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UNT on roll heading into C-USA volleyball tourney

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

Holly Milam fought and scratched over the course of four seasons with the North Texas volleyball team to reach the point the Mean Green are at now heading into the Conference USA tournament.

UNT won the league's regular-season title last weekend, when it upset defending champion and national power Western Kentucky.

The question now is whether the Mean Green can prove that win over the Hilltoppers wasn't a fluke while tightening their grip on an NCAA tournament berth.

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The first step will come at 5 p.m. Friday when UNT will take on Marshall in a first-round match at Western Kentucky, which is hosting the conference tournament.

"We have a lot of confidence," Milam said. "We knew at the beginning of the season what we could do. We came away with the regular-season conference title and want to prove ourselves even more by doing it again in the conference tournament."

UNT (26-2) has won its last 14 matches and put together quite a resume. The Mean Green are looking to add to it and clinch a spot in the NCAA tournament.

UNT would be a lock if it wins the tournament and receives the league's automatic bid, but could have a chance even if it falls short.

"At the minimum we can't lose before the championship match," UNT coach Andrew Palileo said. "If we get ourselves in the championship match, the NCAA will have to decide if our resume is good enough to be in the tournament, which I think it is."

UNT has a quality win over Oregon State in addition to its win over Western Kentucky, which will help its cause if it doesn't win the C-USA tournament.

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Palileo was honored for the way he guided UNT during its breakout season Thursday when he was named C-USA's coach of the year. Outside hitter Barbara Teakell was named co-freshman of the year, an honor she shared with Rice outside hitter Nicole Lennon.

UNT had five players named to the All-C-USA team earlier in the week, including three first-team selections. Both totals are program records.

The Mean Green's confidence is sky-high because of what they have accomplished this season, including beating Western Kentucky.

There is a good chance UNT could face the Hilltoppers in the conference tournament final. Western Kentucky is the No. 2 seed and on the opposite side of the bracket.

The possibility of facing the Hilltoppers on their home court is one UNT is prepared for.

"It will be harder to beat them there in the tournament," UNT middle blocker Amanda Chamberlain said. "We will have to match their energy and aggressiveness."

Palileo emphasized that UNT has to first worry about getting to the title game. It's a challenge the Mean Green feel good about meeting because of the confidence they have gained during what has been a magical season.

"We have the talent and the team to do it," Chamberlain said. "This is the year."

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.