ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The UCF volleyball team continued its success from the non-conference season into league play Friday night from The Venue at UCF as it swept UTEP (25-21, 25-14, 25-22) for its first conference-opening win since 2008. The Knights (9-2) recorded their eighth sweep of the season in their first of two matches in the Towne Place Suites/UCF Challenge.
Since head coach Todd Dagenais has taken the helm at UCF, the squad is 4-0 against the Miners (9-4).
"Anytime you can start out 1-0 in conference play, that is always a positive thing," Dagenais said. "We've considered UTEP to be the most improved team in the league this year and we said earlier this week we have a lot of respect for them because Ken (Murphy) has done a great job to get his team where they are right now."
The Knights recorded double-digit kills from sophomore Angelica Crump (Atlanta, Ga.) and freshman Kayla Keller (San Antonio, Texas) in the three-set victory, but the emergence of both middle blockers Tory McCutcheon (Milton, Ontario) and Nichole Riedel (Denver, Colo.) gave the Knights an added boost in their sixth home win of the season.
"For us to function at a really high level, we need Evija Vilde to be involved and I think they did a great job at shutting her down," Dagenais said. "But I think what happened when they did that opened up the two middles and they both had career nights. It's good because we have been challenging them all week. They stepped up big time tonight because without them this match would still be going on right now."
McCutcheon and Riedel combined for 10 and five kills, respectively, and combined to hit over .530 in the middle.
The first set featured the one-two combo of senior Rachel Vukson (Oakville, Ontario) and Crump. The duo helped the Knights close out the first frame after UTEP tied it up at 18. Vukson assisted Crump on three crucial kills to give UCF the 25-21 advantage. Crump ended the match with 15 kills and Vukson earned her fourth double-double of the season with 39 assists and 11 digs.
After being held to a .188 hitting percentage in the first set, the Knights exploded to swat .450 in the second frame behind the attack of Crump, Keller, McCutcheon and Riedel. The quartet combined for all of UCF's nine kills.
The same four hitters connected on 18 kills in the third set as Crump was able to end the match on a 10-plus shot rally with an emphatic smash.
As conference play begins, Dagenais noted that hitting percentages tend to drop as the defenses get stronger. The Knights were out-dug by the Miners, 65-63, but UCF was able to connect on 9 more kills. Keller ended the match with a double-double in kills and digs (10 and 12), and junior Meredith Murphy (Austin, Texas) moved into fifth all-time on the UCF dig list after recording 16 defensive helpers for 1,139 in her career.
UCF will take on FIU in the championship match Saturday at The Venue at 7 p.m.