The Auburn volleyball team will open their season Wednesday, October 21 at 7 p.m. when they host the Florida Gators. The Tigers and Gators also square off on Thursday evening at 7 p.m. These two matches are the first of eight SEC matches this fall for Auburn and the rest of the league. This will also mark the beginning of the Brent Crouch era. Crouch comes to the plains after a two year stint at USC, where he guided the Trojans to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.
Auburn returns several key contributors from last year's squad. Each player among Auburn's probable starting seven played in at least 47 sets a year ago. Three of them (Bella Rosenthal, Payton White, and Tatum Shipes) played in all 103 sets for the Tigers last season. The likely starters for the Tigers are Shipes and Lily Thomason at outside hitter, Marissa Hines at setter, Jaeden Brown and Chesney McClellan at middle blocker, and White and Rosenthal at libero/defense specialist. Hines, a junior, averaged 7.51 assists/set last season which is the seventh best mark in program history. Last year Hines played in tandem with the now graduated Morgan Kull at setter. This year Hines will be called upon to play an increased role while also mentoring freshman setter Jackie Barrett. Shipes, another junior, has recorded 416 kills in her first two years on the plains. She is also the active career leader in double-doubles with six. Rosenthal, yet another junior, led all SEC sophomores a year ago averaging 3.93 digs/set during SEC play. White, Brown, and McClellan are all seniors. McClellan led Auburn last season with a .216 hitting percentage, while her fellow middle blocker Brown led the Tigers with 0.84 blocks/set. White has recorded 658 career digs and set the Auburn record for digs in a match when she recorded 37 last season against Butler.
Florida enters the match as the number four team in the nation. Last season Florida posted a 16-2 mark in conference play, which was good enough to finish tied atop the league standings. Thayer Hall is one of the top players in the nation at outside hitter for the Gators. Marlie Monserez will start at setter for the Gators. Senior Paige Hammons was an All-SEC performer like Hall last season for the Gators. Lauren Dooley (6'6") and Holly Carlton (6'7") give the Gators a decided height advantage at the net. Riley Fischer and Paula Cerame provide the Gators with experience on the backline.
Florida leads the series 49-2 against the Tigers. The Gators have won the last six matches between the two teams with Auburn's last win coming in 2015. The match can be heard on WEGL 91.1 FM.
Auburn football wasn't the Auburn team in action on Saturday. Auburn women’s basketball was back in action for its second game of the season, notching its second win in a close one, 66-64 over Samford.