AUBURN, Ala. – With success comes an increased expectation for even more success.
While sustained success on the court has been hard to come by for the Auburn volleyball team, Brent Crouch has instilled optimism to a program that has continued to climb the ladder in terms of wins since his arrival at the school in 2020.
His first team lost all eight matches in an abbreviated 2020 season before beginning to chart the course for future success. His 2021 team finished with a 13-15 overall record and improved to 22-9 last season and advanced to the NCAA tournament for just the second time in school history.
Hence the optimism as the new season approaches.
The 2023 season begins for Auburn when they play host to the War Eagle Invitational Aug. 25-26 at Neville Arena on the Auburn campus.
The Tigers open the tournament against Coppin State on the opening day and will play McNeese State and Jacksonville State the following day.
Coppin State, a member of the MEAC, posted a 23-11 overall record in 2022 and won the conference title with a 12-2 mark. It will be the first-ever meeting between the two schools in volleyball. McNeese State finished 13-5 in the Southland Conference last season and ended the year with an 18-16 overall record. The Cowgirls hold a 1-0 advantage in the series with Auburn after defeating the Tigers in straight sets at a 2003 tournament in Ames, Iowa.
Jacksonville State, which begins the season with a new coach in Derek Schroeder, is looking to continue the winning tradition at the school as it begins its first year in Conference USA after finishing with a 24-6 record last season in its final season in the ASUN. Auburn owns an 8-2 all-time record against JSU.
“We don’t want to be a flash in the pan,” said Crouch, who is 35-32 in his short tenure at Auburn. “We want to build something deep, so we’ve got to do it year after year.”
Crouch, and supporters of the Tigers, have every reason to be optimistic for the 2023 season.
The Tigers return all 12 letterwinners from a year ago, including a pair of standout players who should allow help the team to improve on its sixth-place conference finish of a year ago.
Akasha Anderson (6-3, So., OH) and Kendal Kemp (6-6, So., MB) both return to highlight a still young, but experienced Auburn squad. The two standouts capped the 2022 season by being selected to the all-region honors team.
Anderson, the freshman of the year in the South Region, was voted to the all-region team, while Kemp was tabbed as an honorable mention selection.
It took Anderson little time to become a fixture in the Auburn lineup in 2022. She played in all 31 matches (27 starts) and finished the season with 428 kills (.354 kps) and 1,240 kill attempts, all of which were the second-most in a single season in Auburn history. She also ranked fifth in the SEC in total attacks, kills per set, points and points per set and was among the top 10 freshmen in the nation in each of those categories.
A two-time SEC freshman of the week selection, Anderson also earned all-SEC accolades, including being voted to the league’s all-freshman team.
Kemp started all 31 matches for the Tigers last season.
And what a season it was for the newcomer.
She tallied a school record 180 total blocks and ranked second in the SEC and fourth in the nation in that category. Her 1.48 blocks per set established a new Auburn record and ranked second in the conference and 11th in the country. She added school records in solo block (26) and block assists (154). She also posted 204 kills on the season and averaged 1.67 kills per match.
She reached double digits in blocks on three occasions and had a career-high 12 kills in a match against South Carolina.
Kemp, who joined Anderson on the SEC all-freshman team, was chosen the freshman of the week in the SEC for the first time after a 14 kill, 23 block performance at the Panther Invitational last season. She added the award for a second time after posting 18 kills and 12 blocks as Auburn notched back-to-back wins over Texas A&M.
Madison Scheer (6-1, So., OH) also returns after a solid freshman season at Auburn in 2022 that saw he appear in 30 matches (10 starts).
She racked up 361 kills on the season, the fifth-most in a single season at Auburn and her 3.06 kills per set were the eight-most in school history. Scheer had a career-high 22 kills in a five-set win over Jacksonville State in 2022 and tallied 17 kills in a loss to Houston in the NCAA tournament.
She earned freshman of the week in the SEC after an impressive series sweep of Alabama that saw her tally 39 kills in the two matches. She joined Anderson and Kemp on the SEC’s all-freshman team at season’s end.
Couch, the AVCA coach of the year in the region, also welcomes the addition of four transfers who are expected to lend plenty of support to a surging Auburn program.
Bella Bell (6-3, Sr., MB), Kyla Swanson (6-4, Grad., MB) and Peyton Dunn (5-11, R-So., S), along with Paige Thibault (5-6, Jr., L) will all suit up for Auburn for the first time this season. Bell previously played at Kentucky, while Swanson competed at Illinois prior to moving to the Plains. Dunn and Thibault played at Oklahoma and Florida International, respectively.
Crouch, who previously spent time at Portland (2014-17) and Southern California (2018-19) prior to his arrival on the Plains in 2020, owns a 130-123 (.514) career record in nine seasons as a head coach. He led Portland to a 55-66 record while at the school and his USC teams combined for a 40-25 record in his brief stay in Los Angeles.
He has coached six all-region players during his career, and three of his athletes have garnered All-American honors.
AUBURN SCHEDULE – 2023
Aug. 25-26 WAR EAGLE INVITATIONAL
Sept. 2-3 Seminole Invitational
at Tallahassee, Fla.
at Florida State
Sept. 7-8 TIGER INVITATIONAL
Sept. 14-15 Alabama Showdown
at Mobile, Ala.
at South Alabama
Sept. 22 FLORIDA
Sept. 24 OLE MISS
Sept. 27 at Arkansas
Oct. 1 GEORGIA
Oct. 6 at Florida
Oct. 8 at South Carolina
Oct. 13 at Tennessee
Oct. 20 MISSOURI
Oct. 22 SOUTH CAROLINA
Oct. 27 at Georgia
Oct. 29 at Alabama
Nov. 5 at Texas A&M
Nov. 8 KENTUCKY
Nov. 12 at Missouri
Nov. 15 at Mississippi State
Nov. 19 LSU
Nov. 22 ALABAMA
Nov. 24 ARKANSAS
SEC COACHES’ PRESEASON POLL
(First-Place Votes in Parentheses)
1 – Kentucky (10) 142
2 – Florida (2) 129
3 – Tennessee (1) 113
4 – Georgia 106
5 – Arkansas 101
6 – LSU 96
7 – Auburn 89
8 – Texas A&M 63
9 – Mississippi State 42
Ole Miss 42
11 – South Carolina 39
12 – Missouri 30
13 – Alabama 22
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.