The Knights had plenty to celebrate in their record-breaking 2011 campaign that saw them win 20 matches for the first time since 2003 and notch a program-best 12 wins in Conference USA. 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 with No. 2: Freshmen Duo Dominates
Setting the Stage
Playing in a venue that no previous UCF team had won in before, the Knights knew their match with SMU inside Moody Coliseum would be no walk in the park. After dropping the first match of three on the road to end the regular season, a bounce back against the Mustangs would need to happen for the Knights to eye their 19th win of the season and keep their postseason chances alive.
By Nov. 20, freshmen DeLaina Sarden and Ashley Gialenios had asserted themselves as forces in the Knights' lineup. No longer were these rookies looked at as unproven youngsters, they were counted on to help UCF achieve its season-long goals. The epic showdown with SMU featured a little bit of everything, including a game-sealing block by the duo of Sarden and Gialenios.
UCF raced out to an early 1-0 lead when it clinched the first set, 25-21. SMU promptly evened up the match with a 25-18 victory in the second stanza. The two teams went back and forth once again with UCF taking the third, 25-20, only to have the Mustangs respond with a 25-12 win in the fourth.
Pushed to a fifth set of the sixth and final time in 2011, UCF and SMU were tied at 2-2 before the Knights went on a 7-0 run fueled by Meredith Murphy on the serve. The Mustangs chipped away at the lead before tying it up at 13-all. With the first team to 15 points having the opportunity to win the match, every point was critical.
Tied at 16-all, Sarden gave the Knights their third match point when she smacked down her 13th kill of the day. After junior Evija Vilde served it up, SMU's Caroline Young tried to attack the freshmen duo only to be denied by Sarden and Gialenios and clinch the Knights' 19th win of the season.
Aside from the stellar play of the two freshmen, Angelica Crump smashed a career-high 24 kills while Rachel Vukson hoisted 52 assists and dug out 15 shots for her 15th double-double of the season. A total of four Knights registered double-digit digs, including Murphy who led the way with 17.
UCF found a way to win the match despite hitting under .200 for just the eighth time on the year (.116). Head coach Todd Dagenais was thrilled with his team's ability to win even when the offense isn't hitting for a high percentage.
"That was a classic example of really grinding it out," Dagenais said. "We didn't do a lot of pretty things. What we did do is just worked really hard. People are going to look at the stats and they will show that SMU won. I think the difference for us was that we had a ton of resolve. Literally, that last set could've gone either way. We just found a way to get a break and make a huge stunt-block play at the very end."