In a Saturday afternoon matchup to open its Iron Bowl weekend, Auburn volleyball clinched a victory in its SEC opener, the first time to do so since 2017. The Tigers took down rival Alabama in a 3-1 win (26-28, 25-22, 25-15, 25-15).
This victory keeps the Tigers undefeated, now sitting at 12-0 through the beginning of their season.
After taking some time to find some momentum in the first, with the help of an early timeout from head coach Brent Crouch, the Tigers were able to reset and battle back to pull off the win.
“I thought we came out with some nerves, which wasn’t really surprising. With so many young players and it being their first SEC match on the road against our rival Alabama, I knew there would be nerves. They have a really good spin server but the reason we were down a bit early was how nervous we were. We settled down well, though, and had a chance to win that first set.
Following the reset from their coach, the Tigers defense kicked it into full gear, adding a pancake from junior Jackie Barrett and a pair of blocks from junior Chelsey Harmon and freshman Bell Zimmerman. Offensively, freshman Madison Scheer led the way with eight kills on .500 hitting. Zimmerman and another freshman, Akasha Anderson, were close behind, adding four kills each.
“As we got more and more comfortable, I thought everyone was able to settle down and play their way into the match,” said head coach Brent Crouch. “To win those last two sets, 25-15 wasn’t necessarily what I was expecting but it was nice to see, especially on the defensive side of the ball.”
At the end of the first, the Tigers fought off two set points to tie the score at 24. After a back-and-forth battle, Alabama eventually took the set but Auburn left with undeniable momentum that would continue into the second.
As Auburn turned up the heat in set two, Harmon was right in the middle of the action, claiming six blocks by the end of the set. Scheer followed close behind, with four more blocks to keep the Tide at bay. Auburn was able to keep Alabama to just .071 hitting, while the Tigers claimed a .278 effort to take the second.
The Tiger offense continued to thrive in the third. Anderson and Scheer showed no mercy as they reached the 14-kill mark before the end of the third. The Tiger’s back row was also battling to give their hitters everything they could. Freshmen Zoe Slaughter and Sarah Morton were able to get into double-figure digs. Slaughter was able to claim a new career-high with 22 digs.
“Zoe is amazing. She just reads the play so well. A bunch of her digs weren’t off hard-driven balls. She made a ton of those plays too but she was reading the shots really well, picking up tips, cuts and rolls," Crouch said. "That’s about seeing and understanding the game. She has free rein to go where she thinks the ball is going to go."
Anderson got in on the big performances as well, logging her second double-double with 16 kills and 15 digs. In the end, the performances of the Tiger offense and strong back row were too much for the Tide, as Auburn took the third and the lead.
In the fourth, the Tigers were ready for a win. Scheer, Anderson, Kemp, Barrett, and Zimmerman all came together as Auburn accumulated 7.5 blocks in the final set of the day.
“I knew we would have a good opportunity to get some blocks today. Their offense is not the fastest tempo and gives us a little time to get set up," Crouch said. "I thought there were blocks we left on the table early on. Our timing wasn’t quite there but we made some nice adjustments and it really made a difference.”
The Tigers will continue the weekend on Sunday as they take on the Tide again, this time at 1 p.m. CST. The matchup will air on the SEC Network.
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Alexa Gardner is a junior at Auburn, majoring in exercise science. From Birmingham, Alabama, she started with The Plainsman in fall 2022.