Volleyball to host WKU with Conference USA title on the line

Volleyball to host WKU with Conference USA title on the line

Volleyball to host WKU with Conference USA title on the line
November 08
21:20 2017

The North Texas volleyball team is on its longest winning streak in program history after defeating Louisiana Tech University Sunday.

With the streak now at 12 consecutive wins, the Mean Green (22-2, 9-1) face what will likely be their toughest opponent to date, as Western Kentucky University comes to town Thursday night in a game that will essentially decide the Conference USA regular season champion.

In the past, the Mean Green have struggled to pull out a win against WKU (27-2, 13-0). But the team’s success this season matches step for step with the Lady Hilltoppers and gives North Texas some confidence.

“We will have to play at a very high level in order to put ourselves in a position to win,” head coach Andrew Palileo said. “Our preparation this week is the same it has been all year. But our ability to pay attention to details for adjustments during the match will be key in giving us a chance to be successful.”

The Mean Green and Western Kentucky have been fairly similar on paper.

WKU has an edge in attack percentage (.341 to .302), but North Texas has more assists per set (13.95 to 13.17), more blocks per set (2.30 to 2.21), more digs per set (14.61 to 12.89) and more service aces per set (1.55 to 1.45).

“They are really good at running a basic offense and putting the ball down,” junior setter Karley York said. “But our tough serving gets teams in a more high-ball situation, which allows us to block and set up our defense behind it.”

The Mean Green have struggled against WKU over the last decade, dropping nine straight matches to the traditionally high-powered Lady Hilltoppers. North Texas hasn’t knocked off WKU since Oct. 19, 2008.

But the Mean Green continue to show growth and are in a much better position this time around.

“I think their greatest strength against us was playing well together as a team,” senior middle blocker Amanda Chamberlain said. “They let their opponent make the mistakes. We’ve played well as a team in the past, but it’s nothing compared to this year. With what we have on our side and the cohesiveness we have as a team, I think we will have no problem stopping them.”

North Texas has had its share of star players in the past, but this season there is an even distribution of talent that makes it hard for opponents to zero in on one player.

Chamberlain now has 987 career kills, making her No. 8 in school history. York is also now one of six players in history to reach over 2,000 assists (2,148), and senior Holly Milam is the first player in North Texas history to reach 900 kills, 600 digs and 250 total blocks.

With these leaders guiding the way in Thursday’s match, the Mean Green should have a well-equipped team to take on WKU.

“We know the level of play we have to bring, not only on Thursday, but the practices leading up to it.” Chamberlain said. “We will just focus on what we need to do on our side, because in the end it is about us.”

The biggest threat to North Texas right now is the WKU offense.

Western Kentucky senior Alyssa Cavanaugh totals 389 kills this season and junior Rachel Anderson isn’t far behind with 309.

Even so, North Texas is attempting to approach the game as it does any other regular season matchup.

“Western is just another game,” York said. “We try not to get too excited or change too much of our game plan because what we’ve been doing has obviously been working.”

The Mean Green have upperclassmen aware of how WKU has played in the past and are motivated to add yet another win to their streak. And while this may be the first time for the freshmen class to play against Western Kentucky, they are certainly prepared enough to win.

Freshman Henrianna Ibarra is among the strong defensive unit for North Texas, leading the team with 222 digs. Both Valerie Valerian and Barbara Teakell have more than 200 kills this season.

But seasoned leaders like Milam will need to step up even more on Thursday if the Mean Green are going to snap out of their losing skid against the Lady Hilltoppers. It’s a game Milam had been in before and one she knows how to prepare for.

“I’m actually very superstitious, so I have a lot of pre-game routines,” Milam said. “I have certain clothes I have to wear, and [I] wear my hair a certain way. But as a team we will continue to go through our normal walk through, eat a pre-game meal and get pumped in the locker room. We’re excited.”

Featured Image: Freshman Barbara Teakell (7) and Senior Mikali Myers (15) celebrate on the sidelines after a Mean Green kill the ball against their opponent. Madison Gore

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Griffin Bruce

Griffin Bruce

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