Marshall: Overview of AU's Athletic Teams

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about each of Auburn's intercollegiate sports teams.

Just how strong is Auburn's athletic program, top to bottom? In some sports, it's very strong. Some sports are building, some are struggling.

As the school year nears its end, here's a look at Auburn athletics, sport by sport:


The only thing Tommy Tuberville's program is missing after eight seasons is a national championship. A 33-5 record over the past three seasons tells the story. Tuberville arrived in late 1998 saying he had come to win a national championship, and he still says it. The talent level, top to bottom, gets stronger each year.

The competition is so fierce that there is no way to predict when any SEC team will win a national championship. Tuberville has a built a program that can win one, but that doesn't mean it will happen. Pat Dye built his program to that level, but he never won the big prize.

Obviously, it takes a great team. But it takes a lot of luck, too. The last two national champions from the SEC--Florida and LSU--each lost a regular-season game. Auburn went 13-0 in 2004 and didn't get a shot. All any coach can do is put his team in position to be a contender. Tuberville certainly has done that.


A lopsided loss to Georgia in the SEC Tournament left a sour taste, but Jeff Lebo's program clearly moved forward in his third season. Only a bizarre finish in Oxford kept the Tigers from sharing the West Division championship. The entire team returns next season, and a couple of badly needed inside guys have been added in recruiting.

Guard Frank Tolbert is one of Jeff Lebo's returning starters.

It should be time next season for a return to postseason play, at least the NIT. The idea that it can't be done at Auburn just doesn't hold water. It's been done before. The key for Lebo is to find a way to do it consistently.


Nell Fortner, in her third season, has clearly upgraded the talent level. You'd have to say the Tigers underachieved early in the SEC season, but you'd also have to say they clearly got better down the stretch.

They got a taste of postseason play when they advanced to the final eight in the WNIT. Anything short of an NCAA Tournament bid next season would be disappointing.


It's obvious that this season's baseball team is not where it wants to be. After an 18-3 run through a tough preconference schedule, an 0-8 start in SEC play was as shocking it was disappointing. Eighteen consecutive SEC losses dating back to April of last year was hard for players, coaches and fans to swallow.

The Tigers finally broke through with a 3-2 win over Ole Miss last Sunday, but the hole in which they find themselves going into this weekend's series at LSU might be impossibly deep. The future, however, looks better than the present. As many as five freshmen have been in the starting lineup at any one time. Injuries have been a problem.

In the opening SEC series at Georgia, pitchers suddenly couldn't throw strikes. For one game against Florida, it rained errors at Plainsman Park. But the biggest issue facing this Auburn team is scoring runs. The Tigers scored seven in three games at Georgia and nine in three games against Ole Miss. That's not enough to win in the SEC.

There's no question that, in his third season as coach, Tom Slater has recruited well. When will that start to show in the games that matter? That's the burning question.

Auburn has not played in the SEC Tournament since 2003, a drought no one could have predicted.


Just as it seemed Auburn was ready to claim its place among the SEC's best, all sorts of trouble hit. Key players were academically ineligible. Another key player was injured. The result is that the Tigers are struggling mightily just to make the field for the SEC Tournament, which will be played at Jane B. Moore Field.

A recruiting class ranked in the nation's top 10 is on its way. Freshman pitcher Anna Thompson looks to be a rising star.


Swimming speaks for itself. Even with David Marsh gone, there is no reason to believe Richard Quick won't keep the program at a national championship level. After all, like Marsh, he has 12 national championships on his resume.

Richard Quick, who was previously the head coach of the Auburn men's and swimming teams, is taking over the position from his former swimmer David Marsh.

Ralph Spry's track program is among the nation's best. The women won the outdoor national championship last spring and could make another run this year. The men finished second by a single point a few years back.

Kim Evans' women's golf program is a perennial top five finisher. The only thing missing from her glittering resume is a national championship, and there is every reason to believe that will eventually come.

Mike Griffin's men's golf team has been somewhat disappointing this season, but it's hard to argue with 16 NCAA regional appearances in 18 years.

Karen Hoppa arrived in 1999 and built a championship soccer program. She has led the Tigers to four West Division championships, an overall SEC championship and four NCAA Tournament appearances. Even in a disappointing season in 2006, the Tigers were runners-up in the SEC Tournament.

Perhaps the single most stunning victory of this year for any Auburn athletic team was the women's tennis team's 4-3 victory over No. 1 Georgia.

No Auburn coach inherited a bigger mess than did Laura Farina when she took over the volleyball program in 2002. The rebuilding job continues. With sub-standard facilities, the job is not easy.

Equestrian, while not an NCAA or SEC sport, won a national championship last year and could compete for another one this year.

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