Auburn Volleyball Opens 2012 Season at Green Bay Tournament

AUBURN, Ala. -- The Auburn Tigers begin the second season under Head Coach Rick Nold as they travel to Green Bay, Wis., for the Green Bay/Country Inn & Suites Tournament. The Tigers will face Central Michigan at 4:30 p.m. Friday, then play a doubleheader Saturday with Drake (10 a.m.) and host Green Bay (7 p.m.). The matches will take place at the Kress Events Center on the UW-Green Bay campus.

Live stats and live video will be available through, and fans on Twitter can follow @AUVolleyball for updates throughout the weekend.

This is the 41st overall season of Auburn volleyball, and the 27th season since the program was reinstated in 1986. The Tigers have an all-time record of 539-547-4 (.496) and an all-time Southeastern Conference mark of 128-251 (.338).

Auburn is coming off a 2011 season in which the Tigers posted an 11-19 overall record with a 5-15 mark in SEC play. The 2012 Tigers return four starters (plus libero) and 10 letter-winners from last year's squad and welcome four newcomers to the team. Auburn has three seniors, seven juniors, one sophomore and three freshmen on this year's club.

The Tigers finished fifth in the SEC's Western Division in 2011 and were picked to claim the same spot this season.

If the trend from the last three years holds true, senior outside hitter Sarah Bullock will be one of the top offensive (and defensive) threats for the Tigers this year. The native of Allen, Texas, comes into the season with 901 career kills (2.75/set), just 99 shy of becoming the 13th all-time member of Auburn's 1,000-Kill Club.

Bullock also has 859 career digs (2.62/set), putting her just 141 away from becoming the ninth player in Auburn history to amass 1,000 digs in a career.

After missing the entire 2011 season with injuries, redshirt junior Katherine Culwell looks to make a comparable impact this season to what she did her first two years on the Plains. In 61 matches in 2009 and 2010, Culwell amassed 350 kills (1.75/set) and was a solid contributor all over the floor. She has 39 career service aces, third among returning players, and led the team with 24 aces as a freshman. She has also posted 66 career blocks (18 solo, 48 assist) and 394 digs (1.97/set) in her first two years of action.

After spending the last 12 years in assistant coaching jobs at Ole Miss, Morehead State and Arkansas, along with a stint working in compliance at Michigan, former Auburn head coach Kris Grunwald returns to the Tiger sideline for his second stint as an assistant coach.

Grunwald was an assistant under Liz Bitzer for four years (1994-97) before taking the reins of the program for the 1998 and 1999 seasons. The Tigers never posted a losing record in Grunwald's six years at Auburn, amassing an overall record of 114-67 (.630) in his previous stint, including the program's only SEC Western Division title in 1996. In his two seasons as head coach, Grunwald led Auburn to a 41-20 mark.

The Tigers have won six of their last eight season-opening matches, dating back to the 2004 season. A loss to eventual NCAA Tournament participant North Carolina last season snapped a two-year winning streak in season-opening matches.

Central Michigan (19-14 overall; 8-8 MAC in 2011) is coming off its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance after capturing the Mid-American Conference Tournament title in 2011. The Chippewas defeated Northern Illinois in five sets in the conference title game to end a 31-year championship drought. CMU fell to seventh-seeded Illinois in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Chippewas return five of six starters plus their primary libero from last season. Sophomore OH Kaitlyn MacIntyre was a Freshman All-MAC selection last year, leading CMU with 409 kills. Junior setter Kelly Maxwell earned a MAC All-Tournament Team nod with 1,314 assists on the year, ranking second in the league and fourth in school history.

Friday will mark just the third all-time meeting between Auburn and Central Michigan. The teams last met Sept. 4, 1992, in Indianapolis at Butler's tournament with the Tigers claiming a 3-1 win (8-15, 15-12, 15-10, 15-13).

CMU won the first meeting between the teams, taking a five-set decision at home in Mt. Pleasant (13-15, 15-11, 13-15, 15-9, 12-15) on Sept. 9, 1987.

Head Coach Tony Sunga will begin his second season at the helm of the Drake Bulldogs after leading the team to a 9-23 overall record (5-13 MVC) in 2011. Drake returns just four letter-winners - all starters - from its 2011 squad and welcomes six newcomers to Des Moines.

Senior outside hitter Bentley Mancini is the leading returning hitter for the Bulldogs as she recorded 236 kills (2.09/set) last season while hitting at a .111 clip. Defensively, junior defensive specialist Sarah Madden leads the returning players with 427 digs (3.50/set) last year, and she was also the team's best server with 22 aces a year ago.

Auburn and Drake have met just once previously in volleyball. The Tigers claimed a 3-1 victory over the Bulldogs on Sept. 9, 2000, at the Colorado State Classic in Fort Collins, Colo.

Green Bay returns 10 players from its 2011 squad that posted an 11-18 overall record (7-9 Horizon League). Head Coach Debbie Kirch is beginning her 16th season at Green Bay and led the Phoenix to the NCAA Tournament in 2003.

Senior libero Brittany Groth leads the way defensively for Green Bay after earning all-conference honors last year, averaging 5.78 digs/set to rank ninth in the NCAA. Senior outside hitter Carmer Leitermann (320 kills in 2011) and junior setter Leah Poel (1,210 assists in 2011) are also among the players to watch for the Phoenix.

Saturday will be the second all-time meeting between Auburn and Green Bay. The two teams last met Sept. 4, 1998, at the Western Michigan Invitational in Kalamazoo, Mich., with Auburn claiming a 3-0 win (15-12, 15-3, 15-5).

Auburn will play a single match at Troy on Tuesday, Aug. 28, with first serve set for 7 p.m. The Tigers will then play host to the War Eagle Invitational Aug. 31-Sept. 1 at the Student Activities Center with High Point, Georgia Southern and Jacksonville State slated to join Auburn for the two-day event.