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Transformed Simpson can lead Terriers to NCAA tournament

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Eilidh Simpson’s taste of basketball at the next level showed her that success would require more than jump shots and ball-handling drills.

When the St. Francis College senior guard tried out for Great Britain’s national team two years ago, she realized the level of strength and conditioning needed to compete with women close to 10 years her senior. She had some work to do if she wanted to get there and enjoy the opportunity of playing nationally.

Weight training wasn’t a big part of basketball in her native Australia, so Simpson had never put a big emphasis on it. But she decided to lean on Terriers strength coach Yuki Miyazawa to get her ready last spring for a second try at making the squad. She gave it another go in the best shape of her career.

“My body was nowhere near the level it needed to be at to compete at that level,” Simpson said. “Once I did come back home, I knew I had to get in better shape. I had to get a lot stronger.”

She made the British national squad on her second try, and played in the 2014 EuroBasketball qualifying tournament last summer. Her best performance saw her score 10 points, dish out three assists and grab two rebounds in 13 minutes to help Great Britain past Macedonia, 78–53.

Simpson transformed herself from a skinny, frail freshman into a strong guard able to play a more physical game, according to Terriers coach John Thurston. He said as freshman, if you hit her she wasn’t going to score, but that’s no longer the case. It going to make one of the Northeast Conference’s best players and even more effective force on both ends of the floor.

“Now if she gets hit it really doesn’t bother her that much,” Thurston said. “Her stamina is better.”

The improvements give Simpson the potential for her best season in a Terriers uniform in a year when St. Francis College is a legitimate threat to make the NCAA tournament.

Simpson was selected by the coaches for the preseason All-Northeast Conference team, and St. Francis was picked to finish third. She averaged 14 points per game last season and is one of the conference’s most complete offensive players.

“She is just as effective from three, the midrange pull up, and at the basket — and that is extremely rare in the women’s game,” Thurston said.

Simpson and her teammates are also extremely driven after posting a program-record 19 wins last year before losing to Bryant in the opening round of the conference tournament. The team lost three key seniors, but return its top three scorers from a year ago. This season will need to be better if St. Francis College is going to accomplish its goals.

“We know that our season ended too early,” Simpson said. “We have worked really hard to make sure that doesn’t happen again. We want to end our college career on that high note, with that championsh­ip.”

Simpson has done her part to put them in a better position to do so.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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