Volleyball: Road to state a special journey for Fairview’s Simmons

Mark Leffingwell / Daily Camera
Fairview graduate Brooke Simmons (far right) has led the Knights back to the state tournament for the first time since 1998 — the year after she graduated.

When it comes to the state volleyball tournament, it’s the players that play the game on the court. Don’t just assume they’re the only ones excited to be making the appearance, though.

For the Fairview Knights, the experience of walking into the Denver Coliseum on Friday morning is going to be fresh for everyone. And for coach Brooke Simmons, it will have meant the fulfillment of a 10-year process at the school she once played for.

“I think (Simmons) will be just as excited as we are, and I think it’s going to be a lot like Christmas morning where even the coaches will be big-eyed and just excited,” said senior libero Mari Jewell. “Sharing that with her is special.”

“This whole season, working with these players, a team that comes out and gives 110 percent every day and achieving every single one of our goals, it is amazing,” Simmons said. “I’m proud of this team and the coaching staff, because it has been a full group effort.”

Despite the Knights’ best efforts when Simmons was a player, Fairview never made state during her time at the school (1994-97). Fairview did make the state tournament the year after she graduated, but a prolonged drought ensued that the Knights finally ended with a regional title last weekend.

They’ve been close with Simmons guiding them to the regional playoffs every year. To be the one to help lead the team back has given Simmons a feeling of exuberance.

“When I went to Fairview I loved it, and I think there’s a lot of us out there who just share that Fairview pride,” said Simmons, who played under Curtis Griffin and Frank Gray before moving on to play at Creighton. “It’s been an amazing experience to be able to come back here and coach. I had amazing coaches and amazing teachers here, so I’ve been just grateful for the experience of being able to give back to the school and the community, and work with these amazing players and families.”

Simmons isn’t alone in that respect, as a couple of other Fairview graduates, Jeff Wolny and Kelsey Spencer, have jumped aboard to help the Knights volleyball program get to the top of their game while serving as lower-level coaches.

To make the state field is a threshold that the team’s seven seniors and their head coach have been longing to cross. Jewell has been on varsity for three years, and she said she’s seen Simmons at her best when the team needs to settle down.

The Knights needed the right words in regionals against Rangeview this past Saturday morning, facing match point at 24-22 in Set 4 before rallying for a five-set victory. Fairview went on to beat Arapahoe 3-1 to punch their ticket to state.

“She always knows the right times to call timeouts and allow us to regroup, and just remind us that we are good and we need to play with confidence,” Jewell said. “She never is negative, and she always keeps our spirits up even if we’re down and keeps our energy up.

“I’m sure she has a big inspirational speech planned (for Friday) and she definitely deserves to be there as our coach because she’s a great coach. She knows she’s done a good job, and she should know that.”

Jewell joins Maia Allen, Kiki Garthwaite, Bailey MacInnis, Allie Williams, Aza Verhoeven and Lindsey Hoskins as players who will be on the court together for the final time this weekend. The Knights play Rampart at 8 a.m. Friday and then close out pool play against Chaparral at the same time Saturday.

Should Fairview win their pool, they will advance to the semifinals that take place later Saturday.

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