The start of the 2012 UCF volleyball season is five weeks away, and what better time to look back at some of the defining moments from the 2011 season.
The Knights had plenty to celebrate in their record-breaking campaign that saw them win 20 matches for the first time since 2003 and notch a program-best 12 wins in Conference USA. Over the next three weeks, we will continue counting down the top-five moments from the 2011 season leading up to the Knights' 2012 opener against Creighton in the USF Invitational on Aug. 24.
Setting the Stage
Heading into the weekend of Oct. 28, the Knights were at a cross roads in their season. Sitting at 5-6 in Conference USA and hosting Houston and Rice, UCF was in need of a weekend sweep to keep its season goals intact and raise its RPI against quality opponents.
With the Cougars arriving in Orlando for the first match, the Knights were looking to do something no other squad had previously done in school history: knock off Houston. UCF entered Sunday's match against Rice with a bit of history at stake again as it looked for its first season sweep of the Owls in program history.
UCF set the tone early in its Friday-night match with the Cougars, throttling the visitors, 25-11, in the first stanza. Evija Vilde blasted six of her game-high 18 kills to lead the Knights to a .443 attack percentage in the frame.
Houston fought back and won the second and third frames to take a 2-1 lead heading into the fourth. The Knights didn't back down as Vilde added six more kills, and freshman DeLaina Sarden and senior Rachel Vukson added five block assists to claim the set, 25-15.
In the fifth and deciding frame, the Knights never stepped off the gas to take the set, 15-5, and seal its first victory against Houston. The evening truly belonged to Vilde who connected on three-straight kills to open the frame, and as a team, the Black and Gold were successful on 8-of-9 attacks (.778) in the stanza.
After the victory over Houston, the Knights turned their focus immediately to the Owls for a Sunday afternoon match inside the raucous Venue. There would be no fifth set needed as UCF rebounded from a rare first-set loss to sweep the rest of the match in what was truly a team effort with each member of the squad chipping in.
Once the dust had settled, the Knights registered their first weekend sweep of the Houston schools, victories over teams with RPIs of 38 (UH) and 56 (Rice), a season sweep of Rice for the first time and 10 home victories for the first time since 2003.
"What a historic weekend for our volleyball program and all the effort that these players put into it, and also the alumni who laid the foundation for us to be able to come out and knock off two top-60 teams," head coach Todd Dagenais said after historic weekend sweep.
"Rice and Houston-- there is no doubt about it that they are two teams that we haven't had a lot of success against," Dagenais added. "To be able to sweep the weekend is big for us. We still hold out the dream that we will be on the board come Selection Sunday. We had to win two this weekend to be able to do it and I am really proud of the effort of the entire team."