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Colorado's Gabby Simpson excelled as an outside hitter last season, but this spring she focused on relearning her once-polished talents as a setter.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Gabby Simpson excelled as an outside hitter last season, but this spring she focused on relearning her once-polished talents as a setter.

Shifting Simpson

Gabby Simpson was a part-time setter for the CU volleyball as a freshman but emerged as a standout outside hitter last fall as a sophomore, landing honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. A glance at how Simpson’s varied roles affected her statistics the past two seasons.

2014: Assists per match — 18.8; Kills per match — 5.4.

2015: Assists per match — 3.1; Kills per match — 13.1.

This spring, Gabby Simpson learned that some volleyball skills are not at all like riding a bike, and that rust isn’t an easy thing to discard.

Throughout the University of Colorado’s spring volleyball season, Simpson concentrated on relearning her once-polished talents as a setter. It is a position Simpson played at a high level during high school and in club competition, and Simpson even spent a good portion of her freshman year at CU at setter.

So even though Simpson emerged as a standout outside hitter last fall as a sophomore, she spent much of the spring campaign attempting to rekindle her old skills in hopes of being the player who will replace last year’s standout senior setter, Nicole Edelman.

Simpson was quick to give credit to CU’s new staff — head coach Jesse Mahoney, along with assistants Lee Maes and Evan Sanders — for a productive spring getting reacquainted with the setter role.

“If you don’t set for a long time, I don’t want to say you lose your touch, but it’s hard to get back to exactly where you were before,” Simpson said. “I would say working with Lee and Jesse and Evan has definitely progressed my game. I feel like I’m a completely different player as a setter now than I was four or five months ago. I’m just really looking forward to playing that position, because I have played it my whole life.”

Simpson averaged 18.8 assists per match during her freshman season of 2014-15, recording a career-best 48 in just her ninth collegiate contest. Simpson posted just 100 total assists last season but made an impression as an outside hitter, ranking second on the team with 419 kills.

Her average of 3.41 kills per set ranked 10th in the Pac-12 Conference, and Simpson twice earned the league’s offensive player of the week award before nabbing honorable mention all-conference honors.

Of course, Simpson’s shift back to setter leaves a productivity void on an attack that also must adjust for the loss of Alexis Austin. Yet Mahoney believes Simpson’s versatility is too good to ignore at the setter spot, and there will be occasions when Simpson still lends a hand on the attack.

“She set at a high level throughout her high school career and at least part of her freshman year here,” Mahoney said. “By the end of the spring, we weren’t having her attack too much. All that being said, we’d like to create situations where we can have her attack as well.”

Beyond Simpson’s adjustment to setter, the Buffs used the spring slate to focus on learning the nuances of the new coaching staff while also welcoming to the mix Alexa Smith, a Colorado native whose transfer from Purdue should help the Buffs offset the loss on the attack of Austin and, due to the position shift, Simpson.

“Overall the spring was very productive,” Mahoney said. “I think all the players probably felt like freshmen again because everything was new to them as well. The players were really open to whatever changes that we made and really dived in and got down to business trying to learn the couple new things we tried to install this spring.”

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