The Auburn Tigers remain an undefeated volleyball team entering Friday and Saturday’s contests at home, leaping out to a 6-0 record for the first time since 2012. The team will seek to sustain its brilliant start against another group of opponents set to test the team’s mettle this weekend.
Can the Tigers keep it up and maintain their hottest start in nine years, or will they finally drop a match against a new wave of challengers? Let’s look at the matchups and storylines that could dictate wins and losses during the upcoming home stand.
Auburn vs Florida A&M
Sept. 17 at Auburn Arena, 12:30 PM CST
Auburn enters this match riding high off of a 3-2 victory against Santa Clara on Sept. 12. The Tigers are the only remaining unbeaten team in the SEC outside of Ole Miss, who stand at 9-0 on the year.
Bella Rosenthall in particular is coming off of a fantastic set of outings, with her conference-leading 5.45 digs per set average garnering SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors. The senior libero forms a stalwart defensive tandem with fellow senior Tatum Shipes, who ranks second in the conference in blocks per game.
It’d be remiss to leave transfers Liz Reich and Rebecca Rath out of the discussion. The two newcomers have been key cogs in Auburn’s balanced offense, with Rath leading the team in scoring and Reich ranking second. Rath leads all SEC players in kills per set entering this slate of games.
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The Tigers have also been stingy against opposing attacks, allowing just 13.5 points per set and averaging the third-most blocks and digs per game in the conference. Auburn has allowed the lowest hitting percentage of any SEC team and remains a threat to totally shut down opposing outside hitters with its tenacity and fluid response.
However, the game against Santa Clara showed that the team still has work to do, with the Broncos tallying plenty of points over five sets. Auburn was outscored 84-77 in the match, and will look to reset and return to the formula that’s kept them running hot while pursuing victories Friday and Saturday.
Florida A&M is a high-octane offensive team coming out of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, driven by junior outside hitter Dominique Washington’s scoring prowess (conference best 5.6 points per set). The Rattlers enter the game at 5-4 coming off of a 3-1 road loss against College of Charleston.
Irem Ucar paces the team with a conference-leading 9.7 assists per set, as well as 0.28 service aces per set (tied for eighth in the SWAC). The offense mainly runs through the Ucar-Washington duo, with the next closest scorer almost three points per set behind the team leader.
Defensively, A&M is heavily reliant on the play of Washington and libero Jessica Long, who ranks first and third within the conference in digs per set. If the Rattlers have an evident weakness, it’s their lack of a singular blocking presence down the middle, with no players ranking among the best in the conference in stuffs.
Auburn vs Nicholls
Sept. 3 at Auburn Arena, 8:00 PM CST on SEC Network +
The 6-3 Colonels lead the Southland Conference with a .667 winning percentage. Nicholls boasts an exceptionally evenly distributed attack, with five players averaging over two points per set.
The team’s best overall scoring threat is Aaliyah Burras, who ranks second in points/set, third in kills/set, and first in hitting percentage in the conference. The athletic 6-foot senior also leads the Colonels with 0.81 blocks/set.
Nicholls stacks up as a team that will spread the floor and test Auburn’s offensive creativity. The versatility of attack options provided to setter Lily Bivens (third in Southland in assists/set) coupled with an imposing presence down the middle via Burras and S’mara Riley (25 and 23 blocks, respectively) make them a difficult opponent for the Tigers to face down.
Auburn vs Belmont
Sept. 18 at Auburn Arena, 1:30 PM CST on SEC Network +
The Bruins enter the weekend at 2-5, standing eighth in the Ohio Valley Conference. Belmont has struggled after beginning the season 2-0, losing five straight.
The Bruins hope to end a skid where they’ve won just two sets over five contests behind the play of 6’1” senior Taylor Floyd, who ranks tenth in the OVC in kills, tenth in hitting percentage, and sixth in points. Floyd is an all-around scoring threat, even managing four service aces in a game against North Alabama on Sept. 3.
Belmont will hope to see its scoring and defense improve outside of its star senior. The team has conceded a .229 hitting percentage while posting a .195 hitting percentage of their own, along with allowing a dismal 330 kills in just 24 sets.
The Bruins enter this contest 1-8 against the SEC, with their only victory coming against Mississippi State 3-0 in 2013. In its last contest against an SEC opponent, Belmont lost 3-0 to Tennessee in 2018.
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