AUBURN, Ala.- After earning its first top 25 ranking in program history, Auburn looked to remain undefeated, welcoming in the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders to Neville Arena for game one of the Tiger Invitational.
Auburn, however, would be without the team leader in kills, Akasha Anderson, who was sidelined by an illness.
After taking the opening set 25-22, the Tigers offense stalled out, scoring only 15 points and dropping the second set. Auburn struggled with service errors, committing 16, while only picking up two service aces. The Blue Raiders would go on to win two more tight sets to hand Auburn its first loss of the season.
Auburn did miss Akasha Anderson, as the hitting percentage was down all night, finishing at .221, the Tigers season low. Failure to convert on attacking opportunities along with a few late service errors was the nail in the coffin for the Tigers.
From a positive standpoint, the Tigers would look to build upon strong performances from Kyla Swanson, who finished with nine kills on .333 hitting percentage, and Jackie Barrett, who racked up 39 assists and 10 digs.
Auburn would not dwell on the defeat for long however, as they faced the Charleston Southern Buccaneers on Friday night.
The Tigers would play this one without another key piece, as middle blocker Bella Bell was also ruled out, alongside Akasha Anderson.
“It’s going to have to be a team effort,” said Auburn head coach Brent Crouch. “We want to distribute the ball evenly as much as we can. We have good hitters at all positions.” The Tigers were able to execute that game plan almost to perfection.
After dropping a close first set, the Tigers came back with a heavy dose of Bel Zimmerman, Madison Scheer, and Kendal Kemp to take the victory in four sets.
Auburn’s balanced attack featuring Zimmerman, Scheer, and Kemp could not be stopped, as the sophomore trio finished with 17, 15, and 13 kills respectively.
“It’s really not for the stats for me, it’s more for the win, and that we did it with a couple players out,” said sophomore pin hitter Bel Zimmerman. “It’s a lot of fun having a deep team ready to go on the court.”
Another quick turnaround for the Tigers, as they took on the Mercer Bears in the final game of the Tiger Invitational. A Team performance was once again on the mind of Coach Crouch.
“This depth is something we haven’t had, really since I’ve been here,” said Crouch. “If we would’ve had two injuries to two starters last year it would’ve been devastating to us with only 12 people on the roster, but this year at 18 we can handle a few injuries.”
Auburn certainly started right where they left off, starting the first set on a 7-0 run en route to taking the set 25-15. It was more of the same from that point on as the Tigers rolled to a 3-0 sweep of the Mercer Bears, winning set two 25-20, and taking the final set by a score of 25-11.
The offensive attack was on display again, as Auburn finished with an impressive hitting percentage of .346, their best of the weekend. A number of Tigers were in on the offense, highlighted once again by Bel Zimmerman’s 14 kills.
The defense was also firing on all cylinders, causing Mercer to finish with an eye popping -0.053 hitting percentage. The presence of the Tigers middle blocker Kendal Kemp at the net was too much for Mercer to overcome, with Kemp totaling seven of the Tigers 11 blocks.
Up next for the Tigers is a trip to Mobile, Alabama to compete in the Alabama Showdown this weekend. The Tigers will look to finish off the non-conference slate strong as they take on South Alabama, UAB, and Samford.