By (Ben Boynton)

It’ll count the same as any other match on the schedule. For all intents and purposes, Alabama volleyball’s match on the road at Auburn is just another match.

Despite that, this one is different.

“There’s a different energy out there,” redshirt senior middle blocker Krystal Rivers said. “When we’ve played our best, it’s when we’ve had execution and energy and we bring that when we play Auburn.”

Alabama is 13-4 with a 2-2 record in the SEC, and is currently tied for sixth with the Tigers in the conference. The team is wrapping up the last of three straight road matches that currently includes a win over Georgia and a loss to Mississippi State. This is more than just the end of a road stretch though. It’s a match against Auburn, and any time these two schools clash it means more than any other SEC match.

Rivers grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, so she knows a bit more about how intense the rivalry can be.

“It’s huge,” Rivers said. “It’s probably one of the biggest rivalries I’ve ever seen. Playing them has been some of the most exciting matches since I’ve been here.”

Junior libero Natalie Murison grew up in Woodridge, Illinois, so the rivalry didn’t really mean anything until she came to the University. She’s quickly learned how much the competition matters.

“Being a part of it, it’s a lot of fun,” Murison said. “You always expect them to play great against you, so you have to be ready for that. You know the fans are going to be loud, and especially playing there they’re going to have a lot of people, but I just think it’s a fun environment.”

Coach Ed Allen is one person who doesn’t view this match as anything special. All he sees is a team that’s first in the SEC in service aces and digs and presents a tough challenge for his team.

“I guess for the fans it’s a rivalry. For coaches and players I think for the most part it’s another match,” Allen said. “You get wrapped up in all the hoopla of all that, but when it comes right down to it it’s another match that counts one place in the standings.”

This is a rivalry that, at least on the volleyball court, has gone Alabama’s way recently. The Crimson Tide has a five-match winning streak against the Tigers, and hasn’t lost to them since Sept. 23, 2012 in Auburn.

Alabama isn’t coming into this one at its best. Junior outside hitter Kat Hutson remains sidelined indefinitely. In addition, the Crimson Tide is also looking to bounce back from a five set loss to Mississippi State that featured the team’s lowest hitting percentage of the season at .145.

“We weren’t pleased at the level that we played at in either match,” Allen said. “That performance is over, so we take from it the things that have value and the things that we need to work on, and we’re spending this week trying to get better so that when it comes to Auburn we can compete with more intensity.”

Some of the things that the team has spent time in practice on is communicating better, and having a better knowledge of the team’s rotations and positioning on the court. The team is also still working through who will replace Hutson up front.

The Crimson Tide gets to see Auburn again this season on Nov. 9, when the Tigers come to Foster Auditorium. For now, the team is focused on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports