North Texas Takes First Two Maroon Classic Matches
Mean Green Run Win Streak to 10 Games
STARKVILLE, Miss. – The North Texas volleyball team won both of its Maroon Classic games on Saturday at the Newell-Grissom Building in Starkville, Miss. The Mean Green had some speed bumps in a 3-1 victory over Southeastern Louisiana before cruising to a straight-set victory over host school Mississippi State.
North Texas battled in a 3-1 (25-14, 25-20, 23-25, 25-18) win over Southeastern Louisiana in the opening game of the Maroon Classic on Friday morning. Senior middle back Holly Milam and freshman outside hitter Valerie Valerian led the Mean Green with 12 kills each.
“It came down to who was going to work harder,” Milam said. “[SELU] played a really good game.”
The battle started right out of the gates as the Lions knotted it up at 4-4 in the first set, forcing Mean Green head coach Andrew Palileo to call a timeout. North Texas responded with an 11-2 run, highlighted by a pair of kills each for Milam and fellow senior Amanda Chamberlain. The Mean Green were also helped out by five attack errors for SELU. The Lions finished the set with nine attack or set errors, including one of each to set up and clinch set point for North Texas
After not recording a block in the first set, the Mean Green put up four in the second set, led by a pair of block assists for Valerian, Emma Eakin and Miranda Youmans. With the game tied at 10-10, Valerian recorded her first block assist of the frame to give North Texas the lead, and the Mean Green would not trail again in the set. The two schools went virtually point-for-point until North Texas scored the final four points of the frame, thanks to a pair of Milam kills and SELU errors.
”“We were making better moves to the pin and they were more accurate with their hands,” Palileo said.
“Mikali really helped me out from the sideline telling me what I needed to do,” Valerian said. “The coaches always encourage the older players helping out the younger ones and they do such a tremendous job.”
In set three, the Lions jumped out to a 6-3 lead which was erased by a five-point run for North Texas, highlighted by back-to-back kills by Valerian. After falling behind 14-13, Chamberlain and Eakin each recorded three kills in a run that put the Mean Green back on top, 19-16. However, North Texas was marred by a pair of attack errors down the stretch as SELU claimed the third set, ending the Mean Green’s 17-set win streak one shy of tying the school record.
“It was like hitting a reset button,” Valerian said. “Obviously, we were disappointed, but we had to come out in that next set and be strong.”
“We needed to get our energy back and play with a little more intensity,” Palileo said. “We didn’t come out mentally strong enough. Once we were focused, we did really well.”
After falling behind 2-1 to start the final set, the Mean Green responded with seven straight points on five SELU attack errors and a kill and ace for Milam. With North Texas ahead 12-5, Valerian posted four of the team’s five kills to extend the lead to 19-10. Fellow freshman Barbara Teakell was responsible for the Mean Green’s final three kills to set up and seal match point.
North Texas received breakout performances on both sides of play on Saturday night, defeating Mississippi State, 3-0 (25-19, 25-13, 25-19). Senior outside hitter Alexis Wright posted a team-high 13 kills, while freshman libero Henrianna Ibarra registered 20 digs, good for a career-high and season-high for the team.
“It was good for the team to come out as a whole and know we need to prove ourselves and show that we’re the best team in this tournament,” Wright said.
The balanced efforts began right out of the gates as four different players recorded kills and two additional players posted aces as the Mean Green built an early 8-3 lead. By set’s end, it was Wright at the top of the box score for North Texas with four kills on six attempts and a block assist. Ibarra recorded nine of her 20 digs in the opening set. The Mean Green, who averaged 14.4 digs per set entering the match, combined for 21 digs in the opening frame.
“I played with no hesitiations,” Ibarra said, “and I think we communicated really well as a team.”
”She had numbers like a true libero should,” Palileo said. “She was under control and really made a difference for us in that first set.”
North Texas enjoyed another hot start in set two, jumping out to a 7-1 lead on back-to-back aces by junior setter Alex Janak and a trio of kills by Teakell. After the Bulldogs came within two at 8-6, the Mean Green rattled off another run in which Wright came off the bench to post kills on back-to-back plays and put her team ahead 14-7. Chamberlain had three of her eight kills down the stretch of the set and joined Wright and Teakell with four kills in the set.
“The middles opened up a lot for us, so I just tried to do my job and hit the seams that they opened up for me and be aggressive every chance I could,” Wright said.
In the final set, North Texas didn’t start off as hot as the first two as Mississippi State tied it at 5-5 with a kill. However, the Mean Green went on a 7-1 run, thanks to four Bulldog errors. After North Texas allowed Mississippi State to pull within three at 21-18, the Mean Green recorded four straight points to close out the match including back-to-back kills by Wright to set up and seal match point.
North Texas wraps up Maroon Classic play against Jackson State on Saturday morning at 9 a.m.
• The Mean Green’s 11-1 record is the best start to a season in program history.
• With the win over Mississippi State, North Texas tied the school record for longest win streak at 10 games.
• Milam moved up to 9th in North Texas history in career kills on Friday (932).
• With five block assists on Friday, Chamberlain moved up to 7th on the school’s alltime block assists leaderboard (238).
• In Friday’s first match, Milam converted her first eight attempts into kills.
• Alyvia Palileo set a new career high with 10 digs against SELU.