Thursday, 23 March 2023

International Volleyball

After surprisingly successful 2022, young Auburn excited for future

After surprisingly successful 2022, young Auburn excited for future

Brent Crouch was fully prepared for a season of uncertainty this past fall. So it was easy for Auburn’s third-year coach to remember the moment when he realized his team was going to be better than he — and possibly anyone else — could have imagined.

It wasn’t a match or even a set that stood out.

It was one point.

Auburn played Mississippi State in its third SEC match — it followed two wins over a rebuilding Alabama squad — and State was an NCAA Tournament team the season before. In the first set, Auburn junior setter Jackie Barrett provided freshman outside hitter Madison Scheer with a perfect “go” ball, which Scheer promptly smashed over the block for a point.

“I remember the exact ball, the exact swing for Madison,” Crouch said, “and I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to be OK.’ ”

Crouch hardly could be blamed if he had trepidations about his 2022 squad which ended up with the most program victories in the rally scoring era. There’s rebuilding and then there’s starting from scratch. The latter is what Crouch essentially faced with last season’s team. What’s more, Auburn was picked by the coaches to finish 12th in the 13-team league and none of his players made the preseason all-conference team.

His roster featured two juniors, and only one, Barrett, had significant experience in Auburn’s program. (The other, Chelsey Harmon, appeared in 33 matches for Portland over the previous two seasons.) The rest of the roster consisted of two sophomores — with a combined 43 matches of college experience — one redshirt freshman and seven true freshmen.

There was little indication this group would wind up in the NCAA Tournament, much less knock off Creighton in the first round on the Bluejays’ home floor.

“At no point in the preseason could I have predicted where we would be at the end,” Crouch said. “The first week (of the season), we were squeaking out two-point wins over Georgia State and Belmont, programs that are just not on the same level as Creighton. There’s no way I would have thought we would have been at that level at the end.

“Such a testament to them, working really, really hard.”

The backbone of Auburn’s unexpected success — the Tigers went 22-9 overall and 10-8 in the SEC — was the freshman class. Three of them, Scheer, outside hitter Akasha Anderson and middle blocker Kendall Kemp, earned spots on the conference all-freshman team, and Anderson earned All-SEC recognition.

Kemp, a 6-foot-6…

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