Rick Simpson had aspirations of raising his four daughters into elite basketball players.
They’re elite, all right. But in a different sport.
The eldest of the Simpson brood, Taylor, leaves today as Colorado’s lone representative on the U.S. volleyball team that will compete at the inaugural Youth Olympics in Singapore. Her inclusion on the squad is further proof that her father’s plan has blown off course in all the right ways.
“I’m a volleyball convert now,” said Rick Simpson, who shares a love of basketball with his wife, Serena. Both played collegiately – Rick also played professionally in Australia and in the Continental Basketball Association – and they met at a 3-on-3 tournament in Kansas City, Mo. “I still love basketball, but now we just use it to help the girls with cardiovascular training.”
Yep, volleyball dominates the Simpson household. And the sisters stand on the verge of dominating the sport in the city.
An incoming senior at Doherty, Taylor is without peer in Colorado Springs. Sierra, a sophomore, counts North Carolina and Colorado State among the schools showing early interest. Gabby, who hopes to join her older sisters on Doherty’s varsity team this year as a freshman, has already met with Penn State’s coach. That leaves only 7-year-old Riley, who has been moved up to play in a league of older girls.
It all happened by accident.
Serena, who red-shirted one season with the University of Kansas volleyball team, recalls the transformation beginning when she took Taylor to watch a tournament when she was in middle school.
“One day, I’m looking outside, and (Serena)’s got the girls bumping the volleyball around,” Rick said. “I’m like, ‘What’s going on? Shouldn’t you be shooting free throws or something?’ I mean, we had started basketball in the third grade, camps and all that.”
Volleyball makes perfect sense for the family. Rick, 6-foot-7, and Serena, 6-foot, passed on their height as well as athleticism. Taylor now stands 6-4, while the others are gaining ground. They were also drawn to aspects of volleyball that don’t require their girls to bulk up or develop the kind of ferocity that it would take to play on the inside in basketball.
“Our girls can stay girls,” said Serena, who is happy to leave the testosterone in the family to Rick and his four male dogs.
The Simpsons credit the prodigious rise of their daughters’ skills to working with Bill and Judy Peer, who have built a powerhouse of a club program in Monument.
“I started playing club in seventh grade and really enjoyed that,” Taylor said. “When I got into ninth grade, I started getting letters, like really intense letters, and I thought maybe I should think about volleyball, and it just worked out very well.”
Taylor will make an official visit to Nebraska in October and plans to sign in November. She’ll join Colorado Springs Christian graduate Morgan Broekhuis.
First, Taylor has the trip to Singapore, where the Americans will compete with squads from five other countries. Then she’ll anchor one more try at bringing a state title to Doherty after a third-place finish last season.
“She has just improved in the past years so well,” Doherty coach Julie Ortiz said. “She jumps really well. She’s just an all-around amazing volleyball player. Her hitting definitely stands out, where people watching would be like, “Wow!” Because it’s straight down. But her passing, her serving, really her all-around game is right there with the top in the state, top in the country.”
And about basketball, that early work didn’t exactly go to waste. Taylor was among the best shot blockers in the state, turning away 12 shots last season in a playoff loss to Legacy. She’s not going to play this year, as she focuses on her new sport.
That’s just fine by her dad.
“Never in a million years did I think things would turn out like this,” Rick said. “But it’s great. Our house is buzzing with sports enthusiasm, and I love it. Like I said, I’m a true convert.”
Inaugural Youth Olympics
The inaugural Youth Olympics, which begin Saturday and run through Aug. 26, are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee for athletes ages 14 to 18. More than 3,600 athletes representing 205 countries are expected to participate. Among them are 82 Americans, including two from Colorado – Doherty senior volleyball player Taylor Simpson and Broomfield swimmer Steve Schmuhl. The IOC has gone to great lengths to ensure an Olympic-type feel for the event. The torch was ignited in Athens and has made its way toward Singapore.