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Volleyball looking to do damage in opening round of conference tournament

Volleyball looking to do damage in opening round of conference tournament

Volleyball looking to do damage in opening round of conference tournament
November 18
11:00 2021

After a successful regular season, North Texas volleyball is taking on the Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders in the opening round of the Conference USA 2021 Volleyball Championship on Friday at 1 p.m.

The Mean Green holds the No. 3 seed from the west after posting a 7-5 conference record, while the Blue Raiders have the No. 2 seed in the east with a 6-6 record in conference play. This will be the first match between the two teams since 2019, where Middle Tennessee took home the win in five sets.

The Blue Raiders leading the all-time series 12-11 and have beat North Texas once in the last decade.

When leading after the first set, the Mean Green are 12-2 and when holding a lead after the second set, volleyball is 9-0. Senior middle blocker Sarah Haeussler said being aggressive early in the match will help lead North Texas to a victory.

“Our team’s mindset is to go out there and attack the first set,” Haeussler said. “We are trying to execute our first ball side out.”

There are five seniors on the team, and head coach Andrew Palileo will be looking for good production coming from those players.

“We want to use our senior leadership as a positive point for us,” Palileo said. “It can help us win some points that maybe we should not win and can keep the younger kids playing more level-headed.”

Senior outside hitter Rhett Robinson has been the Mean Green’s go-to option all season long, averaging 5.35 kills per set, ranking her at No. 2 in the nation. The team will be looking for her to rise to the occasion, especially against an opponent like Middle Tennessee, who is 1-8 on the year when having fewer kills than their opponent. Robinson echoed Haeussler’s statements, saying that getting off to a hot start needs to be a focus for the team.

“We need to focus on being locked in the moment and never taking a second for granted,” Robinson said. “Now that we are coming to the end of it, we have no time to relax, and we have to push on the pedal.”

After falling to the University of Texas-El Paso Miners on Nov. 6 and Nov. 7, North Texas had some time off to practice and get ready for the matchup against the Blue Raiders on Friday. Robinson believes the way the team can stay in the moment and reach their goals is through practice.

“We had almost two weeks off,” Robinson said. “We have a goal in mind, and cannot get too comfortable at practice.”

Middle Tennessee comes into Norfolk, Va. for the tournament on a three-game losing streak, losing one game against the Florida Atlantic University Owls and getting swept by the Old Dominion University Monarchs, both of which missed the tournament. 

One of the things that plagued the Blue Raiders in these three games, and across the season, was their hitting percentage. Middle Tennessee hit at a .219, .244. and .158 rate in the three losses, and finished the season at a mark of .192. Compared to these numbers, the Mean Green posted a hitting percentage of .247 on the season and .241 in conference play.

“The key is how well our defense and our first touch is going to be,” Palileo said. “We have gotten better towards the back end, but we got loose against UTEP in those matches, so that is what we have been working on the last couple of days of practice.

The winner of the match will take on either the Rice University Owls or the University of North Carolina at Charlotte 49ers in the semifinals on Saturday Nov. 20 at 11 a.m. Rice holds the No. 1 seed in the west, and Charlotte is the No. 4 seed in the east.

Featured Image: Freshman outside hitter Andrea Owens prepares to spike the ball on Oct. 28, 2021. Photo by John Anderson

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Tyler Luker

Tyler Luker

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