Aug. 25, 2014
AUBURN, Ala. - Coming off a 19-11 season and posting 10 wins in SEC play for the first time since 2010, you would think Auburn head coach Rick Nold would be satisfied with his team’s improvement after his third season on the Plains.
“We had a good year in 2013, but we wanted more,” Nold said. “Starting out 0-4 in the league and the finishing 10-4 against our conference opponents down the stretch showed how much character our players have, but we’re focused on taking this program to the next level, which is getting to the NCAA Tournament.”
Auburn heads into the 2014 campaign with two seasoned starters in the front row and heralded freshman class, but looking to replace a large senior class from a year ago.
Gone are six seniors - Katherine Culwell, Camila Jersonsky, Courtney McDonald, Kathia Rud, Chelsea Wintzinger and Sarah Wroblicky - that gave Auburn major production on the floor and under Nold’s guidance, shredded the Tigers’ record book.
Jersonsky, the 2013 SEC Volleyball Scholar-Athlete of the Year, finished her career as Auburn’s all-time leader in hitting percentage (.355), along with ranking in the top 10 in four blocking categories, while Culwell was another big hitter for the Tigers that finished with 1,013 kills for her career.
The Tigers also have to replace Wintzinger, who was the key distributor in the Auburn’s system during her four years on the court, finishing fourth all-time in career assists with 2,654. Defensively, Wroblicky was the key cog on the back row and was Auburn’s libero for all 30 matches a year ago, finishing fourth in career digs (1,235).
Sophomore Stephanie Campbell returns in the middle after a stellar freshman campaign, where the Wildwood, Mo., native became the first Auburn freshman to start all 30 matches and played every set since 2009. Sophomore Emily Klitzke also returns for the Tigers on the outside after playing 24 matches and making 19 starts as a freshman.
The Tigers bring back junior outside hitter/defensive specialist Mary Hannah Arrington and setter Alyssa Ivey, along with defensive specialist Taylor Schill, all who earned valuable playing time in 2013 and could factor into the lineup this year and provide Auburn with experience against league foes.
“The SEC is a great league. With eight teams making the NCAA Tournament in 2013, the league is the best in the nation in my mind,” Nold said. “It’s a competitive challenge every night no matter what team you face. We have a wide range of teams with lots of talent and depth, while some our young but have recruited well over the last few years.”
Auburn’s freshman class, ranked 14th in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com, will be relied on heavily to fill the voids and could be a key factor in the Tiger’s run to the postseason in 2014.
“Obviously, they’ll play a huge impact in our success for this season. They all have a wide range of talent and it will be fun to see how the mesh as a young team. It’s exciting to see how they fit in and it will be fun to watch,” Nold said.
The reigning Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year Alexa Filley headlines a class filled with accolades. Filley lead Assumption High School in Louisville, Ky., to four straight state championships and an Under Armour High School All-America selection. Filley will be joined by fellow Louisville native, Courtney Crable, who earned Kentucky’s “Miss Volleyball” award following her senior year and was also an Under Armour First-Team All-American.
The Tigers also added Kelly Stewart (Tomball, Texas) and Tate Pember (Kennesaw, Ga.) during the offseason as liberos/defensive specialist. Incoming freshman Macy Reese (Hendersonville, Tenn.) joins Cincinnati transfer Breanna Barksdale (San Diego, Calif.) as middle blockers for Auburn’s system. Barksdale led Cincinnati with a .292 attack percentage in conference play and registered 180 kills during her lone season with the Bearcats.
“We’re excited about this season. This is a different team that is young but talented. Getting back on Aug. 6 and seeing where things are is going to be exciting for our staff. We feel that we’ve got a good group of players that complement one another.”
“The fan support was tremendous last year and we feel like it will be great this year with a good slate of home matches, Nold said. “For us, playing in Auburn Arena is another step up for our program and gives us a high standard to play each time we step on the floor.”
Auburn will play all 16 home matches at Auburn Arena during 2014, which Nold calls “the best venue in the conference” including a pair of home tournaments. The Tigers begin their home slate on Sept. 12 against Troy in the Active Ankle Challenge. Two straight road tournaments await the Tigers as the season gets underway on Friday, Aug. 29 versus North Dakota at the George Washington Invitational.