Toppling The Giant
North Texas, Western Kentucky Face Off For Regular Season Crown
DENTON - The script couldn't be written any better for Thursday's North Texas volleyball match. It pits Conference USA's number one team against number two. The perennial winner versus the preseason sleeper. It's a green out. It's senior night.
“We have to understand what the moment is about, but we also can’t get caught up in the moment,” North Texas head coach Andrew Palileo said.
The Mean Green host Western Kentucky in a showdown for a share of the conference's regular season title at 6 p.m. Thursday at the North Texas Volleyball Center. The teams have a combined record of 51-4 overall and 24-1 in C-USA play, setting up arguably the biggest regular season matchup in conference history.
“It’s crazy, because we thought we would be here before the season, but now we’re actually here,” senior outside hitter Alexis Wright said.
“In the spring whenever we were working out, we knew we had a good thing going and we could put ourselves in this position,” senior middle blocker Holly Milam said, “and know we have, so it’s time to execute.”
On Monday, the league office split its weekly awards among the two schools, with the Mean Green earning Offensive Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week honors, while the Hilltoppers took Defensive Player of the Week and Setter of the Week. Amanda Chamberlain and WKU's Alyssa Cavanaugh are the only three-time Offensive Players of the Week. Karley York and the Hilltoppers' Jessica Lucas are two of three setters with multiple Setter of the Week nods.
“Each team has great players that are going to make great plays, but we have to handle the things we can control with efficiency,” Palileo said.
History is not on North Texas' side, with a 1-19 record all-time against the Hilltoppers and 10 straight losses since their lone victory in the series in 2008. On Oct. 19, 2008, the Mean Green defeated WKU, which was ranked No. 15 in the RPI, in straight sets. The Hilltoppers have won seven-straight regular season titles dating back to their final three years in the Sun Belt Conference. However, for North Texas, this season has been all about rewriting the record book.
“We’re trying not to treat this like any other match, but at the same time we are, because we don’t want to make them seem bigger than they are,” senior middle blocker Amanda Chamberlain said. “We’re not playing a jersey, we’re just playing the girls across the net.”
Thursday marks the second-to-last home match for the Mean Green's four seniors. To say this group, which is 0-5 against WKU, is hungry for a win would be an understatement.
“It’s a storybook ending, because the entire time us seniors have been here, we’ve never beaten them,” senior middle blocker Mikali Myers said. “This year, I feel like we’re the most equipped to beat them.”
In those five matches, Milam has totaled 42 kills, 33 digs, and six blocks, including a 13-kill, four-block performance in 2015, when North Texas nearly stunned the Hilltoppers in five sets in denton. Chamberlain, Wright and Myers have combined for 34 blocks.
“It’s going to be about doing our thing, staying calm and not letting them dictate what we do,” Milam said.
The Mean Green enter Thursday’s showdown riding a program-record 12-game win streak, while WKU’s win streak is nearly double at 23 straight. North Texas is coming off straight-set road wins over Marshall and Louisiana Tech, guided by Chamberlain’s 5.17 kills per set.
However, the job doesn't end with beating the Hilltoppers Thursday. The Mean Green will also need to defeat Middle Tennessee at 11 a.m. Saturday to clinch a share of the regular season title.