Junior Gabby Simpson has been taking her game to another level for the Colorado Buffaloes volleyball team.
CU's rivals in the Pac-12 Conference should be warned that despite the gaudy numbers Simpson is putting up across the board, she only just now is playing at 100 percent after some early-season injury issues.
On Sunday Simpson continued her standout all-around play, leading the 16th-ranked Buffs to a much-needed five-set win against Arizona at the Coors Events Center. Already filling a dual role as a setter and outside hitter for CU, Simpson became the first Buffaloes volleyball player to tally at least 20 kills alongside 20 assists in the Buffs' victory.
"She played extremely well," CU head coach Jesse Mahoney said. "She's a dynamic attacker when we can get her the ball in the right place. She's been nursing some injuries and is just now starting to feel comfortable and healthy. Hopefully we can continue playing at that level. The fifth set especially down the stretch she scored really well for us."
Simpson finished with a superb statistical line, posting a season-high 22 kills alongside 21 assists, 10 digs, and a team-high six blocks. A Pac-12 honorable mention selection last season as an outside hitter, Simpson was expected to fill the Buffs' void at setter. She has done just that, but the emergence of transfer Kiara McKibben at setter has allowed Simpson to thrive in a jack-of-all-trades role for CU.
Sunday's victory was a crucial one for the Buffs, who suffered a five-set lost at home Wednesday against Utah and host ranked squads from USC and UCLA next weekend. A loss would have prevented the Buffs from taking full advantage of having their first four Pac-12 contests at home in a league that boasted six teams in this past week's national top 25.
"It's important to win at home in this league because it's so hard to win on the road," Mahoney said. "Losing against Utah, as frustrating as it was, I thought we did a nice job regrouping. I thought we were ready to play this match. (Arizona) came back and played well and we're glad to get a win."
After winning the first two sets, the Buffs suffered consecutive 25-19 defeats to set up a decisive Set 5. The final frame was tied 6-6 before CU sealed the win with a 9-3 run, a burst highlighted by several kills from Simpson.
The Buffs posted season-high totals in attack errors in each of the past two contests (26 against Colorado State, 27 against Utah) but corrected those issues Sunday by committing only 19 against the Wildcats — with seven of those occurring in the fourth set.
McKibben finished with 25 assists and won a personal grudge match against Arizona's Katarina Pilepic, McKibben's former teammate and roommate for three seasons at the University of San Francisco. Joslyn Hayes finished with 11 kills for the Buffs while senior Cierra Simpson tallied a team-leading 17 digs.
Pilepic led Arizona with 17 kills.
"We kind of needed to have an energy change," Gabby Simpson said. "On the court it was obvious and I'm pretty sure watching it it was obvious too that we needed to have a lot more energy than we had in the third and fourth set."
No. 16 Colorado 3, Arizona 2
At Coors Events CenterArizona (9-5, 1-1) 19 22 25 25 9 Colorado (9-3, 1-1) 25 25 19 19 15
Kills — Arizona: Pilepic 17, Dahlke 14, Jacobson 10; CU: G. Simpson 22, Hayes 11, Shadley 8, Smith 8.
Blocks — Arizona: Jacobson 5, Pilepic 5; CU: G. Simpson 6, Abu 5.
Assists — Arizona: Snuka 33; CU: McKibben 25, G. Simpson 21.
Aces — Arizona: Martin 6; CU: Pfefferle 2.
Digs — Arizona: Dahlke 17, Larson 15, Snuka 14; CU: C. Simpson 17, Smith 14, G. Simpson 10.