In last Friday’s women’s basketball game between Yale and Dartmouth, a 68–63 Eli loss came alongside a silver lining from an underclassman who has quickly emerged as a statistical leader for the Bulldogs in her collegiate career. Guard Tamara Simpson ’18 broke the Yale record for steals in a season against the Big Green. Currently boasting a total of 80 takeaways, the sophomore still has six games remaining in the season to improve upon her historic mark. The News spoke with Simpson, who is also Yale’s second leading scorer with 10.8 points per game, about her groundbreaking record and her outlook for the remainder of the Ivy League season.
Q: How did you feel in the game against Dartmouth, setting Yale’s single-season steals record but ultimately falling in the contest as a team?
A: It was definitely a bittersweet feeling. Going into the weekend, I suspected I had the opportunity to break the record, but I was focusing on doing whatever I could to make our team win the game. We were coming off a disappointing weekend where we lost to both Cornell and Columbia, and this was our opportunity to bounce back and upset Harvard and beat Dartmouth. I forgot about the record in that moment, I was just playing basketball. I found out at halftime, actually, and I was happy, but I knew there was still half of the game to play, and I knew I had to focus to come out successful. But it was definitely nice to put the record down, and it was something I had been working toward.
Q: How does it feel to have a record such as this one?
A: It feels awesome to have a record. It still hasn’t set in, the gravity of it and the extent of what it means, especially since we are still midseason. It feels good that I can help my teammates and at the same time be recognized in such a way. My coaching staff, my team and my friends outside of basketball have been really proud of me, and I have gotten a lot of congratulations. Actually, on Facebook my brother originally shared an article, and my friends started to share it as well, so I got a bunch of text messages and Facebook messages congratulating me. It has been a really loving time.
Q: You are leading the league in steals as well, with 3.2 steals per game and 80 total. To what do you attribute that performance?
A: I have always been a defensive-minded basketball player, so I have always worked my hardest in defense because I believe defense transitions into offense. If you are successful in getting rebounds and steals, it transfers to offense, and there is a higher chance of being successful in the game. It is nice to lead the league in steals, but like I said, at the end of the day it is about how that shifts into our offense and the results of the game.
Q: Last year you scored 8.9 points per game, and this year as a sophomore you are at 10.8. Can you comment on that uptick in your offensive contribution?
A: I just think my teammates and I, we are all working for the same goal, and we are way more effective in our offense this year. The scoring has been spread out across the board. The past couple games I have been scoring more than I usually do, but any day that can also be Whitney [Wyckoff ’16] or Nyasha [Sarju ’16]. Anyone can step up and score the most points. I don’t think individual points are that important in reference to the overall game; I can go and not score but still be successful on defense and help out in other ways. But yes, I am happy I can help my team out in more ways than one, both with steals and points.
Q: After the losses to Dartmouth and Harvard, the team is now on a six-game losing streak. What do you think will be the key to improving the team’s performance in the second half of the Ivy season?
A: I think we need to focus on insisting on defense. We can’t be intimidated by other teams, and we need to focus on our style of basketball rather than responding to other teams’ and how they run their game. We need to get better at playing each game and focusing on ourselves for those 40 minutes.
Q: What have been the team’s biggest struggles so far this season?
A: I think that [it is] how we bounce back from defensive losses. We don’t get in the right place for help. Also, how we respond to adversity in general — we just have to focus on having a short-term memory and marking it up for the next play and not focusing on our losses for too long.
Q: How have both the coaching staff and your captain, Whitney Wyckoff, been helping keep the team’s morale up despite the losses?
A: I think they do a great job at keeping our spirits up. We touch base a lot, I just had lunch with my head coach today, and they are making sure everyone is in a good place. They remind us that we are a great team and that just because of a couple of losses we can’t begin doubting ourselves or the future. We can do it, and we are a great team, but we just have to overcome these adversities right now.