Looking at the big picture for AU’s college sports year, the women did better than the men, but overall it is fair to say it was a disappointing 2020-21 season for Auburn University athletics.
Both the best results and the worst results came from women’s teams. At the top of the list are the equestrian Tigers and Coach Melissa Luellen’s women’s golfers. Each won an SEC team championship, the only two AU groups to do that, and each reached the quarter-finals at their national tournaments.
The women’s golfers, who advanced to the semi-finals in the previous NCAA Tournament (held in 2019) were hoping to reach the finals and win the program’s first national championship last week. Although that didn’t happen, look for more good things from this team next season and beyond that.
Coach Greg Williams and his assistants, Jessica Braswell and Mary Meneely, also have the equestrian program performing at a very high level. The Tigers won 42 consecutive matches and back-to-back national championships before being upset by Baylor at the national meet for their only loss of the 2020-21 season.
At the other extreme the women’s basketball team finished 0-15 in the SEC during the worst season in program history. That led to Terri Williams-Flournoy being replaced by Johnnie Harris, who has a major rebuilding job to handle.
Another women’s team that had an awful season, swimming and diving, will be under new leadership with former Auburn All-American swimmer Ryan Wochomurka replacing Gary Taylor. The AU women’s team, once a national power, was no factor at the nationals and finished ninth at the SEC meet, which is a long way from what is expected from the Tigers in this sport.
The volleyball team didn’t win a match in the fall and didn’t compete in the spring schedule because of a shortage of players. Auburn hired a proven winner in Brent Crouch to coach the team so there is a good chance that improvement is on the horizon for a program that is early in its transition to new leadership.
Elsewhere on the women’s sports scene the gymnasts finished fifth at the SEC Championships, but were unable to compete at the NCAA regional meet because of pandemic protocols. Soccer missed the NCAA Tournament, too. Despite playing well in the spring, a 2-4-1 record in the fall kept the Tigers from reaching NCAA regional play, which is a regular occurence for Coach Karen Hoppa’s teams.
The softball Tigers reached an NCAA regional, but lost both games at the event after posting a 7-17 record in SEC play. It was a disappointing ending to a disappointing season.
Despite losing one of its top players (Taylor Russo) during the season to an injury, the women’s tennis team posted a winning record and won its opening round match in the NCAA Tournament. Selin Ovunc, a sophomore, will be back after earning All-America status.
Auburn’s only NCAA individual champion in 2020-21 comes from the track and field team. Joyce Kimeli’s win in the 5,000 meters led the Tigers to a 10th place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships and she will be running in Eugene, Oregon at the outdoor NCAA meet with a chance to win another individual title in either the 5,000 or steeplechase.
From the notebook
• For just the third time in Auburn history, a pair of Tigers reached the doubles finals at the NCAA Men’s Tennis Championships. After splitting sets, junior Tad Maclean and sophomore Finn Murgett fell 13-11 in a seesaw tiebreaker to a pair from Tennessee they had beaten in a tiebreaker during the regular season.
Match point was controversial with fans in attendance and the Auburn players contending that the winning shot on match point for the Vols should have been a point for the Tigers because the ball bounced on UT’s side of the court after being hit by a Tennessee player, which is illegal. However, the chair umpire didn’t make that call. Murgett and Maclean came very close to joining the 2002 Auburn pair of Andy Columbo and Mark Kovacs as national champions.
• Former Auburn golfer Patton Kizzire finished third in last week’s PGA Tour event, the Colonial, to earn $366,000. He has won more than $1.8 million this season and is closing in on $10 million in career earnings. Kizzire was the 2007 SEC individual champion while playing on one of the last teams Mike Griffin coached prior to retiring after a quarter century running the program at Auburn.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter.