Auburn volleyball coach says ‘buy-in’ through the roof for his youngest team

AUBURN, Alabama – The Auburn team that was struggling more than any other prior to a coaching change is now showing multiple signs of progress under the direction of Brent Crouch. If Auburn’s upbeat volleyball head coach is correct, better days are coming for the Tigers, both in the short-run and long-term.

Making the move to Auburn to take over a team that finished 7-22 overall and 1-17 in the SEC in 2019, his timing for the move wasn’t ideal with all of the restrictions in place his first season due to the pandemic protocols that limited the coaching staff’s ability to interact with their players as well as recruit new ones.

After wrapping up a busy 2022 summer camp season the Tigers are preparing to open their 2022 scheduled on August 26th at a four-team event in Atlanta.

Crouch said that he is excited about seeing what the Tigers can do after improving their record 13-15 overall last year and 5-13 in the SEC. To make that happen the team will need plenty of help from the freshmen, who hold seven of the 13 roster spots.

“Camps are really the last thing we haven’t done since we have been here,” Crouch said of the events that drew hundreds of volleyball players to Neville Arena this summer to work with the Auburn staff. “It feels like our hands are untied, but it also feels like a new beginning for me and our program.”

His comment about a new beginning makes perfect sense. “This is the youngest team I have ever coached,” Crouch pointed out. “The closest to this is my first year as a head coach at the University of Portland that had a large freshman class when I got hired in January and I worked with them in the spring. They were sophomores that first fall.

“It was what you expect when you have got young people – a lot of energy, a lot of emotions, everything is new all of the time. It is lots of fun, but also there is a range of emotions. They want to do well right away, but they are going to have their ups and downs. Learning how to deal with that will be the big challenge and it is exciting.”

After making the move to Auburn from Southern Cal, saying Crouch took over a team with a shortage of talent would not only be true, it would be an understatement. He admitted that his initial season at Auburn, which he calls the “covid year,” the focus was “just survival.” However, that has changed.

“The talent is good and I think they know that,” he said about his current players. “They have expectations and managing those in their first year will be my job because it is a four-year haul for them. They are going to be so much better in November than they are in September.

“In terms of just pure athleticism, height and physicality, we are going to have six-foot-six in the middle, 6-3 on the outside, and 6-2 and 6-2. The overall height will be better, the speed will be better, the power will be better. All of this is really high level.

“There are some players on the team that could be on any team in the country,” the coach said. “I really believe that. It is just how fast can they get acclimated, how fast can they learn? You just can’t take shortcuts–it takes as many days as it takes.”

A goal for the 2022 season is to finish with a winning overall record and continue the team’s overall progress as a program. “Last year I think the players did the best they could do given where they were in their development,” the coach said. “I thought there was a lot of progress overall in the program with the culture, the expectations and the buy-in. I?thought we took a big step forward with that. The buy-in now is through the roof. I couldn’t want it to be any higher.

“These are players who have been with the program two or three years, who know what the expectations are and why we are doing things and are into it, or freshmen who bought this themselves when they accepted my (scholarship) offer two years ago. It just feels like a fresh start, but a start with a really good foundation.”

The foundation includes some potential immediate difference-makers in the freshman class such as six-foot-six middle blocker Kendal Kemp, 6-3 Akasha Anderson, 6-2 Bel Zimmerman and 6-1 Madison Scheer along with 5-8 libero Sarah Morton . Among the returning players, 6-0 senior Rekekah Rath is expected to be a team leader after a strong 2021 season.

Asked what would make him a happy coach when the 2022 season is completed, Crouch said, “The number one thing would be that there is a substantial improvement in their skills and that they love volleyball more than they do now. If we have those two things the wins are going to take care of themselves.”

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