North Texas Daily

Why this year’s volleyball team was the best in school history

Why this year’s volleyball team was the best in school history

December 05
21:30 2017

You could tell from the opening match that something was different. The way the North Texas volleyball team carried itself just seemed to ooze confidence from day one, despite having no real reason to do so.

In the year prior, the Mean Green went 13-19 overall and were ousted in the first round of the Conference USA tournament. Sure, they returned all but three players who played more than 80 sets from 2016, but on paper, there was no substantial difference in this year’s team. That was almost everyone’s belief.

Before they watched them play.

Now that the season is over, the whole campus and most of the college volleyball circuit has heard of this team in Denton that went 29-4, including a 3-1 record against NCAA Tournament teams. It was the best season in program history.

After I saw the Mean Green in their season-opener, I interviewed some players and then left the always freezing-cold North Texas Volleyball Center to go talk with head coach Andrew Palileo. He was in a meeting, so I waited and talked to associate head coach Vinh Nguyen.

His first words to me were, “So, what did you think?”

Now, I’m no volleyball expert by any means. But one thing about this team easily caught my eye after the first match – the team’s sheer athleticism. So that’s what I said, and boy was I right for once.

And it started with the seniors. Middle blockers Amanda Chamberlain and Holly Milam and outside hitter Alexis Wright were all athletic, big hitters and each had an attack percentage over .250. Their ability to place the ball with power or finesse anywhere on the court forced defenses to constantly be on its heels.

Defensively, these three led the team in blocks and combined for 265 in 33 matches.

The distributor and captain of this team was junior setter Karley York, though. Always poised, she had a plethora of weapons at her disposal and even put away shots herself when needed. She finished with a .316 attack percentage.

Junior setter Alex Janak and freshman libero Henrianna Ibarra both had an explosive serving ability and played significant time, especially late in the season.

Finally, freshman sensations Barbara Teakell and Valerie Valerian surged onto the Mean Green volleyball scene and provided even more athleticism and refreshing youth. The two added versatility for Palileo and performed well on the biggest stages.

Perhaps the biggest testament to Palileo and this team is its chemistry on and off the court. On the court, York spread the wealth depending on where the defense was playing. This is the first team since 2008 not to have a player with over 1,000 total attacks, and the closest was Valerian at 873. Also, that 2008 team went 6-25, quite a difference in talent level.

The number of records this team broke is too long to attempt at a listing, but there are a few I want to mention because they show just how good North Texas was.

First off, the 29-win mark is the most by a team in school history and the most since 1983 by six victories.

Chamberlain had the highest attack percentage in school history at .436 which is .62 higher than No. 2 on the list. Milam became the first player ever to total 900 kills, 600 digs and 250 blocks in a career. Milam, Chamberlain and Wright all finished their careers in the top 15 all-time on the career kills list.

The Mean Green had the highest attack percentage in school history at .293. The previous record was .245 and their 268 blocks as a team is No. 2 all time.

We all know their accomplishments now. But one thing was stressed by the team throughout the season whenever I asked why they thought this year was going so much better than the last. The word that kept popping up was sisterhood.

“We’re definitely like a sisterhood,”  Teakell said earlier this year. “We mess around with each other, and no one gets [upset] when we’re talking trash. [The court] is our safe space.”

The older players and Palileo really stressed bonding and creating a family atmosphere, starting over the offseason. That did not appear to be a traditional procedure in years past.

As a result, they stuck together through thick and thin and it showed in their monumental win over Western Kentucky University. That game is easily one of the best sporting moments I’ve seen in person. And in my opinion, the team’s tighter bond is the primary reason why the same players went from 13 wins to 29 in just one year.

It’s what made the end of the season such a hard pill to swallow for everyone involved. The loss to Texas Christian University was somewhat unexpected, but they know they didn’t play their best game.

Even so, the Mean Green gave their all on every single point – especially at home, where they went 15-2.

After that match, York gave a tremendous quote on how fast this season went by and why it was so special to her.

“Last year, once we lost we were kind of like, ‘Oh my gosh this has been the longest season,’” York said. “But this season blinked because we were having so much fun together. It’s hard to have a season go when you love the people.”

The season may have blinked by for the team, but it’s one they will never forget. Their mark has been made and their legacy has been etched – this was the best volleyball team in North Texas history.

Featured Image: Mean Green volleyball celebrates winning the first of five sets against Texas Christian University. Mean Green fell short in the fifth set, finishing their season 29-4. Madison Gore

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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