North Texas Volleyball A.D. (After Dillard)
#MGVB Opens At Home Against Nevada
DENTON - For the first time in four years, the Mean Green volleyball team will open a season without Carnae Dillard on the roster.
Dillard, who completed her eligibility with the Mean Green last season, is arguably the greatest player in program history as she secured back-to-back Conference USA Player of the Year awards in 2014 and 2015 and was named AVCA Honorable Mention All America, becoming only the second player in program history to do so. Dillard also set the program record for kills (2,327), total attacks (6,063) and kills in a season (687), while finishing third in career digs (1,426).
That's a lot to replace.
The Mean Green open the 2016 season with the North Texas Challenge, where they will play Nevada and No. 15 Ohio State on Friday and Texas State and No. 16 Texas A&M on Saturday.
"When I got hired here three years ago, we knew we were going to lose Carnae at some point," fourth-year head coach Andrew Palileo said. "It's a new challenge as to how we progress, but I have been here before. I have coached two other conference Player of the Year winners in the past and I lost them, too. The challenge now is to provide a new vision for our team."
That new vision began to take shape back in March, when the team opened spring practice and games.
"We want to create a balance on offense, and we are going to need players to be counted on and to play bigger roles this season," added Palileo. "Carnae always played with younger players around her, but now those younger players are our older players, so the expectation for them on and off the court rises."
The new vision begins with two-time captain Amy Henard, who enters the season in fourth place in career assists with 3,408. Henard, who is a four-year starter, played with Dillard, but is the lone senior on this year's squad.
"I am excited heading into this season," Henard said. "This season is about everyone on this team. We are all going to have to do our jobs in order to be successful, but teams are not used to a lot of different people coming at them offensively from us. It's going to be a different component we have this season and it will be to our advantage."
The Mean Green tried to spread the ball last season, but Dillard took 1,768 of the team's 4,480 attack attempts. Holly Milam was second on the team with 688.
With Henard as the team's primary setter, it falls on her to distribute the ball to increase the flow on offense this season.
"This year is about spreading the ball around the court," Henard added. "The setters need to be able to distribute the ball to each one of the hitters in order for us to be successful."
"That is our game plan this year," explained Palileo. "We are going to spread the ball around and become harder to plan for because we do spread the ball."
Milam, who earned Second Team All-Conference honors last season, is one who will be called on to pick up some of Carnae's kills.
"I have a little pressure heading into the season because I received that conference award," Milam said.
Milam knows the pressure is self-induced, and she is challenging herself to take the next step this season.
"I need to be more consistent on both sides of the ball," Milam said. "When Amy looks my way, I need to be able to put it down, but I also need to play strong defense."
Milam led the team in total blocks a year ago with 101.
A name that is rarely mentioned because of playing in Carnae's shadow the last two years is Amanda Chamberlain, who is entering her junior season.
Chamberlain, who was hampered by injuries at the end of last season, still put up strong numbers for the Mean Green, tallying 197 kills, 84 total blocks and hit at a team-leading percentage of .312.
With 11 of the 15 players from last year's roster returning, Chamberlain focused on one key thing the team needs to be successful at this season in order to continue to move in the right direction.
"We have to be mentally tough on the court this season," Chamberlian said. "We cannot get into our own head because that was our downfall last year. As soon as we play free and play like we know how, we are in sync. That is what we need moving forward."
Palileo also brought in four freshmen to complete his roster, and the quartet of them will be called upon to contribute immediately.
"No one is redshirting," Palileo explained. "They all have a role to play in our development. We will allow the freshman to mature, but they will see time on the court for us."
Life with Dillard was great for Mean Green volleyball. The story of life after Dillard begins on Friday against Nevada.
North Texas Challenge
The daily schedule has been divided into two sessions, morning and afternoon. Each session includes two games, but the gym will be cleared between games two and three each day. Fans can purchase one of three different ticket options for the tournament: a one-session pass for $10, one-day passes for $15 or a tournament pass for $30.