Kristen Simon was distraught. As the time to decide where she was going to play college volleyball drew near, she was struggling with making a choice between three premier programs — Stanford, Louisville and the University of Wisconsin.

So she called Melissa Stark-Bean, her club coach with KIVA in Louisville, Kentucky.

“I said, ‘Kristen, let’s take a moment and realize you have a good problem,’” Stark-Bean said. ‘You have three of the top schools in the country that want you.’”

She laid out the options for Simon, a 5-foot-7 libero/defensive specialist. Stanford is a traditional volleyball power that also offers an elite education. Louisville is in her hometown, the alma mater of both of her parents, and has a booming program that has been in the NCAA Final Four the past two seasons. And UW has established itself as a top program, playing in three consecutive Final Fours and winning its first national title.

People are also reading…

“I said, ‘Honey, tell me what your No. 1 is? Where do you want to go?’” Stark-Bean said. “She says, ‘I want to go to Wisconsin.’ I honestly was shocked.”

So she called UW coach Kelly Sheffield to pass along that news and encourage him to come up with enough scholarship money to close the deal. Whatever he did got the job done.

“This kid passed up a full ride to Stanford and a 3½ year (scholarship) to U of L to go to Wisconsin,” Stark-Bean said. “So clearly Kelly is selling something great.”

He got an assist from the UW campus and the city of Madison along the way. While the Badgers were on their European tour earlier this month, Simon and her mother, Maureen, drove to Madison to take a look around. They took a tour of the campus, poked around in some buildings and went to the Farmers’ Market.

“When I visited Wisconsin I loved the campus and it had such a community feel to it,” Simon said. “My mom and I wanted to go see the campus and see how I would feel there. It was very outdoorsy and I felt like I could have a home there.”

Simon was quite familiar with Louisville, having attended camps there when she was younger and going to matches to watch her favorite player, Katie George. And she had taken a trip to Stanford during the spring to get a feel for that campus.

“It took a lot of thinking and laying out the pros and cons,” Simon said about her decision making process. “But I think choosing Wisconsin, it helped most to get out to the campus and I felt like I was home when I was there and I could see myself going there.

“(Stanford) would’ve been a really good opportunity, but I felt I would fit in more at Wisconsin.

(With Louisville) I feel like I just needed to get away to fully find who I was and just be on my own and be independent and grow as a person.”

Wherever she had chosen, Stark-Bean has no doubt she would become an impact player.

“I’ve been coaching at KIVA for 16 years and I would say Kristen is one of the best liberos I’ve ever coached,” Stark-Bean said. “And I’ve coached kids that went to Nebraska and everywhere else.

“I would say she is super mature. Kristen prepares to play the same in every match, which I feel puts her in a different category. She’s clearly very talented. She’s great at defense, she’s smooth, all those things. But I honestly think her maturity and how she prepares to play is what puts her in a different category.”

Stark-Bean, who coached in college for 10 years, said more than 30 coaches had been in her gym and every one of them had asked about Simon.

“She’s a kid that people just flock to, even if they weren’t recruiting a libero,” she said.

Sheffield was among the coaches that wasn’t exactly in the market for a backcourt player.

When Simon arrives in 2025 she will join a group in which Gulce Guctekin will be a senior, Saige Damrow a junior and Lola Schumacher and Maile Chan sophomores.

“Kelly had already been in our gym,” Stark-Bean said, “and he had talked to (associate head coach) Brittany (Dildine) and he said, ‘We weren’t going to recruit a libero, but we are now.’

“She is legit. She’s a different-category libero. I am telling you, this kid is insane. I’ve been giving this kid lessons since she was 10 years-old and she’s always been very methodical in how she goes about everything. And very humble and modest. She’s clearly one of the top kids on our team, but she handles herself very well.

“I’ve told coaches that have called me up about her that she holds kids accountable. She has this drive but she’s able to make a point without making an enemy. She can hold kids extremely accountable, but she does it in a way that they’re not upset with her. It’s like they don’t want to disappoint Kristen.”

Simon started playing volleyball when she was just 8, playing pepper in the backyard with her older sister Georgia.

“I fell in love with it,” she said. “I just love the feeling of going out on the court and playing with some of my best friends. Volleyball has given me such deep relationships that I’ve built over the years and I love playing for them and with my teammates.”

Simon plays at Assumption High School in Louisville, coached by Ron Kordes, a member of the Kentucky High School Hall of Fame and the AVCA Hall of Fame.

“She was the starting libero at Assumption as a sophomore, which hardly ever happens,” Stark-Bean said. “Most kids don’t get to be the libero until their senior year.”

Simon becomes the fourth commitment Sheffield has received for the 2025 recruiting class, joining 6-3 outside hitter Madison Quest of Milwaukee Divine Savior Holy Angels and Milwaukee Sting; 6-5 middle blocker Natalie Wardlow of Lincoln (Nebraska) Southeast and Nebraska ONE; and 6-3 right side/setter Addy Horner of St. Francis (Wheaton, Illinois) and 1st Alliance.

By 152news

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *