DENTON – Wednesday will mark eight months since North Texas volleyball's record-setting 2017 season came to an end in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship tournament and a week before the team returns to the court for the first practice of fall camp.
The sting of losing the conference championship match and missing out on the NCAA tournament dissolved at the onset of spring practices in January, but head coach Andrew Palileo will continue to study last season's successes to take the program to the next level.
"There was a lot of reflection, not on the losses at the end, but on what the team would look like and what changes we needed to make," Palileo said. "I don't know if I ever stopped reflecting on the things we did well and where we need to improve."
The Mean Green, which finished 29-4, claimed the program's first regular-season conference title and posted the best attack percentage (.293), third-most block assists (398), fourth-most assists (1,671), fifth-most kills (1,801) and fifth-most total blocks (267.0) in school history.
While the team's 16-win improvement from 2016 to 2017 could be seen as a flash in the pan, it's the result of Palileo's process he set into motion years ago.
"Our success last year was a build up from the previous year," Palileo said. "Some of the things we wanted to improve on in 2016 carried over to last season. Our goal has been to get that conference championship and get to the tournament, and we got pretty close last year."
As he works to build the program after a championship-winning season, Palileo looks to Conference USA powerhouse Western Kentucky as a role model for how to keep the ball rolling.
"They're always on top and remain on top," Palileo said. "Their players continue the tradition of their program, and that's what we're trying to build here. We have the talent to do it, but it's going to be about whether we can make up some of that gap of talent versus experience."
The team's returning talent begins with reigning Conference USA Co-Freshman of the Year Barbara Teakell, who's appreciative of both the team's and her individual achievements but is more forward-thinking as the team transitions into the 2018 campaign.
"We accomplished great things last season and should be very proud of them, but that's in the past," Teakell said. "We need to focus on the season ahead and what we can do even better this season with the new team."
However, the toughest hurdle facing the program is replacing four seniors and four lost letterwinners that accounted for 1,300 of the team's 2,248 points - a 57.8 percent mark - from 2017.
"Hitting .293 in a season is hard to repeat, but if we can recover some of the points we lost, I think we'll get close," Palileo said.
Part of the solution will result from increased ball control from the team's young core, led by Teakell and fellow sophomore outside hitter Valerie Valerian, but the team will lean on senior setter Karley York to efficiently distribute the ball to a new batch of hitters.
The new-look lineup features five signees and three Division I transfers, including three who Palileo expects to be key contributors in freshmen middle blockers Sarah Haeussler and Rhett Robinson and junior right-side Jillian Duffin.
Without getting a chance to see the incoming freshman in action throughout spring practices and summer youth camps, North Texas is ready to put its pieces together in pursuit of another conference championship.
"We're just excited to get the season started," York said. "We have been working very hard this summer and are finally ready to get back in the gym with the coaches."
With a week until the team converges for the first time, Palileo circles back to the process as he formulates his message for the group in their first meeting.
"Continue what we've been building on," Palileo said. "It's a game to one every time. Last year's team understood that for the majority of the season. We fell behind sometimes, but you have to focus on that next play and stay in the moment."
North Texas will begin fall camp on Aug. 8 and the Mean Green's open the 2018 campaign againts Kent State at noon on Aug. 24 as part of the North Texas Invitational.