Friday night’s victory over previously-unbeaten South Carolina was undoubtedly the biggest of the season thus far for the Auburn volleyball team.
The Tigers opened their Southeastern Conference home slate with a bang by upsetting the Gamecocks 3-1 (25-27, 25-16, 25-18, 25-22), lifting Auburn’s overall record to 11-2 on year, 2-1 in SEC play.
But regardless of records and standings, Friday night’s matchup won’t be able to compare in importance to today’s contest.
That’s because the Tigers are taking on the Alabama Crimson Tide today at 1:30 p.m. at the Student Act Center. Admission to this year’s volleyball version of the Iron Bowl is free.
For two players on the Auburn volleyball team, today’s match has even more meaning beyond the usual clash of Tigers and Tide.
The Wintzinger sisters, Chelsea and Lindsey, come from a high school volleyball dynasty at Huntsville High, where the Panthers have won nine of the last ten 6A state championships in the sport. Their father, Roland, swam for Alabama. They had an uncle that ran track for Alabama. And their older sister, Lauren, used to play volleyball for the Tide.
Chelsea broke with tradition two years ago, when the junior setter decided that she would instead suit up in orange and blue during her collegiate career.
“It’s always exciting,” Chelsea said last week of today’s contest. “I grew up as a Bama fan, so I’m excited to go out there and play the best that we can. We’re going to prepare well for them. It’s going to be a fun match.”
Chelsea was committed to Alabama through most of high school, committing during her sophomore year before switching her commitment to Auburn during her senior season.
The reason she decided to switch? Pharmacy school.
“Auburn was the number one choice,” Chelsea said. “Alabama doesn’t have a pharmacy school. My career was pretty important to me, so I came here on a visit, loved the team, loved the coaches.”
After big sister made her way to the Plains, Lindsey, a freshman walk-on setter, wasn’t far behind.
“I’m really close to her, and she was a big part of my decision to come here,” Lindsey said. “It was kind of a late decision. I decided before the summer.”
Auburn volleyball head coach Rick Nold knows that there’s going to be plenty of bragging rights on the line in the Wintzinger household during today’s match.
“Maybe it has a little extra for them, just having a little history,” Nold said. “You’ve got the other sister that played at Alabama, and you can go down the line. And at one point, Chelsea was going to be going to Alabama. You have a lot there. “
But you don’t have to have family on either side or even be from the state of Alabama to understand the Heart of Dixie’s most beloved hate. Redshirt junior blocker Courtney McDonald has seen three years’ worth of the rivalry.
“It’s natural, just because it’s Auburn and Alabama of course,” McDonald said. “But we always see SEC games as ‘Everyone is our rival.’ We want to win every game. But it’s a special push when we play Alabama.”
After a grueling out-of-conference tournament schedule to start the season, the Tigers are now three games into the SEC slate, with today’s match marking Auburn’s second home SEC game of the year after Friday night’s win.
“We’re excited to finally play at home for SEC’s,” McDonald said. “We’re getting pumped up because we get to have our own crowd, which should be really nice because football is here this weekend. From preseason, we’ve just been working every day and getting better because we still have not played our best, and that’s what feels so awesome, because we’re not there yet, but we can be.
“As long as we keep working, we can get there.”
The fact that today’s match is against Alabama (12-3, 1-2 SEC) isn’t going to hurt attendance numbers.
“It’s probably as much for the fans as it is for the team,” Nold said. “Obviously, we want to have the mindset for anybody we go play, but I do know there’s a lot more interest in the game. And that’s fine, that’s part of it. The excitement of that helps us a lot. The crowd is really important to us. I’ll take every bit of it we can get.”
For one particular family from Huntsville, there’s sure to be plenty of interest at first serve this afternoon.
“My dad, he’s still a Bama fan at heart,” Chelsea joked. “Sometimes he wears his Bama shirt underneath his Auburn shirt because he says it’s closer to his heart, and I’m like, ‘You’re so weird.’
“But he’ll cheer for us, for sure.”
And as for pharmacy school? Chelsea was accepted last week.
TWER photo by Abby King.
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