Sep 4, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - For Auburn's volleyball team, it was a weekend for the record book.
The Tigers started their season in high style by going 4-0 in the Marcia E. Hamilton Classic at St. Louis University, losing just one game along the way. And when they took down No. 10 Nebraska 3-1, they did something no other Auburn team had ever done.
Going into Saturday's match against the Cornhuskers, a traditional volleyball power, no Auburn team had beaten a top 10 team. Nebraska had ended Auburn's season in the 2010 NCAA Tournament with a 3-0 victory.
Third-year coach Rick Nold told his players that if they did the things they were prepared to do they could win. And win they did.
"Going into it, you don't know where you are as a team," Nold said. "Once we got into and saw them play, we thought it would be a matter of who was able to play their style. We are much more of a scrappy, relentless type team. That's something we've been preaching. We felt like if we were able to play that game, it would work in our favor.
"They are a much more methodical team with really good athletes. If we'd allowed that, we might have been in trouble. But we stuck to our guns and made sure we stayed aggressive throughout the match. It gave us a lot of confidence."
Nold's telephone was still ringing regularly two days after the team's return to campus.
"My phone has been blowing up," Nold said. "It's a neat thing for the program. The girls have heard a lot about it, too. But we are just starting. This is Week 1."
The Tigers return to the court Thursday night at 7 against Green Bay in their own Active Ankle Challenge at the Student Activities Center. They play Troy on Friday night at 7.
Senior outside hitter Katherine Culwell was the star of Auburn's show. She was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week.
"I thought she did a great job of having the right mindset and staying aggressive, even though they were putting a lot of attention toward her," Nold said.
Culwell said it was a team effort from start to finish, one that gave the Tigers confidence they can do big things as the season goes on.
"It was incredible," Culwell said. "It was kind of a revenge feeling for the seniors. We are having good energy and playing well together. We were working real well through the ups and downs the whole weekend."
Nold arrived as head coach late in the spring of 2011. His first season was a trying one. Things got better last season. And now things appear to be better still. How much better? That, Nold says, depends on how the Tigers respond to their early success.
"It's a big win, four big wins," Nold said. "It just tells you where you can be. Now it's a matter of what we do with it. You can take it and get real excited and slide back or you can take it and say `This means we can play at a really high level' and really embrace that."
Culwell said that's just what she and her teammates intend to do.
"I think the way we worked together shows a lot," she said. "We are already playing at a high level. If we can continue to improve throughout the season, we'll be at a really high level in November and December. It's looking good."
Nold said he and his players are eager to play before the home fans for the first time this season.
"You get different kind of energy being at home," Nold said. "I think there will be a lot of excitement from that. Now it's how we take advantage of it that matters."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: