When Marengo’s Lillie Simons suffered a hamstring injury last spring, denying her a possible return to the Class 2A Girls Track and Field State Meet, she was devastated.
Simons, who qualified in the 200 meters, long and triple jumps as a sophomore, ended up sitting out her track and field season, but was still able to work out with her Club Fusion volleyball team.
Simons, who joined Club Fusion that winter, quickly discovered an old love.
“I always thought track would be my sport,” Simons said. “That was kind of the sport that I fell in love with. It sounds so cliché, or whatever, but [my hamstring injury] kind of opened the door for volleyball, and I completely re-fell in love with the game.”
Simons quickly got noticed for her quick feet and high hops, and received an invitation to a summer volleyball camp in July at the University of South Alabama. After visiting the Mobile, Alabama, campus, with her mom and younger sister, Simons was excited to get a phone call on the car ride home.
South Alabama women’s volleyball coach Alexis Meeks-Rydell was on the other end and offered Simons a spot on the NCAA Division-I Jaguars. She announced her commitment to the Sun Belt Conference school last week via Twitter.
“It means so much,” said Simons, who also had interest from Charleston Southern. “It just feels like everything that I’ve gone through and worked for is finally paying off. Having my family, my friends and teammates to support me and just getting this opportunity ... it’s very special to me. I’m so excited.”
Simons had a standout senior season for Marengo, setting the program’s single-season record with 280 kills. The Indians high flyer added 87 blocks and 45 aces and ended her career with a program-record 308 blocks.
She plans on going out for track and field again in the spring.
When Simons went to South Alabama in July she came away impressed with the direction of the program and high energy of the players. She visited other schools as well, but nothing compared with her experience at South Alabama.
South Alabama is 20-10 and took runner-up in the Sun Belt Conference East Division, going 11-3. The Jaguars are seeded third in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, which starts Thursday.
“I got to meet some of the team and players, and they just have such good energy,” Simons said. “I love the way they play. The facilities and the support the program has from the school is one of a kind, and I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
Marengo finished 21-12-4 this past season for the team’s most wins since going 21-11 in 2003. Simons, Kaetlyn Jeschke and Dani Hartmann were the only three seniors on the Indians’ roster.
“That was by far one of the most fun seasons I’ve had throughout my four years,” Simons said. “The love and energy that everybody brought was just crazy. We played our hearts out.”
After track and field in the spring, Simons is ready for a new challenge.
“I’m excited to run with it,” Simons said. “I’m excited to learn, grow and absorb everything that college volleyball has to offer.”