When Yale women’s basketball captain Sarah Halejian ’15 tore her ACL, putting her out of competition for the season, the Bulldogs despaired — but little did they know that guard Tamara Simpson ’18 would step up to the plate and help the Elis secure wins in their first two Ivy games.
The young guard came through in the clutch for Yale in its first game without Halejian, hitting the game-winning layup with 10 seconds left to beat Maine 57–55, and she has remained a fixture in the Bulldogs’ attack all season long.
“We knew right as she walked on campus that she had tremendous ability,” assistant coach Clare Fitzpatrick said. “She has a knack for the game and great basketball IQ.”
Simpson knew she wanted to play basketball at the collegiate level as early as elementary school. In high school at Portledge School in Locust Valley, New York, she accumulated over 2,000 career points and led the school to a championship win in her senior year.
Simpson credited much of her success in high school and at Yale to the great influences she had growing up, such as her siblings and teammates. At Portledge, several older classmates were on their way to the college level, and she saw herself following in their footsteps. Simpson said she was always focused on getting to the next level, taking advantage of opportunities and doing what she needed to do to succeed.
Looking back, Simpson says her three siblings were also fundamental to her basketball career.
“I always wanted to beat my older siblings when playing with them, and they encouraged me to work harder and be better,” Simpson said.
Although the Bulldog said she has always loved basketball since a very young age, one of the biggest reasons she chose Yale was due to her passion for learning.
Simpson explained that she wanted to go to an Ivy League school because she thought it would provide her with a nice balance between academics and basketball.
“I wanted to keep my options open since I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue basketball after college,” Simpson said.
Both Simpson and her teammates are happy that she chose to come to Yale. Halejian said that although at first Simpson was quiet and the team could not get a read on her, she has now come out of her shell and is a pleasure to be around.
The captain added that Simpson has proved crucial to the program this year.
“Tamara is a fierce competitor and always wants to win, which is a very important quality to have in the Ivy League,” Halejian said. “She has grown to be one of the main contributors to the team this year … [She] has the potential to develop into one of the best players in the league down the road.”
That growth has picked up in earnest lately. After starting just one of Yale’s first 10 games, Simpson has made an appearance in the starting lineup in each of the last six contests. In the Elis’ conference opener against Brown, Simpson was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week after scoring 19 points on 8–12 shooting, both career bests.
Simpson also currently leads the team in both steals and field goals in conference play, as well as all freshmen on the squad in points per game at 9.0.
“I think she’s going to be a huge part of Yale basketball going forward,” Fitzpatrick said. “She’s going to be a huge leader for us as she gets older and learns more, and what she’s been able to accomplish as a freshman is impressive. The future is very bright for her.”