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Monday, Sep 25, 2023 | Latest Print Edition

Newcomers set to be difference-makers for Auburn volleyball in upcoming season

Auburn volleyball is ready to start with a clean slate, as the Tigers face Belmont this Friday in the first game of the Georgia State Tournament in Atlanta. 

After an experience-filled front row graduated following the 2021 season, this year will showcase a talented freshman class experiencing their first taste of college competition while attempting to gel with the upperclassmen remaining from last year’s roster.  

In review, the Tigers’ 2021 season had its ups and downs. 

The team started off strong, going 6-0 until its first loss to Florida A&M at home. However, the road became rocky once the Tigers hit the conference part of the schedule, finishing the year with a 5-13 conference record. Auburn performed well at home with a 11-7 home record, but faltered in road games with a 2-8 away record. 

On the other hand, there were some bright spots in the 2021 campaign. 

The introduction of transfer Rebekah Rath, now the sole senior on the 2022 roster, was an instant success, with Rath leading the team in kills (438) in 2021. No. 7 is bringing back experience and leadership for the 2022 season.

Before the start of the official schedule, Auburn put on an inter-squad scrimmage open to fans on Sunday, August 21. With the roster split into the blue team and the orange team, fans were able to get a glimpse into what the squad looks like ahead of the season. 

A few of the freshmen and a new transfer instantly stood out to be players to watch this year. After seniors Tatum Shipes and Elif Yavuz graduated, a focus for the 2022 signing class was finding middle blockers. 

Freshman Kendal Kemp, standing at 6-foot-6, showcased her blocking talents early in the scrimmage. Junior transfer Chelsey Harmon, who stands at 6-foot-3, also joined in on the blocking showcase, proving that the middle blocker position is in good hands for the upcoming season. 

With the graduation of seniors Liz Reich and Val Green, Rath was the only starting pin hitter remaining on the roster. This was also an area in which Auburn volleyball was intently recruiting. 

With the 2022 pin hitter additions of Madison Scheer, Akasha Anderson, Bel Zimmerman and Sydney Handel, there are plenty of new faces to receive some repetitions when it comes to game time. Scheer looked strong on the outside while Anderson seemed to excel from the right side. Zimmerman and Handel also had some good looks from the front row, but their back row attacks were extremely effective in the Sunday scrimmage. 

Overall, there will be some good things to look forward to this season. Individually, each player is talented and the freshman class definitely added some much-needed height to the front row. 

The new additions to the back row in defensive specialists Zoe Slaughter and Sarah Morton are set to help out returning sophomore Fallan Lanham for seasons to come. The defensive effort overall looked spectacular, with Lanham almost sliding into the bleachers at one point during a dig attempt and other players not being afraid to put their bodies on the line to keep the ball up.

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There were also some things that need a little work to improve in the coming weeks.

With many newcomers, cohesiveness among the team is a concern. The connection between the setters and hitters was a little off on Sunday, but the scrimmage is a good time to figure out those communication issues. 

The Auburn setters were putting up opportunities for most everybody, but the timing was off on most occasions, resulting in a hitting error or a weak hit. However, this connection will most likely improve with more practice. 

Serving and serve receive also looked a little shaky at first but steadily improved throughout the scrimmage. 

With its matchup against Belmont scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. CST, Auburn has a chance to set the tone as to how this season will play out. Viewers can catch their first look at the 2022 Tigers when their matchup against Georgia State, also on Friday, airs on ESPN+ at 6 p.m. CST. 

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