Volleyball team hopes to win championship despite tough competition
Published: Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 15:08
The UCF volleyball team has adopted a new mentality as its upcoming season approaches: no fear.
Despite facing a schedule that includes five postseason participants, the Knights have nothing but confidence in their abilities and a conference championship on the brain.
“We want to be champions and we want to go to the NCAA Championship; that’s our goal,” head coach Todd Dagenais said.
Last season, UCF ended on a strong note with a record of 20-11, its best since 2003. However, despite this success, a conference championship has still eluded the team.
This season’s high expectations have given the team the confidence and drive that it needs to reach its ultimate goal of becoming champions.
“Right now, we’re not afraid to mention the word championship,” Dagenais said. “It’s a C-word that we’ve been talking about. We’ve never really talked about a results team; we’ve always talked about process. But we’re not afraid now to say ‘You know what? We want to be champions.’”
The Knights are not the only ones with high hopes for their team. They are tabbed to finish third in Conference USA, the highest ranking in program history.
“We’re not afraid of the expectations now and I think as the players embrace those expectations, the better program we’re going to be,” Dagenais said.
In order to have a successful season, the volleyball team has been training hard in preparation for the undeniable competition it is up against. Dagenais said that their main strategy when it came to preseason training was to have a strong focus on defensive preparation in order to pick up the slack when the offense is not delivering. By channeling in on the team’s defense, the Knights will be able to develop a strong foundation for their attackers and blockers.
“Defensively I’m pretty happy with where we are,” Dagenais said. “We’ve spent a lot of time trying to be a good defensive team because that’s really who you have to be on the nights when the offense struggles.”
The players fully support Dagenais’ strategy of focusing on the defensive backbone of his team.
“In the preseason we did a lot of team defense stuff,” senior Meredith Murphy said. “It’s good to have a lot of depth with the team defense.”
This game plan may prove to be highly valuable this season with a highly competitive schedule. The competition UCF will be put up against at the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational features three NCAA Tournament teams, including national runner-up Illinois and regional finalist, Texas.
Although beating these teams will be no easy feat, the Knights believe that they will be able to hold their own against them.
“We feel like we’re a top-25 caliber team,” Dagenais said. “Now, we’re not there yet. We still have work to do and hopefully the preseason tournaments and matches start to put us in that position. But we’ve got top-25 level ability.”
Even more important than how the team plays is how the team acts with each other and communicates on the court, and this is the area in which the Knights excel. At their preseason scrimmage on Saturday, the team was in sync throughout the entire duration of the match, communicating well and playing like a well-oiled machine. Their ability to be cohesive on the court comes from strong upperclassman leadership that will no doubt help the team do well this season.
“The leadership on our team is great,” sophomore Kayla Keller said. “We have a lot of good leaders and our two captains are awesome. Everyone respects them and we’re very well put together this year.”
This leadership will prove to be valuable as the Knights enter their last season in C-USA before transitioning to the Big East. Although the conference change is exciting, the team is not focused on the future. Dagenais said that their focus right now is putting themselves in position to win a C-USA championship as they enter their last season in the conference with a fearless, championship-or-bust attitude.
“We want to go out there and play the big boys,” Dagenais said. “Obviously based on some of the results last year we’re not afraid to go out there and compete with them, but to beat them night in and night out, that’s a whole different thing. There’s no way that we’re going to look each other in the eye in November and say we didn’t play the teams that we needed to play.”
The Knights’ skills will be put to the test as they travel to start the season at the USF Invitational. The team’s first match is against Creighton Friday at 5 p.m.