North Texas Daily

Column: North Texas volleyball’s hot start is only the beginning

Column: North Texas volleyball’s hot start is only the beginning

September 19
15:07 2017

Don’t look now, but head coach Andrew Palileo has something special brewing at the Mean Green Volleyball Complex.

Not a whole lot of people outside of Palileo’s program expected North Texas to do much on the court this season. The Mean Green were voted to finish sixth in Conference USA in the league’s preseason poll, based largely on the struggles the team experienced last season.

North Texas won just 13 games a year ago, finishing 13-19 with a 7-7 mark in conference play.

It didn’t take long at all for Palileo and the rest of the team to prove their expectations rest significantly higher than where others set the bar for them this season.

The Mean Green are off to an absolutely torrid start, winning 11 straight matches on their way to a 12-1 record. While a few of those wins have come against lesser opponents, there have been some big-time programs sprinkled in the schedule as well.

Now it’s still early, and the C-USA schedule is a doozy with teams like Western Kentucky University (13-2) waiting in the wind – but so far, the Mean Green have far exceeded expectations.

After getting off to an impressive start, there is no reason to believe North Texas will do anything but continue to play well as C-USA play rolls around.

North Texas has defeated Power Five opponents Oregon State University (11-2), Boston College (3-7) and Mississippi State University (9-6) along the way, and the team’s only loss came to Texas Tech University – which boasts an 11-2 mark on the season.

Last year, a majority of the team’s struggles stemmed from the fact that North Texas was trying to move on from the graduation of one of the best players in school history – Carnae Dillard.

Dillard, who has since returned as an assistant coach, accounted for almost 40 percent of the Mean Green’s total attacks in 2015, and she finished with 687 kills – more than twice as many as then-sophomore Holly Milam, who was second on the team with 274.

Replacing a player who dominated the offensive touches the way Dillard did was no easy task, and North Texas went through some major growing pains. To name just part of the statistical decline, the Mean Green’s attack percentage went from .241 to .199 and their total attack errors went up from 656 to 729.

The improvement this season is encouraging.

North Texas skyrocketed its attack percentage to .300 and they are averaging 15 kills per set – almost two kills more than last season. The team is improved in just about every statistical category, paving the way for a dramatic improvement in the win column.

After pressing to find a replacement for Dillard last season, the Mean Green have settled into an offensive rhythm with several different players combining to share the bulk of the kills. Rather than relying on a single star, North Texas has five players within the team lead for kills this year.

Senior Amanda Chamberlain is the most efficient, boasting the No. 1 hitting percentage in all of NCAA Division I at .514. She leads the way with a team-high 127 kills.

But Milam (114), freshman Valerie Valerian (114), senior Alexis Wright (101) and freshman Barbara Teakell (100) aren’t too far behind and help to spread the floor for Palileo.

Junior Karley York (1) sets the ball to Senior Amanda Chamberlain (13). Madison Gore

The offensive balance falls heavily on the shoulders of junior setter Karley York, who has dramatically increased her production from 6.72 assists per set last year to 11.61 this season. She has 511 assists through 13 matches, and is on pace to be within reach of cracking the program’s top 10 mark for assists in a single season.

When a superstar like Dillard was on the roster, focusing on getting the ball to one player consistently made life easier on opposing defenses as they often knew where the ball was going. Sharing the wealth more effectively between several players has made a world of difference and is a major reason why the Mean Green have turned things around.

North Texas needs just one more win to match last year’s total of 13, and the next victory will be the most important to date. The Mean Green start C-USA play Friday against the University of Southern Mississippi, marking the team’s first true opportunity to prove just how slighted it was in the preseason rankings.

From the looks of it, North Texas had reason to enter the year on a mission to prove the league’s coaches wrong.

This is no flash in the pan. North Texas volleyball is here to stay.

Featured Image: Senior Amanda Chamberlain (13) prepares for a pass. Madison Gore

About Author

Brady Keane

Brady Keane

Brady Keane is the Sports Editor of the North Texas Daily. He previously served as Deputy Sports Editor (Jan. 2017-May 2017) and as a Staff Writer (Aug. 2015-May 2016).

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