It is the end of an era of sorts for the Colorado volleyball team. For the first time since 2012 there will not be multiple Simpson sisters — or even one, for that matter — on CU's roster.
Head coach Jesse Mahoney begins his second year at the helm trying to reverse the momentum of a rough finish to the 2016 season combined with the spring defection of Gabby Simpson, a former All-Pac-12 Conference performer who opted to transfer to Kansas for her senior season.
Beyond the transfer of Gabby Simpson and the graduation of libero Cierra Simpson, setter Kiara McKibben, and middle blocker Katelyn Cuff (whose senior season was cut in half due to injury) CU returns several key performers from a club that turned heads early last season with a number of impressive nonconference wins before struggling through the rugged Pac-12 slate.
With official preseason workouts set to begin Tuesday, here is a look at the storylines surrounding the Buffs ahead of their Aug. 25 opener against Northwestern State at the Oklahoma Invitational.
How will the Buffs respond to the loss of Gabby Simpson?
The uncertainty of Simpson's status had swirled since the end of the 2016 season, and she did not participate in the Buffs' spring drills.
"She wasn't happy, and I think she'd just been unhappy in several different areas of her life," Mahoney said. "She felt like a fresh start somewhere else maybe would suit her better than staying here. Both of her sisters are gone. She played with her sisters her entire high school and collegiate careers, and that was a little bit of an issue for her. We did everything we could to make sure Gabby was taken care of, was healthy. We gave her an opportunity to be successful and she chose to play out her final season of eligibility somewhere else. That's fine. That's her decision."
The loss of Gabby Simpson robs CU of a player who earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 accolades as an outside hitter in 2015. She moved seamlessly into the setter role a year ago, setting a team record with seven double-doubles during the 2016 season.
"I don't feel like our players as a group feel like we're disadvantaged because Gabby isn't here," Mahoney said. "I think they're all looking forward to the season and are focused on the team as we are constituted. I haven't heard one of our players express any sort of frustration at our perceived level of play now that Gabby's gone."
Who will play setter?
Gabby Simpson shared the setter role last year with McKibben, and for four years previous the role was more than capably filled by Nicole Edelman. The preseason workouts will serve as a competition to take over the vacant spot. Redshirt freshman Emily DeMure, a transfer from Penn State, along with incoming freshmen Brynna Deluzio and Jaden Newsome, are the early contenders for the role.
"The No. 1 issue for us is setting," Mahoney said. "Emily DeMure played there in the spring, and we have two freshmen coming in who are pretty well accomplished. But it's still going to take a little time for us to jell and create some offensive rhythm."
Who will lead the back of the defense?
The Buffs will be strong defensively at the net with middle blockers Naghede Abu and Anna Pfefferle. However, Cierra Simpson was the Buffs' top defensive specialist for four seasons, and she left CU as the program's all-time leader in digs. Defensively, Mahoney understands his club must fill that void.
"We have a lot of unanswered questions that it's going to take us a couple weeks to answer and figure out," Mahoney said. "Then hopefully early enough that we can get in a rhythm with the group that's going to be on the floor the most."