June 25, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN - The first thing that stands out about third-year Auburn volleyball coach Rick Nold is his enthusiasm for the game his mother taught him when he was a little boy, for his team that returns seven seniors, for his program and for Auburn.
"Championships," Nold says. "Obviously, we want to win championships."
And Nold sees signs pointing strongly in that direction.
Since its inception, the Auburn volleyball team has been playing in the cramped Student Activities Center. In the coming season, most games will played in plush surroundings of Auburn Arena. Other facilities improvements are also in the works.
Since the first varsity Auburn team took the court in 1986, Tiger volleyball has faced a rough ride. The 1996 team shared the SEC West Division championship. The 2010 team made the program's only NCAA Tournament appearance, but it was the only team in the past 13 years to have a winning Southeastern Conference record. The 2001 and 2002 teams combined to go 2-53 overall and 0-31 in the SEC.
Nold moved from Jacksonville State in 2011 to take over the Auburn program. His first team was 11-19 overall and 5-15 in the SEC. Last season, the Tigers improved to 17-13 and 8-12.
Moving games out of the shadowy Student Activities Center and into three-year-old Auburn Arena, Nold says, will be another big step.
"There are some recruits we never took over there," Nold says. "We didn't even show our facility. It was a football weekend, and we made it more of a personal thing. We didn't even set foot in there."
That will change in the coming season.
"Just being able to be there and take a recruit in will mean a lot," Nold says. "The last 10 years the program hasn't had a lot of success with the exception of 2010. I think that kind of showed what you can do."
The Tigers had some shining moments last season had finished in the top 50 in RPI rankings. But they couldn't get the big s wins when they needed them most.
"We had our chances to make the tournament," Nold says. "There were so many matches if we'd just what I consider playing well it would have been a different season."
Nold built Jacksonville State into a power in nine seasons head coach, taking the Gamecocks to the only three NCAA Tournaments in their history. Even then, he had his eye on Auburn.
"I tried to come to Auburn three or four years ago," Nold says. "Being in the state and having been down here a number of times, I could see what Auburn had to offer. When I came for my interview, there was just a sense about it. It felt like family. It's an easy place to sell."
Nold started playing volleyball as a little boy in his hometown of Louisville. While attending the University of Louisville, he later played on club teams before becoming an assistant at Assumption High School, and later an assistant at his alma mater before taking over the Jacksonville State program.
He aims to do at Auburn what he did at Jacksonville State and more. He's convinced that, as the wins come, so will the fans.
"What I get back from fans is, when they come to a volleyball match, it's an exciting sport," Nold says. "There is a lot of pace to it. Points are being scored. When we get people to come, they typically want to come back. Moving to the arena where we'll be right in the middle of a lot of student areas, I think we'll get more interest.
"We've had a lot of high-level recruits very interested in us. That tells me what we can do here."
But the first priority is the season that begins in September.
"Transitions are all different," Nold says. "The situation with the team is it took a while for us to get comfortable with each other and trusting each other. Trust is an important thing with any team. We started to see a lot of headway being made with last season. We made a lot of improvements.
"We had a good spring. We made some improvements in some areas I think will have a lot of impact. We have a group of seniors that came in together and some that redshirted. We have a huge group of them that have had a lot of different experiences while they've been here. I think they'll be ready to go."