By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Every day at practice, Auburn's volleyball players spend time working on digs. Now, they're working in new digs.
A just-completed renovation of Auburn Arena gives the team a permanent home under one roof.
Before, the locker room was on the first floor of Beard-Eaves Coliseum. The coaches' offices were on the fifth floor. Practices were held in the Student Activities Center.
"We were really spread out," coach Rick Nold says. "Having the player space, that's going to be huge, having everything in one location.
"We wanted to make it easy for a player just to stop by and say, `Hi.' As opposed to feeling like you have to have a meeting to get people up to see you. I think that will be big for them."
The upgrades are already paying recruiting dividends.
"It's been at least three or four years since I've taken a recruit into my office," Nold says. "Because it was inconvenient. Just having a space like that. The video room, where we can show highlights or whatever it might be. That's going to be huge for recruiting.
"With the recruits we've gotten, our 2017, 2018 classes, we've been talking about this project. The plan came together probably a year ago, so we were able to start selling that at that point, so it's already been a big help."
This is not your parents' locker room. Retina scanning to ease access so student-athletes won't have to carry their ID card to and from practice. A couch that charges your phone. Fueling stations will provide an assortment of snacks. Murphy beds, which Nold calls the "prone study area," in case a nap is in order.
"When we did this, we wanted it to be something that would get your attention," he says. "There are a number of different things in it that people will really like."
Attention-getting? Check. For proof, check out the video of the team's reaction upon getting the first look.
-- Auburn Tigers (@AuburnTigers) August 12, 2016
"It's an amazing facility that I'm so happy to be a part of," senior Stephanie Campbell says. "My favorite part is definitely the new video room. I love the movie theater-style seating and the super comfy chairs."
Nold will begin his sixth season at Auburn on Aug. 26 when the Tigers host Georgia Tech in the War Eagle Invitational.
Last season, Auburn was 18-12, including an impressive home record of 11-3.
"We made some really good progress last year, but we obviously didn't go as far as we wanted to," Nold says. "For the team, they were able to see that success come from their hard work. And to understand that they can do so much more."
Auburn returns all of its hitters.
"We feel like if we can really put the right mindset to everyday when we come into the gym, we've got a chance to make a big step this year," Nold says.
Junior setter Alexa Filley will play a key role.
"In that position, you're going to touch the ball every time it comes over the net, theoretically," Nold says. "Having somebody with a wide range of abilities that she has, I think she has the ability to really have an impact for us."
"I think the three of them will definitely have a big impact for us. All of them have the ability to affect things and different parts of the game," he says.
In a sport in which you could play a great match and still lose almost half of the points, Nold wants his team to be relentless.
"It's something that we find a lot of different ways to reward in practice. Just so we can have more and more of that mentality," he says. "We're a tough serving team. We'll get people out of system with our serve. Defensively, I think we're a scrappy team. We're not a huge blocking team. As long as we embrace that, and continue to build on what we've done with those areas, I think we'll have a great year.
"If you come see this team, they're a very aggressive, fun team to watch play. I think they enjoy what they're doing. They compete hard. They're athletic," Nold says.
"Volleyball has become a really popular sport. You look at the SEC Network and the exposure we've gotten there. It's something that fans have really started to enjoy and learn more about it. We have a number of home matches that are going to be exciting to watch. We'd love to get the new fans out, and I think they would enjoy what they see."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer