The premature departure of Gabby Simpson, who opted to transfer to Kansas for her senior season, was an unexpected setback for the Colorado volleyball team.

Yet the graduation of her sister, Cierra Simpson, has left an equally significant void in the Buffaloes' defense.

As CU went through its first official practice of the 2017 season Tuesday, head coach Jesse Mahoney resumed a process that began last spring in finding capable replacements at the two spots filled by the Simpson sisters last season — setter and defensive specialist/libero. Two players who transferred in to the CU program, Branen Berta and Emily DeMure, could help fill those voids.

"Ultimately we'd like to create a culture here where people come for the right reasons and want stay for the right reasons, so we're not having to fill holes year to year with the best transfer available," Mahoney said. "I think we're getting to a place where, for the next several years with how we're recruiting, that's how it's going to be. But you always have to pay attention to what's out there and what's happening. Unfortunately, there's more and more transfers every year.

"The kids that we have that have transferred in are assimilating great. They're great kids, they're great players, and we're definitely happy to have them."


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Cierra Simpson filled the libero role in superb fashion for the Buffs over four seasons, graduating as the program's all-time leader in digs. Berta already has three years of prime Division I experience in that capacity, having played libero for three seasons at Iowa State. She won a Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Week honor as recently as last year with the Cyclones, yet faced with her senior season, Berta believed she wanted to finish her career a little closer to home.

A native of Aurora who played at Cherokee Trail High School, Berta could fill the defensive void left by Cierra Simpson. However, she is facing plenty of competition for the spot from two players who patiently bided their time behind Cierra Simpson in junior Gabby Carta-Samuels and sophomore Rachel Whipple.

"The spring went pretty good. Every libero, not just myself, I thought we all played really well in that position," Berta said. "We all got a chance to play. Having (Cierra) leave, there's a bit of a hole, I guess you can say. But I believe in myself that I can fill that spot, and I believe our other defenders could as well. It's a position that we lost, but I definitely think we can fill it with other players."

Like Berta, DeMure was able to practice with the Buffs throughout the spring after transferring from Penn State. Also like Berta, DeMure has plenty of competition for the setter role she filled throughout the spring, with highly-regarded freshmen Brynna DeLuzio and Jaden Newsome also vying for the job.

A native of Granite Bay, Calif., DeMure found herself longing to be closer to home after spending a redshirt freshman season with the Nittany Lions.

"I was looking for a place to call home," DeMure said. "Being all the way across the country was difficult. My parents couldn't really watch me play. The second time around, I wanted to find a program that was known well academically and athletically, just like Penn State was. And when I was looking at schools, I thought it would be great if I could be in the Pac-12, because we play all the California schools."

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07