AUBURN – First-year head coach Rick Nold and his staff welcomed the Auburn volleyball team back to campus on Sunday, and the first practices of the 2011 preseason got underway on Monday at the Student Activities Center.
The Tigers took physicals, had their first team meeting and gathered for a team meal on Sunday before beginning practice on Monday. After another meeting and fitness testing in the morning, the team went through a three-hour workout Monday afternoon, and Nold was pleased with what he saw.
"I told them in the first practice that we wanted to see some energy, and I think we saw that," he said. "We're trying to introduce some new concepts and it's going to take some time, but that's just part of the first few days. But I'm happy overall."
The team was a bit shorthanded for the opening day with only 11 of 14 players available. Among those unable to attend was sophomore Camila Jersonsky, who is competing with the Argentinian Senior National Team at the FIVB World Grand Prix. She will be with her national team throughout most of August and will rejoin the Tigers later in the month.
"We've obviously got a lot of people playing in different positions," Nold said. "But it gets (the whole team) a lot more touches and keeps them involved. They're not sitting over on the side, so we made sure they stayed warm."
Nold, joined by first-year assistants Eysha Ambler and Floyd Deaton, begins his initial year as the Tigers' head coach after spending the previous nine seasons at Jacksonville State. In his time with the Gamecocks, he compiled a 172-98 overall record and made three appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Ambler, a former assistant under Nold at Jacksonville State from 2002-04, spent the previous two years as an assistant at Pittsburgh. Deaton comes to Auburn after a 20-year stint as head coach at Xavier.
Auburn returns four starters and 12 letterwinners from a 2010 team that finished 21-13 overall, 11-9 in SEC play, and made the school's first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. It marked the seventh 20-win season in Auburn history, the first since 1998. The Tigers' 11 SEC wins also tied a program-best, and the team's win over then-No. 24 Kentucky on Sept. 24 was the program's first over a nationally ranked opponent.
Among the Tigers' top returnees are junior outside hitter Sarah Bullock, who led the team with 354 kills in 2010, and senior setter Christina Solverson, who recorded 740 assists last season to pace the squad. Jersonsky was the team leader in attack percentage last season at .354 (157 kills, 311 attacks, 47 errors). The squad features one newcomer, freshman middle blocker Claire Ham (Newport Coast, Calif.).
The Tigers are scheduled to continue two-a-day practices through next Tuesday, Aug. 16, before classes begin on Aug. 17. The 2011 season begins at the Active Ankle Challenge in Gainesville, Fla., on Aug. 26 as the Tigers face North Carolina at 4:30 p.m. CT. Auburn opens its home schedule on Tuesday, Aug. 30, with a 7 p.m. match against Alabama A&M.