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Exclusive: Five from Colorado Springs, including three Simpson sisters, fuel CU volleyball team

By: Kalyn Kahler,
August 13, 2014 Updated: August 13, 2014 at 11:08 pm
Caption +
Doherty High School graduates Cierra Simpson, Taylor Simpson, Gabby Simpson, and Kelsey English (left to right) are all playing for the CU-Boulder volleyball team this year. The team has been practicing at the Olympic Training Center this week. Tuesday, August 12, 2014. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

The Simpson sisters, Taylor, 20, Cierra, 19, and Gabby, 18, all started their volleyball careers in the same place: The front hall of their Colorado Springs home.

"We call it, 'Volleyball in the hall,'" Cierra said. "There's a chandelier kind of thing there, so I know my mom hates it. ... We have broken a lot of stuff."

After countless broken stair railings and household decorations, the sisters, all at least 6 feet tall, have clearly outgrown 'Volleyball in the hall.'

"We recently came to the conclusion that we are too big to play in the hall now," Gabby said. "The hall is pretty small now."

Much to their mother's relief, the Doherty graduates have found a suitable replacement for the hall, the court at Coors Events Center. All three will continue their volleyball journey together, playing for the University of Colorado-Boulder, possibly the first time in NCAA history that a trio of sisters has played for one team.

"I couldn't be more excited that I get to play with both of them again," sophomore libero Cierra said. "Never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be able to do that again."

The last time the three played together was in the 2010 state tournament, when all three played on the Doherty varsity. The Buffaloes rely heavily on personnel from the Springs. Senior middle blocker Kelsey English is another Doherty grad and played with Taylor back in seventh grade and coach Liz Kritza (St. Mary's High School) also calls the Springs home.

"I'm incredibly proud that a storied program like Doherty has produced four high-quality players," Kritza said. "The fact they are wearing a Colorado jersey tells me this program has progressed. It's a sign of success if some of the top players in the nation are staying home and choosing to play for the flagship state institution."

Since taking over the program in 2009, Kritza has built around homegrown talent like the Simpsons and English. Kritza's focus on Colorado's top players is creating a new tradition of success for CU volleyball. Last season the program made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006 and advanced to the second round.

Senior outside hitter and team captain Taylor, the oldest Simpson, spent one season at Nebraska and Missouri before returning home to join CU last season. She led the team in kills (390) and points (1,131) and may have been the biggest difference-maker for the Buffs, who have struggled since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, arguably the toughest college volleyball conference.

"The difference is when you get a player of Taylor's caliber, her athleticism, skills and competitiveness," Kritza said. "It was what got us over the hump."

Taylor and sophomore Cierra both played their first season as Buffs last year. As a freshman, Cierra led the team with 372 digs and averaged 3.21 digs per set. Kritza said the Simpson combo last season created a name for CU volleyball.

"The combination of the two of them at the same time has elevated the level of our program to a higher standard," Kritza said. "It has made it more attractive to other really high-caliber players in the state and throughout the nation."

Taylor and Cierra played a role in convincing Gabby to add to the family legacy at CU. Gabby, who plays setter, originally committed to CSU, but her sisters wore her down.

"Every time we were home we were like, 'Gabby you can't go to CSU, really? You can't do that to us,'" Taylor laughed.

"Family is really important to us," Gabby said, and she was sold on the possibility that there could be a Simpson hat trick this season - Cierra passes, Gabby sets and Taylor kills.

The Springs natives returned home to continue training at the Olympic Training Center on Monday for the week because Kritza makes it a priority to ensure her players are mentally prepared.

"There is a reason why Olympians come here to train," Kritza said. "Everything is in place, it's the right culture, spirit, atmosphere. It's really hard to not be better here."

"You feel like you can't really mess up and disgrace the facility," joked English, who led the team in aces (42) and hitting percentage (.361) last season. "You have to give all your effort or else it would be letting down the Olympic community."

The Buffs are dreaming like Olympians, with eyes set on a trip to the Final Four, but it will take more than the Simpson sisters to get there.

"We joke that we have 15 sisters on the team, not just three," Kritza said. "That's the mentality that is going to help us win a championship."

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