Slowly but surely, the Simpson era with the University of Colorado volleyball team is nearing an end.
This weekend marks the final home games in what has been a disappointing 2016 season for the Buffaloes, a campaign that opened with high expectations and a number of impressive wins before eroding quickly into frustration.
It's not the senior season Cierra Simpson ever envisioned. She arrived at CU alongside her older sister, Taylor, in 2013, with the lure of playing again with her younger sister inspiring Taylor Simpson to transfer back to her home state after previous stops at Nebraska and Missouri.
A year later younger sister Gabby joined them, with all three Simpson sisters playing a role in the Buffs' second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance in 2014.
Soon the program will be down to one Simpson.
The Buffs host No. 8 Washington on Friday (8 p.m. Pac-12 Mountain), with Sunday's noon match against Washington State marking the final home game for Cierra Simpson and the remainder of CU's seniors — fellow four-year Buff Katelyn Cuff, along with two seniors who transferred into the program this year, Kiara McKibben and Marie Zimmerman.
Zimmerman officially is a junior eligibility-wise, but given she is graduating this year she is opting to move on from the volleyball program. All four players will be recognized in senior ceremony Sunday.
"It's one of those things where I said I'd cross that bridge when I got to it, and now the bridge is here," Cierra Simpson said. "It's definitely bittersweet. I've had a great four years here and I've enjoyed truly every moment of it. It's a night to celebrate all the work the seniors have put in for four years. We have a couple great opponents this weekend so it would be great to come away with a couple wins."
Despite the team's struggles, Cierra Simpson has enjoyed a superb senior season. She enters the weekend with 1,785 career digs, the most ever by any CU player. She also will leave CU as the program's all-time leader in sets played, competing in 477 heading into Friday night. Her season average of 3.7 digs per set ranks 10th in the Pac-12 Conference.
Unfortunately for the Simpson sisters they already have played their final match together at CU — junior Gabby Simpson will miss the final four games due to an injury — but first-year head coach Jesse Mahoney has lauded Cierra Simpson's leadership this year as he began the task of shaping his vision for the program.
"Cierra has not only been a great player for us, she's just a great leader," Mahoney said. "She leads by word and, most importantly, by example. She's just a hard-working, grind-it-out kid. We need players like that on our roster and it's great when they're seniors, because people look up to them and follow them."
With losses in six of their past seven matches, the Buffs have fallen to a spot in the RPI (No. 74) where even wins in all four of their final contests won't be enough to move them into the NCAA Tournament picture. After an early-season surge that included impressive home wins against nationally-ranked programs from Illinois and Penn State, the Buffs have been unable to win consecutive matches in Pac-12 play while falling to ninth in the league standings.
CU finished fifth in the Pac-12 last year and still missed the NCAA Tournament.
"It really is a matter of pulling together and looking at the great accomplishments that we made early in the season," Cierra Simpson said. "We have to get back into that same mindset. At this point, there literally is nothing to lose and I know the other seniors and I all are on the same page. We really want to go out with a bang here."