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Dillard returns to volleyball bench as coach after dominant career

Dillard returns to volleyball bench as coach after dominant career

September 06
18:11 2017

The ball was hit over the net, eluding the middle blockers before making contact with the ground. Coach Andrew Palileo grabbed another ball and instructed the team to run another play. It was just another day at practice for the Mean Green women’s volleyball team.

Except for one key familiar face in an unfamiliar role.

Former North Texas star Carnae Dillard was back on the floor, returning to the place she once called home as a player for four seasons. Except instead of lining up at outside hitter, Dillard is now an assistant head coach.

During her playing career at North Texas, Dillard was unstoppable.

She owns several Mean Green volleyball records including career kills (2,237), career attacks (6,063) and set single-season kills (687). During her playing career, Dillard was named an AVCA honorable mention All-American team, Conference USA Player of the Year and was a two-time C-USA first-team selection.

After graduating from North Texas in Spring 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, Dillard left for Sweden to play professionally for the Engelholms Volleybollsällskap. She continued her dominance by winning the Swedish league MVP award.

Dillard then had two options – continue her playing career in the Philippines or return to her collegiate home in Denton.

“I just wanted to give back to UNT and help out,” Dillard said.

After receiving a phone call from Palileo about an opening as an assistant head coach, Dillard accepted the position and is now a regular on the North Texas bench at practice and during games.

But in addition to her spot back with the team she once led as a player, Dillard is again enrolled as a student. She is taking her prerequisites for radiology at UNT and plans to transfer to Parker University when she is finished.

Dillard wanted to come back not only for her love for the school, but also said she believed it was best for her mental health. Beginning the process of a radiology degree allows the former star player to set a plan for when she officially steps away from volleyball.

“I feel I have given everything I can to the game and I want to give some back,” Dillard said.

Giving back to the game that’s done so much for her isn’t a walk in the park. Dillard now knows the difficulty of being both a student and a coach, as the struggle is similar to when she was a student-athlete just a short time ago.

“The hardest part of coaching is the commitment – I am watching film in the preseason as well as helping out during practice,” Dillard said. “Sometimes I’ll be working from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., then I’ll have homework.”

Despite the long hours, Dillard enjoys being a part of the coaching staff because it means getting to watch the players grow – including a few former teammates.

“As a coach, it is great to see all the time in effort we put in with team show up on the court,” Dillard said. “Seeing the team grow and knowing that I helped them develop is my favorite part of coaching.”

One of the players Dillard has made an impact on is freshman Barbara Teakell, who plays the same position Dillard once lined up at for the Mean Green. The similarities help Dillard’s knowledge resonate with the younger player.

“She has definitely helped my game,” Teakell said. “It is amazing to see and hear her point of view and her perspective is helpful. I have great respect for her.”

Senior Amanda Chamberlain played two years with Dillard while she was at North Texas, and Chamberlain said seeing her former teammate thrive in a coaching role is no surprise.

“I always felt like she wanted to be coach, even while we were playing together,” Chamberlain said. “It’s good to have someone who knows me and my tendencies, and her professional perspective is great for our career growth.”

As Dillard’s former coach and current boss, Palileo has spent a lot of time around her. Although Palileo was not the one who recruited Dillard, she has been a big part of his coaching career at UNT. Palileo became the head coach of the Mean Green in 2013, during Dillard’s sophomore year.

He knew he had a special player when he arrived.

“Dillard was never a boisterous player,” Palileo said. “When she saw something that needed to be corrected, she pulled the player aside and talked to them.”

Dillard is taking the same approach as a coach, helping the players understand what Palileo wants in order to improve the team and each individual player. Dillard has taken the hands on approach to coaching, as she is out on the court every day during practice hitting balls to the players and setting up passes.

“She’s done a good job,” Palileo said. “She has tried to learn and help out when she can.”

Whether or not Dillard decides to further pursue a coaching career after this season has yet to be decided.

For now, Dillard is enjoying the coaching aspect of volleyball while trying to help the team win every game. Whether coaching full-time is in her future or not, only time will tell. She is taking it one practice at a time.

“I just want to prepare our team against the bigger opponents that we face,” Dillard said. “I just want to help us get better.”

Featured Image: Carnae Dillard spikes the ball. Courtesy | Taylor Brasher/Conference USA

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Matthew Berger

Matthew Berger

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