North Texas Daily

Volleyball team preps for conference tournament

Volleyball team preps for conference tournament

November 19
04:42 2015

Brady Keane | Staff Writer

@BradyKeane3

Less than a week after knocking off the University of Texas at San Antonio in the final home game of senior captain Carnae Dillard’s collegiate career, the Mean Green women’s volleyball team follows the Roadrunners back to San Antonio for the 2015 Conference USA Tournament.

Dillard added to her legacy at North Texas (19-12, 11-5) earlier in the week, becoming the first player in North Texas history to win two-straight Conference USA Player of the Year awards.

Now, the Mean Green is determined to send the school’s all-time kills leader out with the one thing missing from her resume – a championship.

The journey begins 7 p.m. Friday against Florida Atlantic University.

“It would mean everything to us to do this for her, for the whole team and program in general,” junior captain Amy Henard said. “We have worked so hard for it, and just to see it pay off in the end would be incredible.”

For Dillard, the chance at a championship is something she has been working for since her freshman season in 2011. The Mean Green advanced to the Sun Belt conference championship that season, only to fall to Western Kentucky University.

This year, the road to the tournament looks to once again run through WKU (28-3, 15-1). The Hilltoppers are the top seed in the tournament but narrowly escaped an upset in Denton midway through the conference schedule.

“That’s all we keep talking about,” Dillard said. “For me, we’ve lost to Western Kentucky every year going back to my freshman year in the finals of the Sun Belt tournament. It’s going to be a big deal to beat them this season and get on top.”

North Texas finished the regular season in a tie with Rice University for third place in the conference during the regular season. However, the Mean Green will enter the tournament as a fourth seed because Rice (21-9, 11-5) owns the tiebreaker.

Sophomore outside hitter Carnae Dillard leads North Texas in attacks, kills and receptions and is second in aces. She tied her career high in kills with 31 against Marshall. Photo by Margaret Saucedo / Intern

Dillard hopes to beat Western Kentucky for the first time since her freshman year in the upcoming C-USA tournament. File Photo

But the Mean Green is entering the tournament this year with three straight wins, and the upset over the second-seeded Roadrunners last weekend gives the team confidence going into the weekend.

“Any time you can get momentum going into the conference tournament, that’s a good thing,” head coach Andrew Palileo said. “For us, we talked about building that momentum, and we did that last weekend.”

Despite Dillard being the unquestioned offensive leader on the court, the Mean Green has thrived behind a more balanced offensive attack. Dillard is averaging more than 50 attacks per game but had a season low 25 in the win over UTSA.

As the Mean Green spread the ball around more, the young core of the team has stepped up accordingly. Sophomores Amanda Chamberlain, Holly Milam, and Alexis Wright and freshman Hannah Shaw have all seen an increase in attacks over the last few weeks.

“We’ve been trying to balance it out a little more,” Palileo said. “With some of the games that some of the younger players are having, they are executing more.”

That execution will be key to the team’s championship aspirations this weekend, as the Mean Green will look to improve on errors made in their loss to Florida Atlantic (18-10, 10-6) earlier this season.

In that game, the Mean Green failed to capitalize on multiple chances to close out the match and had several untimely errors in clutch situations.

“We have to take care of some of the easy things,” Palileo said. “We have to take care of some of the small things that it takes to put your team in a position to win. That FAU match, we played really well but missed out on four little things.”

If the Mean Green cleans up the errors in Friday’s rematch with the No. 5 seed Owls, it would advance to the semi-finals on Saturday afternoon. From there, a win would send the Mean Green to the C-USA Final, which will be played 3 p.m Sunday on Fox College Sports.

Dillard and the rest of her teammates hope their season extends well into the weekend.

“It would be huge for me,” Dillard said on finishing her career with a championship. “It would kind of solidify all the hard work that our team has put in; that I’ve put in. It’d be the icing on the cake.”

Featured Image: Carnae Dillard (5) became the first player in North Texas history to win two-straight Conference USA Player of the Year awards earlier this week. Courtesy | North Texas Athletics

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