BOCA RATON, Fla. – The UCF volleyball team (6-5) went 2-0 on the day after downing the Miami Hurricanes (7-1), giving them their first loss of the season and sweeping FGCU (7-3 ) on day one of the Sunshine Challenge Cup in Boca Raton, Florida on Thursday, Sept. 16.
"I look at this as a program building day," head coach Todd Dagenais said, "These were two huge wins for us today. We are getting better every day and staying more consistent across the board. This team put in the effort it took to win."
Anne-Marie Watson made history by breaking the all-time career block assists record with 476, a record that stood for 24 years.
UCF opened the Sunshine Challenge with a big five-set win over Miami (25-23, 25-11, 24-26, 22-25, 15-9). The Knights gave the Hurricanes their first loss of the season and grabbed its first win over Miami since 1981.
UCF and Miami used a pair of 3-0 runs to stay tied 6-6, but the Knights found their rhythm to lead by as much as six, 14-9, thanks to three big blocks from Watson and Claudia Dillon. Miami fought back to tie the set 17-17 before the Knights used a 4-0 run with two kills from McKenna Melville to seal the deal, 25-23.
After being tied at 7-7, the Knights took command in the second set using two big runs to lead by as much as 11. UCF took the set in high fashion by a score of 25-11.
The Knights got out to a hot start in the third, leading 5-0, and was able to stay ahead for most of the set. However, Miami would not go down without a fight and went on a big 6-1 run to sneak in and win the third set, 26-24.
Miami used its momentum from the third into the fourth to keep a steady five-point lead in the fourth. But UCF was not going to give up and fought back within two points, 19-17. The Hurricanes would then throw down five kills to lead 24-19. The Knights were not going to give up and made things interesting after a 4-0 run to come within two, but Miami secured the fourth in 25-22.
Unphased by the last two sets, the Knights came out strong and stayed hot through the fifth. UCF had total control to win the set, 15-9, and the match.
Melville led with 21 kills while hitting .286 and added five blocks while Watson added 12 kills and five blocks. Claudia Dillon also notched double digit kills with 10, hitting .571 and added six blocks. In her first start as a Knight, Heidi Bonde picked up seven big kills.
Nerissa led with nine blocks while MaKenzie Chambers grabbed six. Katelyn Grimes and Emily Lawrence proved to be a threat from the service line as they both picked up three aces. Amber Olson led with 28 assists while Chloe Sheer led with 18 digs.
After a quick turnaround between matches, UCF saw their second matchup against FGCU, but this time in a sweep (25-19, 25-22, 25-23).
The Knights needed time to warm up as they trailed early in the first set but were able to come back and tie it up 13-13. From there, UCF found its rhythm and used a big 6-0 run with help from Dillon and Bonde to lead 22-18. The Knights closed the set on another run to win, 25-18.
Out to a 3-0 start for the Knights, the two teams then battled going point for point. UCF continued dominate offensively to keep a slight edge. The Eagles put up a fight to tie the set 20-20, but the Knights had 18 kills, hit .545, and had zero errors to help secure the set, 25-22.
Eagles kept the fight going into the third as the two teams traded kills to tie at 17-17, but UCF then put up huge points for a 5-0 run to lead 22-20. The Knights were not going to let the third set slip away this time as Melville laid two big kills down to get the set, 25-23, and match win 3-0.
Melville led again with 14 kills while hitting .343 while Bonde hit double digits kills for the first time at 10. Dillon was dominate all over the court with 10 kills, hitting .909, and five blocks. Olson led with 31 assists.
[On win over Miami]
Every time we play them, it is a tight match. I was pretty surprised to be up 2-0 because they were undefeated for a reason. Having that third set get away from us again is something we must buckle down on and get better at. That's the set we need to close down and finish matches 3-0. We trailed in the fourth and couldn't find momentum, but something happened in the fifth. We changed the way we were thinking and tried to reassert ourselves and it worked out for us.
[On Watson's record]
We have been so fortunate to have her, and she has been so reliable. Other teams have to change their lineups to get away from her and that is what Miami just did. She has an eye and a feel for the ball. She knows how to lineup and knows how to go up for a block.
[On the sweep over FGCU]
I thought our ball handling was a lot better today, but what brought us over the top was our offense. We were hitting all these little metrics that we needed to hit along the way. This one was really about the young ones. The older players did their job, but the young players were the glue today.
[On FAU tomorrow]
Florida Atlantic always plays us tough and I wouldn't expect anything different tomorrow. They have a high volleyball IQ and they pose a real challenge at home because they're exceptionally good at home. So, we have to focus stay focused on us.
The Knights return to action against FAU tomorrow morning, Friday, Sept. 17, at 11:00am to close out the Sunshine Challenge Cup.
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