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GWINNETT GRADS: Mill Creek grad Simmons reaching volleyball potential

ACC kills leader and Clemson senior Moneshia Simmons (22) is reaching her volleyball potential after making the switch from basketball coming out of Mill Creek. (Photo: Clemson Athetics)

ACC kills leader and Clemson senior Moneshia Simmons (22) is reaching her volleyball potential after making the switch from basketball coming out of Mill Creek. (Photo: Clemson Athetics)

Moneshia Simmons was steered to volleyball twice, the first time when her family suggested she give a new sport a try prior to her freshman season at Mill Creek.

The second she was guided by her heart after it came time to choose between basketball — most at her high school knew her best for that sport — or volleyball at the college level. Basketball began to feel more and more like a business, and the newer sport was just fun.

With that in mind, she signed with Clemson volleyball.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do for college,” Simmons said. “I was asking assistance from everyone. … At the time, I knew I had a lot of improving to do in volleyball. But I was having more fun with it. And I thought I could go pretty far in volleyball if I worked at it.”

Simmons, now a Clemson senior, has uncovered plenty of that potential over the past four seasons. Her contributions have gotten bigger and better by the season, which has resulted in the best season of her career thus far.

The 6-foot outside hitter leads the ACC in kills (235) and kills per set (4.52). Her kills per set is nearly half a kill more than the second-place total of 4.09.

She’s improved her total skill set since leaving Mill Creek, but the powerful hitting is what gets her the most attention. Her numbers are even higher than her junior season, when she averaged 3.17 kills per set and had 345 kills for the season.

“My hitting is so much better, people tell me I jump out of the gym,” said Simmons, the ACC player of the week earlier in October. “People come up to me after matches and say, ‘I don’t want to be on the other side of that.’ My vertical’s better. I’m hitting a lot better than I did (in high school).”

The improvements have come through work with her Clemson coaches, but also from experience against top-notch competition.

Simmons earned a spot on the USA Volleyball Junior National Team, for under-20 players, for the World Championships during the summer of 2011. She spent this past summer with the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Program A2 Team, training alongside more than 40 of the nation’s top college players.

She plans to compete in the next round of national team tryouts in late February, but if that doesn’t pan out, she plans to play professional volleyball in Europe.

“I feel like I have a great opportunity (after college),” said Simmons, who graduates in May with a degree in communication studies.

Before she focuses on the next level, Simmons has work left at Clemson, which enters the weekend 7-6 overall and 1-1 in the ACC. She has goals left for this season, as well as a huge match, especially for her, when the Tigers visit Georgia Tech on Nov. 14.

“The season can only go up from here,” Simmons said. “Me and my other senior, we’re doing our thing, balling out and trying to make the NCAA Tournament.

“We haven’t made it any of our years, so we want that experience of going for the first time.”

FOOTBALL

Heinicke tops

10,000-yard mark

Still just a junior, Collins Hill grad Taylor Heinicke topped 10,000 yards passing for his career in last Saturday’s win over Norfolk State.

The Old Dominion star is the sixth quarterback to pass the 10,000-yard mark this season, but the other five are all seniors, including Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd.

Heinicke completed 26 of 44 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns vs. Norfolk State, pushing his career total to 10,186 yards.

“I am very proud of Taylor and this milestone he has accomplished, 10,000 yards passing in only 29 games is an incredible number,” Old Dominion head coach Bobby Wilder said in a school release. “One of the best things about it for me is the fact Taylor would be the first to tell you it is a team accomplishment and the guys he has played with in those 29 games made it happen.”

Heinicke has completed 844 of 1,321 passes (63.9 percent) during his career.

Bart makes most of

first UNC start

North Carolina freshman Mikey Bart stepped up big in his first college start.

The Buford grad made three tackles and a big fourth-down sack in last Saturday’s victory over Boston College. A defensive end in high school, Bart plays the hybrid bandit position in UNC’s 4-2-5 scheme.

CROSS COUNTRY

Shanks third in

conference meet

Brookwood grad QuanDra Shanks, a freshman at Florida A&M, placed third in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Championships to earn all-conference honors.

Shanks finished the 5K course with a time of 18 minutes, 27.90 seconds and helped the Rattlers to their second consecutive conference championship.

Coleman runner-up

at conference

Donye Coleman, a senior at Xavier University (La.), was the runner-up in last weekend’s Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Cross Country Championships.

The Shiloh grad ran 19:42.65 on the 5,000-meter course, earning all-conference honors for the fourth consecutive season. The time and finish, career bests in the meet, qualified her for the NAIA National Championships on Nov. 23 in Lawrence, Kan.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com.