Volume 94, Issue 63
Wednesday, January 22, 2003

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Simpson is throwing a block party

By Ryan Hickman
Gazette Staff

Allen Chen/Gazette
YOU KNOW SHE'S BAD, SHE'S BAD, COME ON, YOU KNOW SHE'S BAD. Mustangs middle Kyla Simpson may not do the moonwalk on the volleyball court, but she's damn bad when she spanks the volleyball.

She lurks, waiting along the net, crouched in a pouncing position, eyes darting around the court, and just when you're ready to unload, she's there to smother any attack.

Kyla Simpson of the Western Mustangs women's volleyball team has been hovering around the net all season and had found herself in a tie for the nation's lead in blocks per set (1.44/set) going into this past weekend's match against the University of Waterloo.

Simpson, who stands at an imposing 6"2' in her middle position, is playing her first season for the purple and white at Western. But university volleyball is not something new for the Thunder Bay native.

Problems with the academic details of her program at Lakehead University brought Simpson to London after two standout years on the court playing in Lakehead's program. Last season at Western was strenuous for Simpson because of a mandatory Canadian Interuniversity Sport policy regarding athletes that transfer schools that limited her to practicing with the Mustangs, with no opportunity to play in games.

"Last year she was in a holding pattern," said Western head coach Dean Lowrie concerning his budding star's situation last season. "It was a struggle for her because, without playing, she couldn't transfer what was learned in practice to the court in a game situation."

Simpson took on a quasi-coaching position last year that allowed her to travel with the team and develop a bond with her teammates heading into this year.

Friday night's match against Waterloo was an easy 3-0 straight sets win (25-13, 25-12, 25-22) and was also a special night, which honoured senior anchors of the team, Jess Powell and Lyn Christensen. Seeing the two fifth-year senior leaders appreciated was a point of reflection for Simpson.

"It's tough on seniors night, because that could have been my last [game] if I hadn't transferred. For most people, it's the end of the line after putting so much time into it," Simpson said.

Simpson's career, unlike most her age, is on the incline. She came out of Thunder Bay Hammarskjold High School with relative obscurity, after being cut in Grade 9 and 10 and not playing fully competitive volleyball until Grade 11.

Simpson's size and athletic genes – her father played basketball while he was at Lakehead – allowed her to step right into a starting role at Lakehead in her first season. Even though she started for Lakehead in her first two seasons, Simpson said she probably wouldn't have made half of the other teams in the OUA in her first season. But her development has accelerated faster than a jam packed 2 Dundas racing past a busy stop.

Her rise through the volleyball ranks hasn't stopped since. After her second season with the Thunderwolves, she made the Canadian National "B" team. She trained in Winnipeg during the summer at the National Volleyball Training Centre.

Simpson's ultimate goal is to play internationally on the Canadian National team that competes at the Olympic level, but she is certainly preparing for life beyond volleyball.

The reason for the transfer to Western was academic, not athletic, Simpson said. She plans on going into veterinarian medicine after her biology degree is completed and her run of volleyball stardom ends.

"I'm a big animal lover," Simpson said about her passion off the v-ball court.

In fact, Kyla Simpson is not only the proud owner of the best blocking stats in Canada, but also a small furry rat by the name of Abby.

"She gets into a little more trouble than I do," she said, when asked if Abby's personality was like hers. "But she is curious and adventurous and I'm definitely both of those."


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