McKaela Simons is both excited and nervous about her new adventure.
For the last four years, the Redmond teen has spent much of her waking hours on the Bellevue campus of Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart and on volleyball courts across the region.
As a setter for the Ravens of the 1A Emerald City League, Simons helped lead her team to one league title and two state appearances. She earned rookie of the year honors as a freshman and propelled herself to first-team status the last three years. She possesses a 3.8 grade-point average and is currently taking International Baccalaureate courses in math and biology.
Come fall, Simons, 17, will leave her local confines and trek across the country to Connecticut College in New London to play NCAA Division III volleyball. In the classroom, she may focus on environmental science, but she’ll surely hit the books hard, just as her teammates did upon receiving a set from the Raven standout.
Simons’ Forest Ridge college counselor recommended that she check out Connecticut College and the seeds were sown.
“It’s a small liberal arts school, high on education and I really like the campus. The coaches were really welcoming,” said Simons, a four-year Ravens captain who visited the school last June and returned in July for a volleyball camp.
Simons and two of her classmates — Sasha Cayward (Williams College tennis) and Colleen Campbell (MIT softball) — recently signed their letters of intent at their school with classmates, coaches and families looking on.
“These young women will represent their colleges well and go on to have great careers in their chosen fields,” said Forest Ridge athletic director Kim Eng, adding that the girls are committed to both their studies and athletics.
Simons enjoyed her time on the court with the Ravens.
“We had a really solid group of girls and strong coaches,” Simons said. “Bonding with the young girls has been a lot of fun.”
Simons felt she took leadership skills up a notch the last two years, especially while working with freshman setter Leah Woods and preparing her to jump into the starting role.
As a setter, Simons likes communicating with everyone on the court, taking the ball from the passer and lifting it into the hitter’s wheelhouse.
“You’re like the glue of the whole team. Everyone relies on you and you get to support everyone,” she said.
During Simons’ senior year, she averaged 24 assists, 12 digs, five aces and two kills per match.
Added Eng: “She is a true leader in every sense of the word. Whether directing teammates on the floor while orchestrating our offense, or welcoming the younger girls to the program and making them feel appreciated and part of the team, McKaela’s passion for the game and respect for her coaches and teammates shined throughout her four-year high school career.”
She’s been playing volleyball since the fourth grade, when she began her journey at the Redmond Boys and Girls Club. In fifth grade, she played for the Northwest Juniors club squad in Redmond, and in sixth grade, she hooked up with the Sudden Impact Volleyball Club in Bellevue and has been with them ever since.
At Connecticut College, there is a senior setter on board and Simons hopes to learn from her, just as Woods soaked up Simons’ experience.
“As I grow older, I want to be a good leader on the team,” said Simons, whose future team — the Camels — plays in the New England Small College Athletic Conference.
The college’s website states that the Camels’ overall sports program is home to seven NCAA national championship teams, 347 All-Americans and 13 Olympians.
“There are a lot of competitive volleyball players out there but what attracted us to McKaela was her ability to demonstrate a strong competitive drive while commanding the offense,” said Joshua Edmed, Connecticut College head coach. “We are greatly looking forward to working with her in the years to come and in helping her to continue to shape her competitive drive and leadership qualities.”
As Simons evaluated her volleyball career, she said that she’s enjoyed playing with different girls and getting to know each of them.
Her key to volleyball success with those teammates, from club to high school ball, is “leaving it all out on the court and working together.”