Setting the stage in Foster Auditorium
By Kayla Montgomery | Staff ReporterBy Kayla Montgomery | 10/28/2014 11:29pm
“I remember my first year, there was barely anyone in here,” White said. “As the years went on, we’ve packed Foster out. It’s been awesome to watch us develop and the crowd develop also.”
Save for one five-set loss on its home record, the Crimson Tide has defeated all opponents it has faced in Foster Auditorium and taken a tournament title, drawing largely from the enthusiasm of a crowd. The crowd, surrounds the court during matches and has tripled in size over the last three years.
“I think it’s the toughest place in the SEC to play, maybe even the toughest place in the country to play,” coach Ed Allen said of the team’s home venue. “We’ve got a nice intimate environment where we pack the fans in here and put them on top of you, then you get an exciting rally taking place and they’re explosive and ignite the enthusiasm.”
This will be the second meeting of the two teams this season, with Alabama traveling to College Station earlier this month. In their previous meeting against the Aggies, the Crimson Tide built a 2-1-match lead before falling in five. This meeting, however, will give Alabama the home-court advantage.
“It’s going make a huge difference in the way that we play,” junior setter Sierra Wilson said. “I think any team is more comfortable at home. Our fans are really amazing and impactful in a positive way, so I think that playing at home is a definite plus for us.”
So far this season, the team’s comfort at home as been apparent, as it has lost only two of the first sets in its eight home matches, and, prior to Sunday’s matchup against Arkansas, the Crimson Tide has outhit its opponents by 80 kills on the season.
The home team topped its opponents in other categories as well, hitting a percentage of .253 over its opponents .174. Alabama also tallied 27 more total digs than its opponents and held an eight-ace advantage.
“We have such great fans; they’re almost like an extra person on the court,” Wilson said. “This place gets very loud, so when we fill it up with lots of people, it tends to throw the other team off, and that’s very helpful at crucial moments in the game. If they go back serve at a game point and can’t hear themselves think, that’s definitely a distraction, and most of the time it works out in our favor. We’re blessed to have such great fans here at home to help us.”
Although the Crimson Tide played well away from its home base when it traveled to College Station, with freshman Kat Hutson scoring 27 kills, the team was competing on the road without an integral part of its offense, Krystal Rivers.
Rivers was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week this week after recording a .431 hitting percentage over two wins last week. She is currently second in the SEC in kills, with 366 total, and serving aces, and is first in the league in overall points scored with 435.
“A healthy Krystal Rivers probably changes everything we need to worry about changing,” Allen said of changes the team will make from the last A&M match.
Despite the advantages of Rivers’ return and playing at home, Allen said the match will be competitive, with a balanced attack being paramount to the team’s success.
“We’d like to think that since they beat us, they’re a very talented team,” Allen said. “We would expect that it’s going to challenge us to be everything we’re capable of being.”
As for the crowd, Allen wants to see it rise to the challenge of supporting a talented team as well. Though the fan base has grown tremendously during his tenure, there’s always room for improvement, beginning with student presence.
“We’re still looking to try to get to a place that supports this program like where I left at Tulsa. We had a student base that was pretty extreme,” Allen said. “But, we’re clearly moving in the right direction.”
Though this weekend’s match falls within the University’s fall break, White said she still has confidence that the team’s fans who have supported them so well this season will again be a support system and fuel for the team.
“When they get as excited as we do, it just helps tremendously,” she said. “This is our energy source.”