ORLANDO – The Knights are headed to Ohio to play two with Cincinnati. The two sides will do battle on Friday and Saturday at 1:00 p.m. and both matches will be streamed live on ESPN+.
While always an intense rivalry, this weekend's battle with the Bearcats will carry a bit more weight than usual as the two sides are currently neck-and-neck atop the American Athletic Conference East Division standings at 4-0.
"There is always a good rivalry between us and Cincinnati," said head coach Todd Dagenais. "This will serve as a weekend where we can try to establish ourselves at the top of the division. That is what this weekend is about."
The Friday afternoon match will mark the first between the two sides since UCF beat Cincinnati in dramatic, five-set fashion in the conference championship match in November 2019. With the win, the Knights secured their second straight conference title.
After starting 8-0 to begin the season, UCF faced its first loss of the season in a five-set heartbreaker to Florida State on Feb. 26. Before the loss, the Knights' 8-0 start to the year surpassed the 2010's team 7-0 start and was just one win shy of tying the 1983 squad's start to the year.
The Knights bounced back in a big way this past weekend, winning six of seven sets over ECU to move to 10-1 on the year.
The Knights are currently leading The American conference in hitting percentage (.247), blocks (2.83 per set) and service aces (2.08 per set) and are top five in kills (third, 13.77 per set) and assists (third, 12.72 per set).
McKenna Melville has remained among the top scorers in Division I volleyball this season while separating from the rest of The American. Melville ranked 11th in the latest NCAA standings with 5.36 points per set as of March 9. Melville already has a Player of the Week award to her name this season and was the conference preseason player of the year.
Cincinnati is 6-3 to this point in the season and remain undefeated in conference play. The Bearcats are coming off a weekend that saw them take two against South Florida, both coming in five sets.
In 2020-21, Cincinnati has faced the challenge of having to replace the nearly 800 kills, 48 service aces and over 1,700 attacks left by the now graduated Jordan Thompson. The Bearcats' leader this season is Maria Mallon, who enters Friday with a team-high 3.65 kills per set and a .126 hitting percentage.
The Bearcats are 2-1 at home this season and, since the start of 2018, are second in the conference behind only UCF with a 24-8 (.750) record at home.
The Knights are 10-8 all-time against Cincinnati, with their last win coming, 3-2, in The Venue in the 2019 AAC Championship match.
"Cincinnati continues to be one of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference. They're undefeated so far in conference play this year and when I look at them, I look at a team that has found so many ways to win close sets and close matches, and that makes them very dangerous. They're going to be even more dangerous at home… It's going to be a chess match all the way through – it always is."
[On the impact these matches will have on conference standings]
"At this point, we're both undefeated, so the winner of the weekend is going to be in the best position to be able to clinch the number one seed in the East division, which would then allow that team play the number two seed in the West division in the first round of the conference tournament. So, this weekend is important for both teams because you don't want to find yourself going from being in contention for first place to suddenly falling to third or fourth place and potentially not being in the conference tournament at all. It's a big weekend for both teams."
FOLLOW THE KNIGHTS
Continue to follow UCF Volleyball on Facebook (/UCF.Volleyball), Twitter (@UCF_Volleyball) and Instagram (@UCF.Volleyball) for the latest on the UCF volleyball team.
GET THE APP
Never miss any UCF Knights news from your favorite team by downloading the free UCF Knights app right to your iOS or Android phone! The app provides personalized information for men's and women's teams, scores, schedules, loyalty programs and even breaking news. Download the app here.