North Texas Daily

Mean Green volleyball off to hot start after tough 2016 campaign

Mean Green volleyball off to hot start after tough 2016 campaign

September 05
17:11 2017

After a season described by players and coaches as underwhelming and tension filled, the Mean Green volleyball team has appeared to have righted the ship so far this year.

They’ve jumped out to a 5-1 record, a vast improvement from last season’s 2-6 early mark, and have the experience and leadership lacking from last season.

“It’s the first year we’ve had the upperclassmen in with the underclassmen,” senior outside hitter Alexis Wright said. “So I think we’ll be really balanced and have good leadership.”

But despite the positive outlook from the team, the Conference USA preseason rankings didn’t hold the Mean Green in high regard. To the dismay of the North Texas coaches, the Mean Green were voted to finish sixth in the conference this season.

While the ranking may not have done them justice, Palileo doesn’t think it’ll affect the team too much this year.

“I think when you have an older group they understand the motivation,” Palileo said. “Hopefully [we] can rely on the older players to get the message across to the younger kids about how we go about preparing.”

The experience on this team is one of its primary strengths.

With four juniors and four seniors, the chemistry is there this season. It’s often referred to as “sisterhood” among the players and has already made an impact so far.

In a six game sample size, the Mean Green have a .271 kill percentage – a drastic improvement from last year’s .199 percent. They have also cut down their errors per set from 5.9 to 4.9. Digs per set have increased from 13.9 last year to 15.1 so far this season.

“[Palileo’s message] is just be good playing together,” junior setter Karley York said. “We’re really working on our culture and sisterhood together.”

The biggest difference to those around the team is the addition of athleticism to the roster. The middle blockers and outside hitters put up several powerful kills and blocks in just about every set they play.

With more athleticism, they’ve been able to increase their blocks per set from 1.9 last season to 2.9 so far this year.

“I think the biggest thing for us, is the blocking is going to be a surprise this year [to opposing teams],” Palileo said. “I think our size will be able to [get] blocks if we do what we’re supposed to do.”

Middle blockers Holly Milam, Mikayla Myers and Amanda Chamberlain are all seniors and have gotten off to a strong start during their last chance to leave a mark on the program.

Milam and Chamberlain both have over 50 kills in six matches and have shown the athletic versatility the coaches rave about. With this being her final season playing for the Mean Green, Chamberlain admits there is more pressure to do well but also a lot of pressure to help as leaders.

“I’m trying to replicate last year and do a little bit better than I did,” Chamberlain said. “And I’m trying to help the freshman that are coming in, to help them come along so they can have the same success.”

Hidden amongst this experienced team is a few capable underclassmen who have already shown they’re capable of playing at a high level against big schools such as Texas Tech University and Boston College.

Freshmen liberos and defensive specialists Andi Elli and Henrianna Ibarra have both played in at least 15 of the 22 sets this season and rank among the top team’s top four in digs per set.

Freshman middle blocker Miranda Youmans is third in kill percentage with a .360 percentage. Freshmen outside hitters Valerie Valerian and Barbara Teakell are fourth and fifth on the team in kills with a .230 and .248 kill percentage respectively.

The freshmen have brought a wave of positivity and eagerness that Wright has felt in her senior season.

“[The energy] has been really good,” Wright said. “The seniors are naturally really crazy and excited and the freshman all have really fun and bright personalities, so it’s a really fun group to be around.”

The players said Palileo has been a bit softer on them so far and he’s admitted to being more focused on building strong team relationships coming off the tough year last season.

There has been internal chatter of this team coming in the top three or four in the conference and so far they’ve shown they may just be capable of making such a run once conference starts. The only thing for certain six games into the year is the belief they have more pieces than last year to make their goals a reality.

“I think we all know our potential and how good we are going to be,” York said. “We’re trying not to think about last year, but we know that our new additions and our seniors can get us to where we want to go.”

Featured image: Members of the Mean Green volleyball team celebrate after the Mean Green scored a point against Texas Tech University on August 25. The Mean Green fell to Texas Tech 3-1. Sara Carpenter

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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