Volleyball Clinches AAC Championship with Win in Five-Set Thriller

ORLANDO – In a five-set (20-25, 25-20, 25-21, 19-25, 15-12) thriller, the UCF volleyball team (27-1, 19-1 AAC) defeated Houston (28-3, 19-1 AAC) to clinch a share of the American Athletic Conference Championship Friday night at The Venue. This is the fifth straight year that the Knights have won the conference championship and the sixth time in 10 years.

"We've been so lucky to have amazing coaches and players," said head coach Todd Dagenais." Tonight didn't prove anything in terms of who is better, it proved that both teams are top teams in the country. I'm so thankful for the American Athletic Conference to have given us the opportunity to go in and compete. The emotion is we just saw something we'll never see again McKenna and Amber, five championships, it'll never be done again and that's a big deal. There was something really special about playing senior night and playing for a conference championship."

The Cougars started the first set strong, going on a 5-0 run to prompt a Knight timeout. Coming out of the timeout, Claudia Dillon recorded her first kill of the night to get UCF started. Despite their best efforts, the Knights were unable to grab the lead at any point during the first set, only tying it up with Houston twice. Houston took the first set with a score of 25-20, ending the set with a block from Rachel Tullos and Isabel Theut.
The second set was more successful for the Knights. Three quick kills from McKenna Melville put the Black and Gold up 5-1. From there, it was a back-and-forth set, with the score tied seven times with both teams unable to go on any long scoring runs. The endurance of the teams was tested extensively during this set, with numerous long rallies and UCF coming out on top. Chloe Scheer ended the second set on a high note, scoring an ace to even the match at 1-1.
Coming off the high of the second set, the Knights had a dominant start to the third set, going up 6-2 thanks to three huge kills from Kari Zumach. This lead never faltered, with no ties or lead changes through the set. Similar to the second set, the rallies were long but thanks to the back row's hustle, the Knights were able to put the ball away to gain the points needed to succeed. Some of the strongest serving runs of the match were seen in this set, with Katelyn Grimes going on two long runs, complete with an ace. The Black and Gold took the set with a score of 25-21 after a service error from Houston to put them one set away from a share of the conference championship.
The Cougars came back forcefully in the fourth set, taking a commanding 6-2 lead. There were a few high points of the set for the Knights, however. Dillon hit a perfect 1.000, earning kills on each of the four swings she took. Back-to-back attacking errors from UCF forced a timeout, but the Knights then bounced back with a huge block from Abby Hansen and Heidi Bonde to give the squad the sideout that it needed. This momentum was short-lived with the Cougars winning the set 25-19 to force a fifth set.
The fifth set was closely contested, with eight tied scores and four lead changes. Another kill from Dillon put the Knights up 1-0, but it was quickly tied after an attacking error. The set was back-and-forth from that point on, neither team able to take more than a two-point lead, until the very end. Dillon had another phenomenal set, going five kills for five attempts, with back-to-back kills forcing a timeout from Houston at 11-9. The Knights earned 12 kills in the set, putting their offensive dominance on display. Hansen and Melville polished off the match with a fifth-consecutive AAC Championship.
The defensive specialists had a phenomenal night, with Dresden Pass, Grimes, and Scheer combining for a total of 44 digs in the match. They were able to move quickly on their feet in the long rallies to cover blocks and gain assists when needing to go out-of-system.
Many career- and season-high records were set in the match, both offensively and defensively. Dillon had herself a night, notching 18 kills on 23 attempts and only made one error, leading the Knights with a .739 attacking percentage. These 18 kills are a new career-high, shattering her previous record of 11. Scheer earned a new season high for digs with 22. She was only one dig away from tying her career record of 23. Amber Olson recorded a new career high with 60 assists in the victory against Houston. Her previous career best was 58, earned this season against Kansas State. Pass collected a new season high for digs with 13, surpassing the 11 she earned against Wichita State.
Melville continued her trend of breaking records left and right. After becoming just the 10th Division I player to earn 2,500 kills last game against Tulane, she recorded a season high in attacking attempts with 80 and her 29 kills for the night tied her season in kills.
With the match being won in five sets, Houston claimed the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. UCF will now await the NCAA women's volleyball selection show on Sunday, Nov. 27 to see where it will fit into the tournament bracket. The Selection Show will be streamed live on ESPNU at 7:30 p.m. There will be a watch party at Island Wing Company, starting at 7 p.m.