ORLANDO – 417 days… 59 weeks... One year, a month and 20 days.
However you want to spin it, it will have unquestionably been a long time since the UCF volleyball team last saw game action before they hit the floor for an exhibition against FAU on January 25. The following day, January 26, head coach Todd Dagenais and his squad will officially kick off the regular season, and they will do so as the favorites to win the American Athletic Conference for the third straight year.
In a year like no other, UCF was picked to defend its AAC title when the conference released its annual Preseason Volleyball Coaches' Poll in mid-January. The preseason rankings were voted on by the conference's 11 head coaches and unanimously tabbed the Knights as the favorites to claim the championship title.
In the same poll, UCF superstar McKenna Melville was unanimously tabbed as the conference's Preseason Player of the Year and both Melville and teammate Anne-Marie Watson were named to the Preseason All-Conference team.
But Dagenais does not care about the preseason hype. He knows the game is played on the court, not on paper.
"This is going to be a very unique spring," said 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."
This will certainly be a unique spring. With all UCF teams (with the exception of football), gearing up for their respective seasons, no one is questioning that, but despite the challenges ahead over the coming months, the Knights are still primed to do what they do best: Win.
The Knights lost five players to graduation following the end of the 2019 season.
The list of departures includes Makenzie Kuchmaner (Libero), Alli Sabol (Right Side Hitter), Kristina Fisher (Outside Hitter), Lache Harper (Middle Blocker) and Erin Olson (Setter).
Despite the losses, depth and an influx of newcomers should prove to be instrumental for the Knights this season if they hope to meet expectations.
Key returners for UCF include McKenna Melville, who was unanimously selected as the AAC Preseason Player of the Year and was an AVCA All-American honorable mention in 2019, Anne-Marie Watson, who was named to the conference preseason All-Conference team and is UCF's all-time single season leader in block assists (154), and Nerissa Moravec, who was one of three Knights to place in the top 30 in blocks per set nationally in 2019 (Watson and Harper the other two).
Other returning players for the Knights in 2021 include Amber Olson, Kathryn Wesolich, Dresden Pass, Megan Lively, Faby Ribas, Morghan Chambers and Makenzie Chambers.
If you would like to look more into the players making up each position for the Knights this season, you can do so here:
- Roster Preview: Setters
- Roster Preview: Liberos/Defensive Specialists
- Roster Preview: Middle Blockers
- Roster Preview: Outside/Right Side Hitters
DEFENDING THE CROWN
Between 2018 and 2019, UCF has led the conference with a combined 32-2 record in league play.
The Knights went undefeated in conference action in 2018 to claim the title and repeated in 2019 following an unforgettable inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship Tournament.
In 2019, UCF's biggest foe was Cincinnati, who went 15-1 in conference play to claim the regular season conference crown. The Knights did battle with the Bearcats twice in the regular season, dropping both contests in four sets or less, but the two squared off once again in the conference tournament championship match, where UCF won in dramatic, five set fashion (21-25, 25-16, 26-24, 24-26, 15-10).
With the victory, UCF secured the automatic bid representing The American in the NCAA Tournament, marking the Knights tenth appearance all-time in the tournament.
The Black and Gold defeated Florida State in the first round. The win marked the first NCAA Tournament win of head coach Todd Dagenais's career and sent UCF to the second round for the first time since 2003. It was also the game that gave coach Dagenais career win number 237, making him UCF Volleyball's all-time winningest head coach.
In 2020-21, the Knights are once again selected to repeat as AAC champions.
UCF received 10 out of 11 first-place votes to claim the top spot in the poll over Cincinnati. The Bearcats were second in the poll with one first place vote (coming from UCF, who could not vote for themselves).
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.
"My first reaction when the schedule was announced was that I was just really excited to be able to get ready to play somebody other than ourselves for the first time in over a year." Said Moravec. "We're ready to get back out on the court and get those competitive juices flowing."
The Knights will be playing volleyball not in the fall as per usual, but in the spring following an announcement from the American Athletic Conference in August that it would postpone all competition and conference championships in women's volleyball until the spring of 2021 to align with the NCAA championship season.
UCF will kick off its 13th season under the direction of head coach Todd Dagenais on Tuesday, January 26, when the Knights will face off against FAU at The Venue in Orlando, Fla.
The Knights will begin the season with a six-game homestand, with four of those matchups coming against Florida programs.
With 11 of the Knights' 16-game schedule taking place in The Venue, UCF will have a chance to continue its dominance in home matches. Over the past three seasons, the black and gold lead the conference in home winning percentage at an .841 mark. The next closest is Cincinnati with a .750 winning percentage.
The Knights will begin their American Athletic Conference title defense on February 18 with a road trip to Philadelphia, Pa. where they will take on the Temple Owls. Following two non-conference matches against Miami in late February, UCF will then return to conference action at home to take on ECU from March 5-6.
UCF will hit the road once more from March 12-13 as they face 2019 AAC regular season champions Cincinnati before returning home to cap off the regular season with two matches against South Florida from March 26-27.
If UCF finishes the season as one of the top four programs in the conference, the Knights will head to Cincinnati for the conference championship tournament from April 2-3. UCF hosted the inaugural AAC conference championship tournament in 2019, defeating Cincinnati in five sets to win its second consecutive conference title.
All home UCF Volleyball matches this spring will be free to fans on a first-come, first-served basis. Capacity for The Venue this season is 226 people, or roughly twenty-five percent of full capacity. There will be no physical ticketing, but the number of fans entering The Venue will be counted and admission will be cut off once capacity is reached. Ticketing protocols, as well as capacity limitations for fans are subject to change throughout the season.
"I feel very fortunate that we will have some fans here to cheer for us," said Dagenais. "I think that will give us the extra pep in our step when we perform at home."
Fans will be required to wear face coverings at all times, except while actively eating or drinking. Other safety measures in place for the 2021 season include:
- Hand sanitizer stations will be located throughout the concourse
- Floor graphics are located throughout the Arena where lines may form to encourage social distancing
- Bathrooms and other common touch points will be cleaned and sanitized regularly
- COVID-19 signage encouraging best practices will be located throughout the Arena
- Every other row will be blocked off to encourage social distancing
For the latest information on ticketing information for 2021 UCF Volleyball home events, contact the ticket office at (407) 823-1000, or follow us on social at UCF Volleyball on Facebook (/UCFVolleyball), Twitter (@UCF_Volleyball) and Instagram (@UCF.Volleyball).