in each of the last two athletic seasons (2017-18 and 2018-19), among the 130 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools. Two years ago UCF joined Florida State, Oklahoma State and Texas in accomplishing that feat—but the Knights were the only athletic program to repeat that distinction in 2018-19. Minnesota and North Texas also joined UCF in producing all winning team records in 2018-19. UCF in 2018-19 qualified teams for the NCAA Championship (or postseason bowl game) in football, volleyball, men's soccer, men's basketball, women's basketball, men's tennis, women's tennis, women's golf and rowing—while also sending individuals in men's golf and women's outdoor track and field. The Knights in 2018-19 claimed American Athletic Conference titles in football, volleyball (regular season), men's soccer (regular season), women's tennis and rowing. Then, in 2019 fall sports, the UCF football, volleyball, men's soccer and women's soccer squads all added to that winning tradition.
  4. Danny White named NACDA athletic director of the year--UCF vice president and director of athletics Danny White was named one of the 2019 FBS athletic directors of the year. The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) announced the winners of the Under Armour AD of the Year Award (ADOY) in March. The ADOY Award highlights the efforts of athletics directors at all levels for their commitment and positive contributions to student-athletes, campuses and their surrounding communities. Winners received their awards during the James J. Corbett Awards Luncheon June 11 at NACDA's 54th Annual Convention in Orlando. Among the criteria were service as an AD for a minimum of five academic years; demonstration of commitment to higher education and student-athletes; continuous teamwork, loyalty and excellence; and the ability to inspire individuals or groups to high levels of accomplishments. Winners of the 2018-19 Under Armour AD of the Year Awards in the FBS were White; Patrick Chun, Washington State; Jamie Pollard, Iowa State, and Debbie Yow, N.C. State
  5. Football stadium expansion may be coming—The preseason sellout of football season tickets at UCF for 2019 prompted conversations about the potential for more seats in the Knights' football home. That demand has UCF vice president and athletics director Danny White looking to the future and anticipating that Spectrum Stadium expansion may be on the docket for exploration sooner rather than later. "The fact our season-ticket allotment was gone before the start of a season was a first for UCF, and it absolutely speaks to both the success of the football program and how our alumni and community have embraced Orlando's Hometown Team," says White. "We're confident capacity crowds will become routine at Spectrum Stadium, and that suggests we need to be forward-thinking in terms of assessing what the options are to expand. The topic of expansion isn't new, but we feel some urgency to figure this out because of the growing demand in the community and, most importantly, with our students. We unfortunately had to turn away thousands of students at the majority of our games the last two years. A 12,000-seat student section is just not big enough for the largest undergraduate enrollment in America." In addition to being able to address the upsized demand from UCF fans and students for tickets, increased capacity would enable Spectrum Stadium to provide additional seats for visiting team allotments and other larger groups.
  6. Walt Disney World now newest UCF athletics partner—UCF student-athletes can now say, "I'm going to Disney World." With a new sponsorship agreement, Walt Disney World Resort hopes to spread some extra magic to Orlando's hometown college football team. Beginning with the 2019 season, Knight fans experienced a little extra pixie dust as Disney became the official Theme Park, Water Park, Resort and Cruise Line Destination of the University's football team. Said UCF vice president and director of athletics Danny White, "This agreement enables UCF to have the most unique student-athlete experience in the country--as every year all of our student-athletes will have the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World Resort." The new multiyear agreement also includes shared marketing opportunities, in-game promotions at UCF home football games and Disney signage inside Spectrum Stadium. It also extends the existing relationship between UCF and Disney which have joined together as part of the Disney Aspire education investment program. In May, UCF was added to the Disney Aspire network of schools. This groundbreaking program offers 100 percent free tuition on select face to face and online degree programs to eligible hourly Disney employees and Cast Members, making it easier for them to pursue their dreams and fulfill their career ambitions.
  7. McNamara Cove coming to UCF athletics in 2020—UCF athletics soon will have the most unique facility anywhere in college sports. McNamara Cove—and "Covegating"—officially are coming to UCF in 2020, delivering college football's most noteworthy gameday tailgating experience for both individuals and corporate clients. UCF will offer 250 all-inclusive "Covegating" membership packages for all regular-season home football games that includes food, beverage and parking among other amenities. McNamara Cove is strategically located between the Wayne Densch Center for Student-Athlete Leadership and the Garvy Center for Student-Athlete Nutrition and will be accessible for UCF student-athletes during their free time. McNamara Cove construction will begin in January and be completed by the start of the 2020 football season.
  8. UCF produces record athletic fundraising figures--Fundraising for athletics at UCF in fiscal year 2019 (ending June 30) produced record numbers in terms of gifts received and overall gift commitments, nearly doubling the figure for total commitments from the previous year. The last fiscal year included $31.7 million dollars committed from 7,519 donors and $13.6 million in gifts received. All three of those numbers are all-time highs for UCF athletics fundraising. This year's overall figure for gift commitments represents almost twice the number from a year ago ($16.6 million). That same overall 2019 total is nearly four times what UCF booked just three years ago ($8 million, an increase of 296%, in fiscal year 2016). This year's number for overall commitments represents almost five times the total figure from fiscal year 2012 ($6.5 million).
  9. Bryant gift of $13 million is record--Gary W. and Barbara Bryant of Lake Mary, Florida, made a record $13 million commitment that will create and support an endowed scholarship fund for UCF athletics. The endowment, coming via the Gary W. and Barbara Bryant Family Trust, will be known as the Gary and Barbara Bryant Family Athletic Endowed Scholarship Fund. Gary W. Bryant is a retired insurance executive in the Orlando area. The gift represents the largest single contribution in the history of athletics at UCF. At least one female and one male UCF athlete annually will be designated as Bryant Scholar-Athletes by a selection committee of UCF faculty and administrators.
  10. APR scores in women's tennis and football merit NCAA public recognition awards--A perfect 1000 score for the UCF women's tennis team led the way in another impressive performance by Knight athletic squads in the latest annual Academic Progress Rate data released by the NCAA. The women's tennis program achieved a 1000 multi-year score for the eighth straight year, joining the Knights' football team (987) in also earning NCAA Public Recognition Awards for ranking in the top 10 percent of APR for their sports. Five UCF programs--men's golf, women's golf, women's soccer, women's tennis and women's volleyball--had single-year scores of 1000 for 2017-18. Seven Knight programs—football, men's golf, men's soccer, women's golf, women's soccer, women's tennis and women's volleyball—either equaled or improved their single-year APR score from a year ago. UCF student-athletes combined for a 3.24 grade-point average for the 2019 spring semester, marking the 23rd consecutive semester at 3.0 or better for Knight teams on a combined basis. That streak jumped to 24 in a row with a 3.30 average (third highest in Knight history) during the 2019 fall semester. UCF athletic squads in volleyball and rowing captured American Athletic Conference Team Academic Excellence Awards, designating those two programs as the top performing academic teams in their respective AAC sports. In addition, a UCF record 253 members of various Knights teams earned spots on the AAC All-Academic Team. Knights programs in volleyball (3.71 grade-point average on 4.0 scale) and rowing (3.42 GPA) claimed the prestigious team awards which are based on each team's cumulative GPA following the 2018-19 academic year.