Allie Simpson felt there were times when she was in the background.
Not this year, mind you.
She was front and center, so to speak, at all times.
The Central Hardin senior was the go-to player this year as the Lady Bruins finished 31-9 after losing in the first round of the KHSAA State Tournament.
She was the only member of the team that did not come out during any rotation, and was the setter when playing the back row.
Simpson was voted Area Player of the Year by coaches and The News-Enterprise sports staff. She received four first-place votes and finished with 25 points. Elizabethtown sophomore standout Elizabeth Godfrey finished in second with 15 points and one first-place vote, while North Hardin senior MaKayla Gray totaled 13 points and had two first-place votes. Fort Knox junior Carolina Vega received a first-place vote.
“This means a lot to me, it really does,” Simpson said. “Ever since freshman year, I feel like I’ve always been in the shadows and I’ve had to work really, really hard to get to where I was my senior season. It means so much to get that recognition because I feel like I’ve finally earned it. This feels great.”
Simpson finished with 442 kills on 1,040 sets, averaging 3.8 kills per set. She had 33 errors in 1,181 ball handling attempts and totaled 347 assists, three per set.
While others have committed, she is still in the recruiting process.
“It’s always been in the back of my mind. I’ve always thought I wanted to keep playing, but I was never serious about it until sophomore, junior year,” Simpson said. “Usually people commit their sophomore, junior year and I still haven’t committed anywhere. I’m kind of behind right now.
“It has definitely been a big confidence booster talking to college coaches and talking to them about my skill set and what they’re looking for. I’m just really excited to see what’s in store, even though it’s taken me a really long time.
“Usually if you haven’t committed by now ... The fact that I’m still talking to people gives me a little bit of hope.”
Simpson will land somewhere because of her versatility, work ethic, personality, attitude and talent.
Coach Bill Rineker moved her around to where the team needed her abilities.
“Allie has the rare ability to play several different positions at a very high level,” he said. “Over the past three years, Allie has actually played all three hitting positions for us.”
She stepped into the limelight after four-year starter and left-side hitter Emma Pike graduated. Pike was selected the Area Player of the Year the past two seasons.
“Of course, when we lost Emma, we were losing a part of our family,” Simpson said. “We love her to death and she was definitely our go-to for years, ever since she was a freshman. She’s an awesome player. We really miss her. I don’t think anyone could ever fill her shoes because she was so phenomenal.”
Yet, there was Simpson.
“My freshman and sophomore year I would get in, but I would never get set,” she said. “So, whenever I had to take on that role as a senior, it was a game-changer for me. If I was in a rotation and I knew that I was gonna get set, I knew that I needed to be focused and I knew that my team was counting on me.
“I felt a lot more responsibility and felt like I needed to be a leader for the younger kids and a leader on the court. I had a lot of talks with Bill about that because I’m so used to falling back and not saying anything and letting other people take the reins.
“When I stepped into that role, it was totally different for me and really brought me out of my comfort zone. I enjoyed it a lot and I enjoyed playing with my teammates.
“Honestly, I’ll be forever grateful that I got to play with them for four years.”
SOPHOMORE OF THE YEAR. Kelsey Brangers was a defensive specialist and stepped into the role of libero when the starter got hurt toward the end of the season.
That was in the seventh grade and she hasn’t looked back.
The Central Hardin standout was voted the Area Sophomore of the Year by coaches and The News-Enterprise sports staff. She received four first-place votes and finished with 24 points. Elizabethtown standout Elizabeth Godfrey finished in second with 22 points and two first-place votes, while teammate Presley Payne totaled 10 points and had two first-place votes.
“It feels pretty good,” Brangers said. “I’ve always wanted to get something like that. Putting in all that work and getting this award makes me feel like I did good this year. I tried to put in as much time as I could.”
She started playing the game in the second grade and first played at Central Hardin in the fifth grade. She played one game of varsity as a sixth-grader and became the libero at the end of her seventh-grade season.
