Amy Henard gave up playing tennis, the last half of her senior year and a whole lot of time with friends last spring when the former Brock standout enrolled at North Texas and joined the school’s volleyball team at the Christmas break.
So far, the payoff has been more than worth it.
Henard has started from day 1 at UNT and will lead the Mean Green into its Conference USA opener against East Carolina at 7 p.m. today at the Mean Green Volleyball Center.
“My freshman year has gone pretty well,” Henard said. “It’s been difficult to learn the system. We are trying to become more consistent. When we get to that point, it’s going to be awesome.”
UNT (8-8) has struggled early on while facing a tough schedule, but has won two of its last three matches heading into what will be a big weekend for the school’s overall athletic program.
The UNT soccer team will open its C-USA season tonight as well when the Mean Green hosts Southern Mississippi.
UNT has been celebrating and preparing for its move to C-USA from the Sun Belt since last spring. Today’s games will be a landmark of sorts for the program.
Henard has enjoyed some extra time to prepare for the Mean Green’s conference season after enrolling early at UNT, even though that time didn’t turn out the way she expected.
Henard was recruited by former UNT head coach Ken Murczek, who left after last season to take over in the same capacity at Wake Forest.
The plan was for Henard to adjust to playing in college with a new set of teammates. She ended up having to develop a connection with a new coaching staff as well.
“It helps that she had a chance to mesh with the other girls,” new UNT head coach Andrew Palileo said. “More than anything, it helped her handle the stresses of being away from home without being in the middle of the season. She went through it without competing and was able to take her time adjusting.”
Henard has fit right in with the Mean Green and is averaging 11.09 assists per set after UNT swept Stephen F. Austin on Wednesday. She was ranked third among freshmen nationally in assists heading into the week.
Palileo and senior middle blocker Courtney Windham credited Henard’s success largely to her personality and the way she has handled starting as a freshman. UNT has a veteran team that returned all of its starters with the exception of setter May Allen.
Henard, a three-time all-state selection, has taken over for Allen and settled in with the Mean Green quickly.
“Amy is laid back and chill,” Windham said. “She doesn’t say much. She just takes it as it comes and never talks back to anyone or feels the need to throw her opinion out there. She is a freshman with authority and doesn’t want to overstep the upperclassmen. She has found a really good balance. Everyone likes where she is right now.”
Finding that place was a little more challenging after Murczek left. UNT was without a coach for much of the offseason, which robbed Henard of the opportunity to learn UNT’s system. Henard instead had to wait and start from scratch, just like the rest of UNT’s players.
Henard said where enrolling early really paid off was in getting to know her new teammates and adjusting to college life.
“Enrolling at semester paid off a little bit, but not so much in the volleyball aspect,” Henard said. “I got to know the girls and their personalities, which helped our chemistry on and off the court.”
Henard has progressed on the court. Last week, she was named the C-USA Setter of the Week for her performance at the Flo Hyman Collegiate Cup in Houston. Henard averaged 10.0 assists per set in the tournament and posted 52 assists and 11 digs in a five-set loss to LSU.
When Henard looked back this week, it was experiences like last week’s tournament that made leaving Brock a few months early worth it. Henard went home for prom and a few other events, but she missed out on playing varsity tennis and some other things at the end of her senior year.
“I enrolled early because there were some things that the previous coach set up for me,” Henard said. “He was going to possibly pay a year of my master’s work. I was also going to get to know the team better, which would help us reach our goal of getting to the NCAA tournament.”
The extra time Henard spent at UNT didn’t unfold the way she planned after a coaching change, but the benefits have been well worth it.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.