Aug. 18, 2011
AUBURN - With two weeks of practice under their belt and fall semester classes underway, the Auburn volleyball team is continuing preparations for the 2011 season with just more than a week until the Tigers' season-opening match.
First-year head coach Rick Nold and his staff have put the Tigers through 17 practices as of Thursday evening. And while the strenuous workout schedule has taken a toll on the 12 healthy and available players, the coach said it was necessary for the development of the squad.
"We've been putting a lot of time in, trying to add some new stuff in," Nold said. "It gets them a little beat up, but there's no way around it. We have such a short period of time between the start of practice and school starting. We've got a lot of what we want in, now it's just a matter of fine-tuning it."
Still missing from practice is sophomore middle blocker Camila Jersonsky, who will be wrapping up her stint with the Argentinian Senior National Team this week as the FIVB World Grand Prix concludes. Junior outside hitter Katherine Culwell has also been unavailable after undergoing surgery during the offseason; Nold said she would continue to be evaluated as she recovers.
In the duration of preseason drills, Nold has seen a few players stand out. With the new coaching staff making adjustments to the offense, redshirt sophomore middle blocker Courtney McDonald - who sat out the 2010 season - earned praise from the coach, as did both of the team's defensive specialists.
"We're trying to change a lot of things we do in the middle," Nold said, "and Courtney has done a good job of adjusting to that, playing more aggressive, making herself more available. She's got a long way to go, but I think she's seeing those improvements. I think our defensive players, Sarah Wroblicky and MacKenzy Harper, have worked hard. We've been working on some new techniques, and they've really taken to that and are doing a good job with that."
Nold also praised senior setter Christina Solverson for her off-the-court leadership.
"Throughout the summer and the start of practice, Christina has been a leader for us and a go-to for a lot of the players," he said. "We're going to talk about captains here in the next couple of weeks. But a lot of what we want to talk to them about is that they've all got to lead in their own ways."
Technique and offensive strategy are a small part of the adjustments the Tigers have made over the last few weeks and months. Indeed, it has been a period of adjustment for everyone associated with the volleyball program. Nold was named the program's eighth head coach in April, and his assistants - Eysha Ambler and Floyd Deaton - came on board during the summer.
But the new head coach said that the team has started to buy into the philosophy of the new staff, and the coaches and student-athletes continue to grow more comfortable with one another.
"I think in terms of relating to the staff, it's been really good," Nold said. "There's always going to be hesitation and change in terms of techniques and things like that, so we're trying to make subtle changes here and there where we think it's important. And that's obviously something we'll keep working on along the way."
The Tigers' first match is just more than a week away as they open against North Carolina on Friday, Aug. 26, at the Active Ankle Challenge in Gainesville, Fla. With seven practices left before the team departs for Gainesville, Nold noted that the team is on the right track but needs to continue to improve in terms of its understanding of the new system.
"Continuity is key right now," he said. "And that's to be expected. We've just got to get through and get everybody comfortable with the things we're doing, get everybody on the same page. And that's just a matter of time."