DENTON - After starting the season 3-0, the Mean Green found themselves in an eight-game skid.
It started with a loss to #12 Baylor University on August 28 and hit its peak with a loss to #2 Wisconsin on September 9. After defeating Mississippi State in five-sets on September 13, North Texas dropped three straight to enter conference play.
With injuries abounding, the Mean Green battled their way to a 4-3 start to Conference USA play. Then everybody got healthy, and North Texas caught fire, the blaze scorched even mighty Western Kentucky in Bowling Green. The Hilltoppers do not lose at home, but the Mean Green not only beat WKU, they walked out of Bowling Green with a sweep of the Hilltoppers. North Texas improved to 9-15, and the season had turned.
"I don't think there was ever a mindset change," head coach Andrew Palileo said. "We focused on teaching and training with the players that ere in practice everyday so we would be prepared when the injured players returned. Once we were at full strength we had a team that was ready to prove that our talent level was better than the start we had."
Taking a look at the end of the season by the numbers, you find a team that proved its talent level:
The Mean Green won eight-straight matches, including the first-round of the C-USA tournament, to qualify for a postseason tournament. After entering the C-USA tournament as the five seed and downing #4 Florida Atlantic, the win streak ended against Rice in the second round.
The Owls were the only team to defeat North Texas in its final 11 matches. With a win over Wichita State on the road on the final day of the season, North Texas earned a berth in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship, and finished the year on a 9-1 run.
"This team was resilient shootout the year," Palileo said. "I think it was the belief we had in our team culturally that kept us focused one game at a time and not looking really beyond one pint, one set and one match until the very last regular season match against Wichita State where the postseason opportunity was in front of us."
North Texas won 11-straight sets between October 21 and November 8, which resulted in three-straight sweep wins. North Texas finished 9-10 in three-set matches this season.
It was thanks in part to the return of sophomore outside hitter Barbara Teakell, but also the play of freshmen Rhett Robinson and Sarah Haeussler, highlighting the Mean Green's depth and youth.
Robinson finished second on the team in kills with 380 and was named to the C-USA All-Freshman team while Haeussler had 110 kills for fifth on the squad. Haeussler was dynamic in her play, providing 100 blocks as well, good for second on the team.
"I knew we had to develop several freshmen," Palileo said. "The development of Rhett and Sarah really created the depth we needed in order to have a similar season to last year. As you can see by the end of the season, [Karley York] was able to spread the ball around during that run and get them involved."
The loss to eventual champion Iowa State in the third round of the NIVC marked the end of the North Texas careers of seniors Jordyn Williams and Karley York. The duo from San Antonio will be the only members of the Mean Green not returning for the 2019 season.
Both were All-Conference selections, with York finding her way on the first-team and Williams on the second-team. York eclipsed 1,000 assists in the season for the second year in a row and finished with 1,361 on the year. She finished 16th in the country in Division-I in assists, and moved into fourth all-time in career assists at UNT with 3,844.
Williams was the Mean Green's most effective attacker, hitting at a career-high and team-leading .335, which puts her just outside the top 100 in the country.
The Mean Green are set to return 13 members of this year's squad in 2019. With a foundation intact it, the Mean Green will look to build on another postseason appearance.
"I told the team this was one of my more rewarding seasons of my career," Palileo said. "There was a little of everything this season that truly challenged our culture, patience, systems and our competitiveness. I was very proud of the players coming through on the other side with the success they had. Our goal is always to compete in the NCAA tournament, but the experience we are gaining in the NIVC will prove to be valuable in the future as we continue to build a consistent winning program."