ORLANDO - Back-to-back American Athletic Conference Champion UCF has been selected to win the league once again in 2021 as the conference released its Preseason Volleyball Coaches' Poll on Monday. The preseason rankings were voted on by the conference's 11 head coaches.
In addition to being selected as preseason favorites, UCF junior McKenna Melville was unanimously selected as the Preseason Player of the Year in the conference. Melville, along with teammate Anne-Marie Watson, were both named to the Preseason All-Conference Team.
The Knights, who are coming off of two consecutive AAC titles earned in 2018 and 2019, are projected to claim the top spot in the conference again this year, receiving 10 out of 11 first-place votes to claim the top spot in the poll over Cincinnati. The Bearcats, who were the regular season champions in 2019, were second in the poll with one first place vote.
This marks the third time the Knights have been voted as the favorite to win the conference as they were also tabbed as preseason favorites in 2015 and 2019.
"This is going to be a very unique spring," said head coach Todd Dagenais. "I'm not sure who really is number one and I'm not even sure if there is a clear-cut number one. COVID-19 has drastically narrowed the separation between teams in our conference and nobody has played for over a year, so we haven't had enough time to practice and train our systems. That alone has evened out the teams significantly.
"Of course, I feel we will be competitive this year. Although we lost a big part of our team to graduation, we are returning a big part and have some exciting newcomers. Regardless, we know we need to continuously get better to be the best team we can be by April."
In addition to the 10 first place votes predicting UCF to win the conference, UCF was also picked to win The American's East Division. The Knights garnered 46 points to claim first place in that regard.
Rounding out the rest of the East Division poll, Cincinnati was predicted to finish second with 37 total points, Temple was third with 26 points, and ECU and South Florida were tied for fourth place with 16 points each.
In just two seasons in the black and gold, McKenna Melville has already established herself as one of the greatest players in UCF history. Playing in all 122 sets for the Knights in 2019, Melville had one of the best sophomore campaigns in program history, posting a team-high 4.49 kills per set after scorching 548 kills on the year, nearly a third of UCF's total production.
Defensively, the Eagan, Minn. native recorded 3.13 digs per frame and .46 blocks per set, including a team-high 13 solos. Melville was a thorn in the side of opposing AVCA top-50 teams in 2019, posting 4.62 kills per set and tallying seven service aces in eight matches against those opponents.
Melville posted 22 double-doubles in 2019, including a 20-20 performance in UCF's monumental win over FSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Nationally in 2019, Melville ranked 10th in total kills, 12th in total points, fifth in total attacks, 23rd in kills per set and 24th in points per set. The outside hitter was named the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week twice in 2019, was named an AVCA All-American Honorable Mention, earned All-Conference First Team honors and was the tournament MVP in the 2019 AAC Championship, where the Knights defended their title.
"McKenna has been one of the steadiest and most reliable players in the American since she arrived in Orlando," said head coach Todd Dagenais. "I'm proud of the work she puts in each and every day just to be one percent better. I'm happy for her to receive this recognition from my fellow coaches in the conference. However, knowing the type of player, captain, and teammate she is, I can guarantee you she would gladly exchange this preseason individual award for a team postseason championship trophy."
To cap off the preseason recognition, UCF had two players named to the preseason All-Conference team in Melville and Anne-Marie Watson.
Watson, who enters her senior year with the Knights in 2020-21, was a force on the right side for the black and gold all of 2019. The Oviedo, Fla. product not only proved to be an offensive weapon for UCF, posting the third highest kills per set on the team with 2.68, but she was also one of the best blockers the Knights had to offer, leading the team with 130 total blocks, including seven solo rejections.
Watson posted a season-high 20 kills and six blocks in the Knights' 3-2 win over Ole Miss, hitting at a .380 clip to get there. Watson also tied the UCF record for blocks in a single match as she posted 12 against Miami early in the Knights' season. Watson is the Knight's all-time record holder for most block assists in a single season after she posted 151 of them in 2019.
Both Melville and Watson, along with graduate Kristina Fisher, were named First Team All-Conference following 2019's historic season.
Below is a breakdown of The American preseason awards:
East Division Predicted Order of Finish
(Out of a possible 46 points)
|4. East Carolina
West Division Predicted Order of Finish
(Out of a possible 55 points)
|4. Wichita State
Preseason Player of the Year
McKenna Melville, Jr., OH, UCF*
Preseason All-Conference Team
McKenna Melville, Jr., OH, UCF*
Anne-Marie Watson, Sr., RS, UCF
Armania Heckenmueller, Jr., S, Cincinnati
Maria Mallon, Jr., OH, Cincinnati*
Adria Oliver, Jr., MB, Cincinnati
Bri Wood, Sr., RS, East Carolina
Rachel Tullos, So., MB, Houston
Lily Heim, Jr., S, SMU*
Hannah Jacobs, Jr., OH, SMU
Rachel Woulfe, Jr., OH, SMU*
Peyton Boyd, Jr., RS, Temple
Kayla Dinkins, Jr., MH, Tulane
Lexie Douglas, Sr., OH, Tulane*
*denotes unanimous selection
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