North Texas Daily

Preview: Volleyball team looks to build on last year’s late-season push

Preview: Volleyball team looks to build on last year’s late-season push

Preview: Volleyball team looks to build on last year’s late-season push
August 26
20:11 2015

Brady Keane | Staff Writer

@BradyKeane3

The North Texas Women’s volleyball team finished last season on a hot streak by winning 10 matches in a row, but lacked the experience and consistency needed to push through the Conference USA tournament.

This year is a different story. With nine letter winners and five starters returning from a team that finished 22-10 last year, the Mean Green believe they are poised to make a run at the C-USA Championship.

“We have the tools and the players to create a special season,” head coach Andrew Palileo said. “If we can keep them focused and put the vision and goals in front of them as a coaching staff, we have a chance to do some special things this year.”

The Mean Green is bringing back senior outside hitter Carnae Dillard, who was named the preseason Conference USA Player of the Year after earning several accolades over the last few seasons. She was also named to the C-USA first team in 2013 and was the Sun Belt freshman of the year in 2012.

Although Dillard is the centerpiece of the offense, the coaching staff is focused on divvying the workload this year. Dillard averaged 5.9 points per set last season, more than twice the number of any other returning player.

“We are going to have to rely on her this season,” Palileo said. “But we are trying to create more balance for her so we don’t wear her out.”

Some of that balance could come from this year’s recruiting class, which consists of seven new recruits.

Like any incoming class, Palileo said the newcomers’ success will be determined by how quickly they transition to the higher degree of competition.

“I think there are a couple that will be able to make an impact immediately,” Palileo said. “They’re good enough talent-wise, but it’s just a matter of adjusting to the college game. And how quickly they make that adjustment will determine if they are able to make an impact or not.”

Paulina De Ava | Staff Photographer

Players jump for the ball during the green versus white scrimmage at the UNT Volleyball Center on August 22, 2015. Paulina De Ava | Staff Photographer

Although North Texas has yet to kick off the regular season, Dillard and the rest of the team have been impressed by the freshman thus far.

“They fit right in,” Dillard said. “There isn’t a gap between them and the returners. We get on them when we need to get on them, but they are still apart of our Mean Green family, and they are doing a great job so far.”

One stand-out freshman is outside hitter Hannah Shaw. In the annual Green and White scrimmage last weekend, she recorded nine points and seven blocks despite the fact she was home-schooled just a few months ago.

“It was definitely difficult,” Shaw said of her transition from home school to NCAA volleyball. “The time management from having your own schedule to such a highly regimented situation was hard, but the girls really supported me. And I feel confident going into the fall.”

The scrimmage also provided the team with an opportunity to show off some of the new techniques first-year associate head coach Vinh Nguyen brought to the program towards the end of last season and over the summer. One wrinkle the team showed at the exhibition was a triple blocking technique in which three players stood by the net to create an impenetrable wall on the first line of defense.

With the scrimmage in the books and their first tournament approaching this weekend in Missouri, Palileo said the team must continue to progress in order to build off of last year’s success.

“I think we definitely have to continue to improve our ball control,” Palileo said. “We need to have a couple of positions step up and take advantage of the opportunities they have, and if we can solidify those areas then we can be better than we were last year.”

Looking ahead at the non-conference schedule, the Mean Green will see its toughest competition early in the Oklahoma Tournament on Sept. 4 and 5 against Oklahoma University and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Both teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season.

In conference play, North Texas has Oct. 18 circled as an opportunity to avenge last season’s C-USA Tournament loss to Western Kentucky.

No. 2 seed WKU swept North Texas 3-0 in the semi-finals after the Mean Green lost only four sets during its previous 10-game win streak. The season-ending loss has given the team an added sense of motivation entering 2015.

“That’s all we keep talking about,” Dillard said. “It’s going to be a big deal to beat them this season and get on top. We want to be the better team.”

But looking past the WKU game, the team shares Dillard’s ultimate goal.

“We just want a ring,” Dillard said.

Featured Image: Jordyn Williams prepares to hit the ball during the green versus white scrimmage at the UNT Volleyball Center on Saturday, August 22, 2015. Paulina De Ava | Staff Photographer

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