Running a season preview on a team technically after their first couple of matches isn’t exactly ideal, but it’s better than nothing, and just as relevant considering that Auburn volleyball won its first two matches (their second was a 3-0 sweep of Duke) in a season opening tournament in Green Bay, Wisc. They”ll be looking for a third victory, this time again Green Bay, in just under an hour. Their first home match is August 31 against Jacksonville State in the War Eagle Invitational.
Each upperclassman on the Auburn volleyball team knows what’s it like to be successful. They even know what it’s like to make history.
This year’s juni0rs and seniors were all around for the 2010 season — and the first and only NCAA Tournament appearance in the 26-year history of Auburn volleyball.
Now, the Tigers are looking to mimic that same success from two years ago in putting together another 20-win campaign and making it back to the Big Dance.
“Our goal is definitely the NCAA Tournament,” said senior outside hitter Sarah Bullock on Wednesday. “I feel like every single college volleyball team has a goal of making it to the tournament. From there you just win games and progress forward.”
A lot of things have changed for Bullock and her teammates since that 2010 run, however. Former head coach Wade Benson resigned shortly after the 2010 season and new head coach Rick Nold, now in his second year on the Plains, brought in an entirely new staff.
What resulted from the changeover was a transition period for the team, and, ultimately, a rebuilding year in 2011.
“It was a big adjustment for us to get used to his coaching style and how he wants us to play,” said senior right-side hitter Brittney Rhude. “He runs a completely different game than what we had been doing the first two years that we were here. So last season was definitely a learning process for us.”
Players weren’t the only ones that had to go through that learning process. Coach Nold admits that it took time for him and his staff to make the transition, as well.
“In Year One, it was just a matter of, in preseason, trying to figure out what they were about and them trying to figure out what we were about,” Nold said. “It’s just a part of the process. We all wanted to go where we needed to go, but it just takes time.”
Now going into Nold’s second year on the job, players and coaches alike each have a better understanding of each other and what it will take for the Tigers to be successful once again.
“Last year, the first year we had him, it was completely different than what we were used to,” Bullock said. “It was a lot of ups and downs during the season last year, and I felt like that showed.
“But during the spring something happened and we clicked. Rick got us and we got Rick. I feel like that will show this year. We’re a lot smoother, we get each other, we understand what he wants, and he understands what he can ask of us.”
For Bullock and Rhude, playing under a familiar system and coaching style once again will be crucial going into their senior seasons.
“It basically took a solid year for all of us to be on the same page, which was kind of expected coming in with a new coach and a whole new staff,” said Rhude. “But I think everyone has felt good about the preseason so far. It’s good to feel that we finally all understand each other. We know what he expects from us and what we expect from him.”
While players and coaches expect different things from one another off the court, the entire team as a whole knows what to expect of itself in 2012: another run at an NCAA Tournament bid.
“That’s exactly where we need to be,” Nold said. “That’s something that we’re very capable of. There’s a lot that goes into that, and it’s something you’ve got to go after every day, but I think if we do that we have a great chance.”
Nold won’t have to tell that to seniors like Bullock and Rhude. They already know what it takes to get there — and how badly they want to get back.
“It’s going to take a lot of work,” Rhude said. “We worked really, really hard that year we made it. We had a really good preseason this year. We know what our strengths are and we know what our weaknesses are, and we know what we need to work on.
“It is an attainable goal, but it’s something we’re going to have to work at a lot this season if we want it to work. I feel like after preseason we’re headed in the right direction, but there’s no room for error.”
For a senior class that’s already been a part of history and left its mark on the university, a second trip to the NCAA Tournament would only make their curtain call that much sweeter.
But in their final year, there isn’t much time left for transitioning, adjusting, or rebuilding.
Like Rhude said, there’s no room for error.
Photo via Melissa Hazeldine.
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