PREP VOLLEYBALL: Niagara falls for Simpson

Central Hardin graduate Allie Simpson, shown hitting a jump serve during the season, will continue her academic and athletic careers at Niagara University, where she will be a member of the volleyball program and study nursing.

Allie Simpson was in The News-Enterprise office on Feb. 4 waiting to be interviewed after being selected the All-Area volleyball Player of the Year.

Her phone rang.

Simpson excused herself and talked with the college coach.

It was Coach Donna Day from Niagara University for the first conversation between the two.

“I was looking at other schools as well, so I had to go and visit and as soon as I got on campus, I fell in love with it,” the Central Hardin graduate said. “The campus is gorgeous. The coach, she’s awesome. I love her. The girls were so welcoming and it already felt like home. I just knew.

“As soon as I got off the plane she took me to Niagara Falls. I’ve never seen it before and it was absolutely gorgeous. It’s like 10 minutes from campus and I can see Canada from my dorm room. It’s going to be a completely different atmosphere.

“We stayed the night and the next day I got on the plane and said, ‘Mom, this is where I want to go.’ She said, ‘Don’t say that so soon.’ I said. ‘I know this is where I want to go.’ They have an awesome nursing program and obviously their volleyball is great. It’s everything I wanted in a school. It’s perfect for me.”

Less than two months after that phone call, Simpson signed with the Purple Eagles, who are members of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

“I never looked at Division I because I didn’t think I was good enough,” Simpson said. “It was shocking at first and I really did not expect to go DI. I truly didn’t think I was good enough. Once I got a call or an email from a DI school, it was a totally different ball game. I said to myself, ‘I have a lot more options now.’ It was really exciting. Not just volleyball, but academics and my major is a really important thing and Niagara has a great nursing program. Their nursing program is really what did it for me.”

Simpson was the only Lady Bruins player not to come off the floor unless the match was well in hand. She was a setter while in the back row and a left-side hitter while in the front.

She also played all three front row positions in the past three seasons.

“Allie Simpson is quite possibly the greatest all-around player the 5th Region has ever seen,” Central Hardin veteran coach Bill Rineker said. “That’s really big praise with so many great players who have come out of our region over the past 20 years, but it’s not an exaggeration. I can’t think of a more versatile player that I have seen in the 17 years I have been coaching in this region. I’ve seen a lot of really great setters, left sides, right sides, middles, DS’s, and liberos, but I have never seen a player that could literally play every single spot on the floor and do it at a high level like Allie has.

“As a sophomore she started varsity as a right side hitter. Her junior year she played the middle, and without having been a setter since middle school she was also asked to start setting a couple days before the postseason started. I knew we had to make a change in our lineup if we were gonna win district and region, which meant Allie was gonna have to take on setting which normally takes thousands and thousands of reps and game experience to do well, but when I told her I needed her to do it with less than two days to prepare she didn’t even blink; she just said, ‘Whatever you need coach, I’ll do it.’

“I have to admit I was more than a little nervous about asking her to do that, but the confident way she embraced the change made me confident, too. Add the fact that she was gonna have to play two of the most demanding positions on the floor with zero rest was asking more than a lot, but as usual Allie made it look easy. We rolled through the district and region tournament and won our second region championship in a row. That doesn’t happen without us making that change, and without Allie stepping up to that challenge.”

Simpson’s senior year was one for the record books.

She led the team in kills (442) and aces (67), was second in assists (347), third in blocks (48), and fourth in digs (187). The Lady Bruins went 99-23 the past three seasons with Simpson in the starting lineup and won three straight region championships.

“This past year, I asked her again to make a position switch. Once again she just said, ‘I will do whatever you need me to do, I just want to do what you think is best for the team,’” Rineker said. “For the third year in a row she was gonna play a different spot, and this one would be even more grueling than the previous year. I knew I needed someone to step in and fill the gigantic shoes that Emma Pike left behind. What a super tough act to follow, but not just follow Emma as a left side hitter, but again have to be a setter at the same time, and this time for an entire season.

“I can’t begin to tell you what a daunting task that was. Both positions require you to give ridiculous amounts of effort, on top of being super high-pressure positions. Half the time she had to run the show as our setter and serve up perfect sets so our offense could thrive, and then instead of getting rest, she was then asked to be our left side hitter and get kill after kill in the biggest and most pressure packed moments. There were several times when I asked Allie if she needed me to give her a rest and sub someone in for her, but she knew for us to be successful she had to be on the court, so even though I knew she was exhausted all the time she never once complained and pretty much refused to come out.”

Simpson is looking forward to that versatility making a mark at the next level.

“Since I have all this experience of playing multiple positions, hopefully I can take that into college and use it to my advantage as a freshman so I can make an impact my first year,” she said.

Simpson acknowledged how much Rineker has done for her career.

“I’m going to miss him so much. Bill has been the best coach I’ve ever had. He’s been so supportive of me all throughout high school,” she said. “I’m going to miss having him to talk to and confide in.

“It’s going to be a really good experience. I’m going to grow a lot as a person, in my academics and in my athletics. I’m very excited.”

It’s now Rineker’s turn to figure out what’s next for his Lady Bruins.

“Allie was relentless and driven to be the best player she could for us,” he said. “I liked to call Allie the human Swiss Army knife. Whatever we needed she could provide. She was the ultimate weapon. You don’t and can’t replace an Allie Simpson, she is a once-in-a-coaching-career player. I don’t see how any player could achieve any more than Allie did these past three years.

“Her teammates are gonna miss her greatly, but not anymore than I will. I have no doubt Allie is gonna be successful at the next level, and I can’t wait to watch her play.”

Mike Mathison can be reached at 270-505-1758 or mmathison@thenewsenterprise.com.

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