Clear Falls Knights volleyball alum Briana Garcia led the Central Florida Knights to a celebration Sunday, as UCF clinched the American Athletic Conference Championship with a 25-17, 25-16, 25-23 sweep of East Carolina.
“I knew if we won the game, we were going to win conference, but I didn’t know we were going to get the hats and the shirts and the trophy and all that,” Garcia said.
The freshman right-side hitter had a team-best 12 kills and a career-high .526 hitting percentage in the match. On the season, Garcia ranks fourth on the team in total kills with 167 and fourth in blocks with 55.
Ranked No. 22 in the nation, the win over ECU extended the Knights’ (24-3, 15-0 in AAC) current winning streak to 21 matches, the fifth-longest unbeaten stretch in the NCAA. UCF is the AAC champion for the second time in five seasons, and earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which will be the Knights’ first appearance since 2014.
Despite all that was on the line, Garcia said she was fairly comfortable entering the match with ECU.
“I came into the game acting like it was just a normal game,” Garcia said. “The first round against them, I played pretty good, and I remembered how their block was set up, so I tried to use all those resources in this game. So, I just went in and played hard. I felt like I had no pressure on the court, which made me a lot more relaxed.”
PUTTING IN THE WORK
Garcia’s position as a key player for the Knights wasn’t claimed overnight, as she had to put in extra work to earn playing time with two older players initially ahead of her on the depth chart. Nor is it a spot she now takes for granted, Garcia said.
“Anybody’s spot on this team is not set in stone,” Garcia said. “So, I know if I have a bad game, someone else might go in for me, but I have to know that next week I have to go in early and keep on working. I never stop working hard, because I know my spot on the court isn’t guaranteed.”
Like so many high-level college athletes, playing a sport is pretty much like a full-time job, Garcia said.
“I’m still in my basics in my studies right now, and it’s still hard to juggle your time,” Garcia said. “I’ve always heard from people, ‘you need to meet more friends from out of your sport.’ But, right now with us traveling every weekend, it’s hard. And Monday through Thursday, I’m going to study hall and going to class. If I’m not in class, I’m in my room doing homework, or because I’m super tired, I’ll be sleeping or watching Netflix.
“College is definitely a job, and you have to learn how to use your time wisely,” Garcia added. “If you can do that, then you’ll be set to go.”
CRACKING THE BLOCK
In the sport of volleyball itself, Garcia said one of the starkest contrasts between playing on the high school level and a Division I college level comes in the blocking game — both with how to beat an opponent’s block and how to be a part of an effective block on her own team.
Against the block in college, it’s not enough to just overpower it, but a hitter must figure out ways to out-maneuver it, Garcia said.
“It’s not all about who can hit the ball straight down — it’s about who can swing high hands, what you can do to tool a block,” Garcia said. “And that’s what’s really important about film and when we watch other teams to see how their block is set up. In high school, it really wasn’t like that. We watched film, but it wasn’t as detailed as it is in college, and that was a huge change for me, too. It’s really cool to see all the different teams and the differences in what they run.”
Garcia has also had to learn swing blocking in college, as opposed to the more basic straight-up blocking techniques.
“When I came to college, I learned a completely different way on how to block, how to swing,” Garcia said. “I wasn’t expecting that to happen, but it’s changed in a great way.”
Going forward, Garcia said she hopes to put in plenty of work to continue to improve her game on the court and maintain a high grade point average in the classroom. Coming up first, though, will be a homecoming of sorts for Garcia as Central Florida makes its final road trip of the regular season.
After a 2 p.m. game Friday at SMU, Garcia returns to the area where she was one of the brightest high school stars as the Knights face Houston 1 p.m. Sunday at the UH Alumni Center.
“I haven’t been home in about four months now, and I’m really excited to get to be traveling down there this weekend,” Garcia said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing my family and my friends.”