Nov. 4, 2012
AUBURN, Ala. - Junior Katherine Culwell had a career-high 21 kills and a season-best 16 digs, and coach Rick Nold earned his 200th career victory as the Auburn volleyball team defeated Georgia 3-1 (25-23, 15-25, 25-15, 25-16) Sunday afternoon at the Student Activities Center.
The Tigers (17-8, 8-7 SEC) won their fourth consecutive SEC match, the first time an Auburn team has accomplished that feat since the 1998 season. And for the second straight outing, the Tigers avenged an early-season loss to a league opponent; Georgia (13-11, 7-8 SEC) downed Auburn in straight sets back on Oct. 12 in Athens.
"It's important to get these wins," Nold said. "But it's as much important to see the style of play we're getting, too. We're playing with a lot more confidence. We've started taking care of the serve-and-pass game, and that just has a big impact on the way we're able to play. Hopefully we can keep building on this and improving as we go through the next few weeks."
Culwell put together one of the best offensive and defensive performance of her career with 21 kills and 16 digs. Her previous career high in kills came earlier this season with a 20-kill performance at Texas A&M, and she fell just two shy of her career-best dig total of 18 (vs. Cincinnati in 2010). She also posted a season-best .345 hitting percentage, earning her 21 kills on 41 attacks with just six errors. The junior from Dallas also contributed four blocks to the winning effort, totaling 24.0 points for the Tigers.
"The interesting thing was that, on Friday (against Arkansas), our offense was run through the middle," Nold said. "The outsides struggled a little bit. I think it says a lot that we're balanced enough that we can come back. Kat had a big game, not just offensively but defensively in terms of blocking and back-row defense. She had a great day, and it helped us a lot."
Senior Sarah Bullock recorded her 11th double-double of the season and her second-straight 20-dig performance, putting down 13 kills along with 20 digs. She also led the Auburn blocking game with five stuffs (two solo, three assist). Junior Chelsea Wintzinger had her team-leading 12th double-double, recorded a match-high 33 assists along with 11 digs, and Sarah Wroblicky also added 11 digs. Camila Jersonsky and Courtney McDonald added three blocks apiece.
Auburn had 58 kills to Georgia's 40 and held the Bulldogs to a .121 hitting percentage. The Tigers also out-dug Georgia, 74-63, but the Bulldogs had more blocks (12-10) and aces (6-4) than Auburn.
Georgia was led by Brittany Northcutt, who had 12 kills, 13 digs and five blocks. Libero Allison Summers had a match-high 27 digs, and Jasmine Eatmon also contributed five blocks.
Nold, in his 11th season as a Division I head coach, now has a career record of 200-125 (.615) with 28 of those wins coming in less than two full seasons at Auburn.
"Those things are important as you look back later on," Nold said of his 200th win, "For us, though, we're trying to get better every week. And obviously the kids are a big part of every win we're trying to get."
Auburn jumped out to a big lead in the first set, 10-3, before the Bulldogs went on a 10-3 run of their own to knot the match at 13-13. However, the Tigers would maintain a slight lead throughout most of the remainder of the set, hitting .279 while holding the Bulldogs to a .190 percentage via five blocks. Culwell had six kills and three blocks in the opening set alone, accounting for nine of the Tigers' 25 points in a 25-23 first-set win. She had the kill to send it to set point at 24-22, then stuffed her third block of the set to end it.
The serve-and-pass game was a nightmare for the Tigers in set two as Georgia ran away with a 25-15 win. The Bulldogs had four aces and took advantage of shaky passing by the Tigers in building an 8-2 lead. Auburn would cut the margin to as few as three points at 17-14, but the Bulldogs would go on a 6-0 run from there, mostly thanks to four straight Auburn errors. The Tigers hit just .040 in the second with eight kills and seven errors while Georgia swung at a .304 clip.
But the final two sets were all Auburn. The Tigers never trailed in set three, building an 11-5 lead and never allowing Georgia closer than four points the rest of the way en route to a 25-15 win. Auburn turned the tables on the Bulldogs in the third with four service errors of their own, two each from Wintzinger and MacKenzy Harper, and got 10 combined kills from Culwell and Bullock.
Set four was close through the first 20 or so rallies, but a 7-0 run midway through the set gave Auburn an 18-12 lead that led to a 25-16 win. Auburn trailed 12-11 before four straight kills by Culwell, followed by a Culwell-McDonald block and another Georgia error, made it 18-12. In all, the Tigers would end the set on a 14-4 run, getting two kills and a block from Bullock in the last four points. Georgia had only four kills against eight errors in the fourth set for a negative-.098 average.
Auburn will wrap up a three-match homestand Friday, Nov. 9, as new SEC member Texas A&M makes its first visit to the Student Activities Center. The match is slated for a 7 p.m. start, and admission is free.