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Auburn volleyball beats Alabama, takes top spot in SEC West standings

The Tigers defeated Alabama 3 sets to 1 on Sunday in front of the third-largest volleyball crowd in Auburn history.

Last weekend’s huge home series against South Carolina and Alabama presented big problems to an Auburn volleyball team just settling in to Southeastern Conference play. But, as documented going in, a pair of matchups against the then-undefeated Gamecocks and archrival Alabama also provided plenty of opportunities.

This time, the Tigers took full advantage.

On Friday night, Auburn pounded the Gamecocks for three straight sets after dropping the match-opener, handing South Carolina its first loss of the season, 3-1 (25-27, 25-16, 25-18, 25-22).

The Tigers kept thier groove going throughSunday afternoon, when they bested the Crimson Tide, 3-1 (25-19, 23-25, 25-21, 25-18), marking volleyball’s sixth straight victory over Alabama.

Those two big wins lifted Auburn’s record to 12-2 overall and 3-1 in conference play, which is good enough for the top spot in the current SEC West standings.

“We know we’ve got a good group, and we knew coming in that it was going to be a big weekend,” said Auburn volleyball head coach Rick Nold.

Senior Sarah Bullock and junior Katherine Culwell each laid down double-doubles in each of the weekend’s matches — Bullock finishing with 20 kills and 13 digs against South Carolina before going 16-and-15 against Alabama, and Culwell finishing 19-and-12 against South Carolina before recording 14-and-13 against Alabama.

Junior Camila Jersonsky also put away 10 kills against South Carolina and 12 kills against Alabama.

“I was really impressed with how we learned the gameplan on each team and adjusted as we went through the match,” Nold said. “I thought the difference was probably when they started getting some runs when we struggled in serve-receive, we kind of took care of that part and we were able to get our offense going.

“But both were great teams coming in here, so getting two wins is a big bonus.”

Bullock’s 10th dig in the Alabama match was also the 1,000th her career. After putting away her 1,000th career kill earlier this season, Bullock has become just the fifth player in Auburn volleyball history to record 1,000+ kills and 1,000+ digs over the course of a career.

This weekend, Bullock led the team in kills (and in digs among players not lined up at libero) in both matches, all in her first action since leaving the Texas A&M game with an injury on Sept. 16.

“She’s a great all-around player,” Nold said. “We rely a lot on her. She can help the team in so many ways. That’s just something that, when we come out here — to have somebody that we’re confident to go to in any situation, it’s a big bonus.”

Bullock now stands with 1,059 career kills and 1,005 career digs.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s win over Alabama drew 1,146 fans to the Student Activities Center, the third-biggest volleyball crowd in Auburn history.

“It’s huge,” Nold said of the fan support. “That has a big impact on our result. We really appreciate everybody coming out here and we hope they keep coming.”

Auburn will be without its home-court advantage for this weekend, however, as the Tigers travel to take on Arkansas in Fayetteville on Friday night and Kentucky in Lexington on Sunday afternoon.

The Razorbacks are coming off of a 3-0 sweep of Georgia Sunday afternoon, while Kentucky will be coming off of a nationally-televised tilt with No. 25 Tennessee by the time the Tigers roll into town this Sunday.

“We’re trying to get better each game,” Nold said. “We’ve got a lot of improvement that we can still do. All of the teams are probably the same way. So it’s a matter of the kids being focused to come out and keep working each week.

“We make those improvements and obviously we’re going to see good results.”

Photos: Justin Lee.

Related: California volleyball standout commits to Auburn by painting AU on her tortoise.

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