“He put me in (libero) and I never came out of it,” Brangers said. “I always wanted to be like my sister (Brittany, who graduated in 2015), because she was the libero and I wanted to follow in her footsteps. I always worked for it and I knew the work would pay off one day.
“I wanted to be in all the time because I wanted to help out the team.”
Brangers finished with 529 digs, 13.2 per match, 4.5 per set with six dig errors. She also had 111 assists and made one error in 404 ball-handling attempts.
“A lot of people thought I was crazy, but I knew she was special,” Rineker said of entrusting such an important position to someone so young. “She had an innate ability to track the ball, and she always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.”
She served at 92.3 percent and had 54 aces on 507 attempts.
“This (club) year I’m really focusing on it because I want to make it better for the high school season,” said Brangers, who has already verbally committed to Western Kentucky.
She had 778 serve receptions with 32 errors in 117 sets, averaging 19.5 receptions per match and 6.7 per set.
“I’ve loved playing for him,” Brangers said of Rineker. “Every year he gives me feedback and helps me become a better player.”
Next year will be different as Brangers will be a leader on a team that returns 2 starts (Sydney Phillips is the other) after graduating eight seniors.
“I know I’m gonna have to be the leader and push us to work harder in games,” she said “In our club season, we have two liberos and whoever works the best is going to be it that day. It’s making me work harder and it’s getting me ready for next season when I know we’re gonna have to work really hard.
“I know I’m gonna have to be louder, more vocal and be more of a leader.”
COACH OF THE YEAR. Elizabethtown’s Bart Catlett has won the award for the second year in a row.
“I’m very honored and humbled to receive this award,” he said. “I’m lucky that I get to coach at Elizabethtown High School, my alma mater. I have a great administrative staff behind me and get all the help and support that any coach could ask for. I’m very blessed that I have lots of support from the parents of my players. They volunteer a lot of time and hard work to make it happen.”
The Panthers (23-15) made it to the 5th Region championnhip game after a 25-22, 10-25, 24-26, 25-15, 17-15 victory over favored Taylor County in the semifinals. That came after a 25-22, 25-15, 23-25, 20-25, 15-7 triumph over Washington County in the quarterfinals.
“It’s a pleasure to coach at Elizabethtown, these ladies work hard, they train hard, they play hard, and they take care of their academics,” Catlett said. “When a coach receives an award like this, it’s just a reflection of ‘the Program.’ I couldn’t do it without the help of everyone involved.”
Catlett finished with 24 points and four first-place awards. Central Hardin’s Bill Roneker totaled 20 points and two-first place voted and John Hardin’s Wes Hampton, the Region 5 Coach of the Year, had 17 points and two first-place votes.
ALL-AREA VOLLEYBALL TEAM
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Allie Simpson, Central Hardin
SOPHOMORE OF THE YEAR
Kelsey Brangers, Central Hardin
COACH OF THE YEAR
Bart Catlett, Elizabethtown
Allie Simpson, Central Hardin
Elizabeth Godfrey, Elizabethtown
Sydney Clark, Elizabethtown
Kelsey Brangers, Central Hardin
MaKayla Gray, North Hardin
Kelsey Korfhage, John Hardin
Kat Kennedy, North Hardin
Bella Venegas, LaRue County
Carla Bravo, Meade County
M.E. Hargan, Elizabethtown
Ella Lewis, Central Hardin
Tori Steele, Central Hardin
Central Hardin: Madisyn Walters.
Elizabethtown: Grace Filburn, Presley Payne, Jada Porter
Fort Knox: Sydney Brooks, Carolina Vega.
John Hardin: Emma Ingalls, Destiny Shorter, Cydney Jones, Autumn Ridge, Kylie Korfhage, Morgan Holst, Sarah Jones.
LaRue County: Alexis Grimes, Taylor Newton, Lauren Pollard, Bailey Rogers, Macie Sandidge, Holly Yingling.
Meade County: Haleigh Claycomb.
North Hardin: Taylor Mather, Taylor McGaugh.