North Texas Daily

Volleyball tries to get best seed for tournament

Volleyball tries to get best seed for tournament

Volleyball tries to get best seed for tournament
November 03
23:49 2014

Kyle Youmans / Staff Writer

In previous seasons, Conference USA would allow each volleyball team in the conference to participate in a single-elimination, four-day tournament to decide a champion and an automatic bid for the NCAA tournament. This season, C-USA has implemented a new format in which only eight schools make the tournament and get a shot for the title.

This year, the Mean Green, after finishing fifth in the conference last season, faced the strong possibility of not getting to participate in the tournament after a 3-5 start in conference play. Since then, the team has rattled off five straight victories and has clinched a tournament berth. Now, it’s about improving.

“We had to put ourselves aside and needed to not be selfish when together,” junior outside hitter Carnae Dillard said. “We have been working since July and June, so we are all tired and we had to focus playing as a team rather than individuals.”

North Texas has a history of struggling in postseason play, only making the NCAA tournament once in 1985 and losing that single match in straight sets to the University of Southern California.

However, in conference tournaments, the Mean Green has had mild success by winning at least one match in the past four tournaments before losing in either the second or third rounds. Even with the changes in competition between the Sun Belt and C-USA, North Texas hasn’t made a long run in the postseason in order to make the NCAA tournament.

Senior outside hitter Hanna Forst has not only been here to play in the two separate conferences the Mean Green have competed in, but has also played in the Southeastern Conference volleyball tournament when she was a freshman at South Carolina.

“I love C-USA,” Forst said. “The teams in Conference USA, while stamped with the mid-major label, are still very competitive. To me, these teams are filled with good players that have a chip on their shoulder from not being able to play at a ‘big time’ school.”

During the 2013 C-USA tournament the Mean Green defeated Florida Atlantic University before falling to Marshall University for the third time during the 2013-14 season in the second round. After that, the goal for the Mean Green was to make a run at the championship this season.

That goal began to seem further from reality when the Mean Green hit an October slump by losing four of its first six matches, causing North Texas to fall to 11th  out of 14 teams in the standings. The cause for the slump was poor defensive play from the North Texas back three, who are now a factor in the five-game winning streak.

“We have really had to dive into everything,” senior defender Eboni Godfrey said. “We had worked hard in practice around the defensive side of the game and picking up the easy stuff. Because of that, our defense has improved over the past few weekends.”

North Texas, which has a majority of the team playing in their first college postseason, is trying to prepare the underclassmen for the change in mindset that comes with playing in a conference tournament.

“During the season, it is different because you are fighting to get to the postseason,” Godfrey said. “During the postseason, it is a lot of realizing it is single elimination and requires a lot of fight and heart to stay alive. It’s really intense.”

Dillard said once a team gets into the tournament, anything could happen because every team starts fresh.

“Going into the tournament it is a clean slate,” Dillard said. “You could be seeded eighth and can find a way to come out and win those matches to fight all the way back. No one cares about preseason anymore. It’s all about what you can do in those three games.”

With a spot in the tournament clinched, the Mean Green is not focused on the postseason yet, but instead has its eyes set on improving its seed by finishing the regular season strong. With four matches remaining, North Texas has a chance at climbing to fourth, or even third, in the standings by the end of the regular season.

“As long as we continue to focus on what we are supposed to do,” Godfrey said. “We will continue to get better and be fine in the end. It definitely is exciting and we are ready to get started.”

Featured Image: Junior outside hitter Carnae Dillard slams the ball past an unsuspecting Florida Atlantic University defender on Oct. 24. Photo by Byron Thompson – Senior Staff Photographer

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