No Place Like Home
Volleyball Enjoys One of Nation's Best Homecourt Advantages
The San Antonio native came out of high school with visions of playing in spacious arenas at the Division I level. As it turned out, she fell in love with something completely different.
The Mean Green call the cozy confines of North Texas Volleyball Center, and its 600-person capacity, home, and the unique building has grown on Conference USA’s assists leader.
“It was really weird at first,” York said. “The walls were carpeted back then. It’s been upgraded a lot, but I always wanted to play in a big arena because I thought that’s what playing Division I volleyball was about. As soon as I came on my official visit and got to see how it helped them, I think it grabbed me really fast.”
North Texas (20-2, 7-1 C-USA) sports a home record of 50-17 under fifth-year head coach Andrew Palileo and has not had a losing record on its home court since 2009. The numbers this season support the idea the Mean Green might have one of the best homecourt advantages in the country. The team is 10-1 at home this season and is in the midst of a nine-game home winning streak, both of which are the best in program history.
A quick look inside the building reveals what makes it so unique on the national spectrum. The intimate setting of the bleachers’ proximity to the court and the unusually low ceiling set it apart from any other place in the country.
The ceiling, in particular, is a factor that can get in opponents’ heads and play into the Mean Green’s hands.
“Teams come in here and talk about the low ceiling, and that’s in their mind when they step on the floor,” Palileo said. “We have to adjust when we go to big arenas as far as depth perception, but it’s a big advantage for us because we know how to play [the ball hitting] off the ceiling and we’re used to the noise. The acoustics in there are unique and that plays a part of it.”
The homecourt advantage was on full display on Sept. 27 when the Mean Green hosted Oklahoma and swept the Sooners in front of a record, standing-room-only crowd of 719 raucous fans.
“It was probably one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played in, just to know our campus and university supports us,” freshman outside hitter Valerie Valerian said. “We literally had people standing by the bleachers and supporting us. To be able to play for them and for such an amazing school really was special to me.”
Senior middle blocker Amanda Chamberlain specifically credited the band for making the Volleyball Center a tough place to play for opponents.
“Our band sits right at the edge of the bleachers and they’re really loud and get in the other teams’ heads,” Chamberlain said. “It is very intimidating. When [Oklahoma] came, the band was yelling so loud, I couldn’t even hear my coach two feet away from me. It was a lot, but I love it.”
Even though she isn’t a seasoned veteran like York, Valerian is beginning to see what her older teammate is saying when describing the feeling of playing in such an intimate, raucous setting. Through 11 career matches on UNT’s home court, Valerian is sold.
“When I was looking at North Texas, it was definitely different than the other places I visited, and it took some time to grow on me,” Valerian said. “But I can’t imagine playing in any other gym. The environment in here and the support we get is absolutely amazing. I feel like opponents come here and they know it’s different, and that gives us an advantage.”
The Mean Green look to continue their dominance at home when Rice comes to Denton at 7 p.m. Friday for a pivotal match for conference pecking order. The Owls (18-5, 8-1 C-USA) hold a half-game lead over North Texas for second place in the league standings.
A rematch against Southern Mississippi, who claimed a five-set victory over the Mean Green on Sept. 22 in Hattiesburg, will cap off this weekend's action at 1 p.m. Sunday. The Golden Eagles (15-8, 5-2 C-USA) are 1.5 games behind North Texas.