Auburn volleyball returned home to Auburn Arena to play the Missouri Tigers and Arkansas Razorbacks in the first home SEC games of the season. Auburn split the games, falling to Missouri 3-2 (22-25, 25-23, 20-25, 27-25, 15-11) and sweeping Arkansas 3-0 (25-23, 25-22, 26-24).
The Missouri match, a back and forth encounter all match, resulted in a heartbreaking loss for the Tigers. The match was controlled by Auburn early on, but Missouri refused to give Auburn any easy sets, fighting hard as the match went on.
The first set started with a strong defensive showing as an Anna Stevenson block set the tone of the match early. Auburn seemed to have a comfortable lead mid-way into the set, but Missouri rallied back and took the lead 17-16. Auburn remained poised and with the help from Stevenson, senior Macy Reece and sophomore Gwyn Jones, the Tigers finished out the set 25-22.
Similar to the first set, Auburn established a lead early in the second set. With continuous defensive and offensive showing from Stevenson and a pair of statement kills from Jones, Auburn was up 10-6, forcing Missouri timeouts.
Then, Missouri sparked a huge run, knotting the set at 17. Missouri’s defense, led by freshman Alyssa Munlyn, who finished 12 total blocks for the night, forced Auburn to commit several errors. Auburn traded points with Missouri, as both teams neared set point, but Missouri eventually edged away from Auburn late to win the set 25-23.
Auburn, full of energy in the third set, built momentum by getting everyone involved. Junior Brenna McIlroy and senior Alexa Filley displayed great leadership by leading the charge of well-executed plays that kept Missouri on their feet. Despite the close second set, Auburn recovered quickly and comfortably took the third set 25-20.
Missouri took control of the match early for the first time to start off the fourth set. Auburn never let the lead get out of hand, as they steadily climbed back into play. Great blocks by Filley and Stevenson along with hustle dives and digs from senior Jesse Earl and freshman Payton White helped Auburn regain control.
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Ultimately, Missouri took advantage of some Auburn errors to take the fourth set 27-25, forcing a fifth set.
Once again, Missouri used their previous momentum to obtain an early lead in the fifth set. Auburn’s defense got better as the set went on, and the Stevenson/Reece duo continued to contribute kills. However, Missouri’s lead ended up being too much as they took the final set 15-11.
The nail-biter match ended in a disappointing result for the Tigers, receiving their first SEC loss of the season.
“We needed to be more consistent throughout the match,” head coach Rick Nold said. “We didn’t take advantage of situations and didn’t make the aggressive plays that would have pushed us to a better result. Missouri took advantage of the opportunities and it hurt us in the end.”
Despite the result, Jones had a career-high 21 kills for the game. Filley finished with 47 assists.
Following the loss, Auburn looked for a redemption win against Arkansas on Sunday. They did just that by sweeping the Razorbacks 3-0.
The Tigers never trailed the Razorbacks for an extended period of time throughout the match, maintaining a lead or a reasonable deficit the entire match.
The first set started with a fairly even sequence, but Auburn mid-way into the set, refusing to look back. Jones and sophomore Shaina White contributed kills to finish out the set 25-23.
In the second set, Auburn built up the momentum and energy that would eventually help them throughout the match. Stevenson had emphatic kills that provided Auburn with momentum that carried throughout the set. The Tigers used her energy to pace themselves, and with unstopping efforts from Jones, the Tigers closed the second set 25-22.
The final set was the closest set of the match. Arkansas freshman Hailey Dirrigl and senior Pilar Victoria seemed determined to save the Razorbacks from a sweep, contributing kills in necessary moments. The two teams traded points well into the 20+ point marks. At 24-23, Auburn seemed to have ended the game with a kill but was challenged for review by Arkansas head coach Jason Watson. The call was overturned, extending the game. Senior Courtney Cable and McIlroy had a kill each to end the set 26-24.
“I’m happy we came out aggressive in the beginning,” said Nold. “We’ve always been a team that plays and puts pressure on people. I think on Friday night we didn’t quite do that like we normally do. We’re going to make mistakes here and there.”
McIlroy led the team with 12 kills for the match with Filley having 35 assists.
Auburn improves to 3-1 in SEC play and 10-3 overall. The Tigers will hit the road for a two-game road trip to face Tennessee on Oct. 4 and Kentucky on Oct. 8.
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