North Texas Daily

Dillard tries out for national volleyball team

Dillard tries out for national volleyball team

Dillard tries out for national volleyball team
February 25
23:52 2015

Alex Lessard / Staff Writer

After a stellar season last fall, junior outside hitter Carnae Dillard became the Conference USA player of the year, and is now in the top three in numerous Mean Green volleyball categories. Little did she know her accomplishments would give her a second chance at an opportunity of a lifetime.

Dillard participated in the United States Collegiate National Team tryouts Feb. 20-22 in Colorado Springs, Colorado for the chance to be selected to compete with the World University Games and Tour of China teams this summer. Approximately 238 athletes from 93 universities across the country were invited.

Dillard got the opportunity to participate in the U.S. tryouts after her freshman season at North Texas, but was overcome by nervousness. Former middle blocker Courtney Windham tried out last year and made the team.

But this year, head coach Andrew Palileo helped Dillard land a second chance at the tryouts. Dillard said she came into the tryouts with renewed confidence.

“It took me a while to get in rhythm, but I just tried to focus on playing hard and doing what I know how to do, which is hustle and be talkative on the court,” Dillard said.

The weekend featured four three-wave sessions led by the U.S. National Team staff, including serve and receive training, individual work and tournament-style play.

“It was sort of like a business trip for me, just to go in and show them what I was made of,” Dillard said.

Competing against members from perennial tournament teams like the University of Florida reminded Dillard she wasn’t the only one looking up to her peers.

“It was so surreal to see all these people you see on TV up in your face, playing against them,” Dillard said. “You look up to them, but they’re just like you.”

Sophomore setter Amy Henard said  Dillard’s experience at the tryouts will help the team improve in the long run.

“I love seeing [Dillard’s] success because she’s so humble about it,” Henard said. “Unless you really know her, you don’t necessarily know how great of a player she is.”

As a decorated high school recruit from San Antonio, Dillard’s first and only college visit was to North Texas. After spending two days in Denton and falling in love with former head coach Ken Murczek’s family-oriented style, she said her decision was easy.

“I didn’t want something where I was going to get lost and be too far away from home,” Dillard said.

Since becoming head coach two seasons ago, Palileo has helped shape Dillard into the player she is today. Palileo said her leadership has evolved as she has gotten older and more comfortable with the team.

“When she speaks, everybody listens because she doesn’t speak a lot,” Palileo said. “This year, we’re going to expect her to talk a little bit more and be more of a vocal leader along with playing the way she did last year.”

Henard said Dillard’s personality is infectious and good for the team.

“If you’re ever in a bad mood, she’ll always bust a move to put you in a good one,” Henard said. “Once you get to know her, she’s definitely one of the funnest people to be around.”

Dillard received countless congratulations, good lucks and prayers across the social media sphere leading up to the weekend. Even with all the support from friends and teammates, she said her mom has always been her biggest inspiration.

“She’s always been super supportive and there for any sport I’ve ever played, whether it was track, volleyball or basketball,” Dillard said. “She always was in the stands rooting, being the loudest.”

As if playing alongside the best of the best wasn’t incredible enough, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps happened to be staying at the same hotel as the entire tryout roster. Dillard said she was star struck when she spotted Phelps at breakfast with a messy head of hair and a sleeveless shirt.

“I had to do five double-takes because I was not sure if it was him,” Dillard said. “I felt like I was the only one looking back and forth.”

Dillard won’t know if she made the squad until March, but said she thinks she did well over the weekend.

“They saw the heart in me that other people see,” Dillard said.

Featured Image: Junior outside hitter Carnae Dillard spikes the ball on Sept. 13 against Jackson State University. The team won in straight sets. File photo by Caitlyn Jones – Editor-in-Chief

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