Sandy Simpson enters his 14th and final season at the helm of the UC Davis women's basketball program, having guided it to a third-place NCAA Division II finish in 1997, a successful transition to Division I and the Big West Conference, and appearances in the Women's National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) in 2008 and 2010.
Simpson enters the 2010-11 season with a 227-144 career record, including an 137-63 mark in conference play. Last year, Simpson led the Aggies to the Big West Conference regular-season title and the program's first 20-win season in more than a decade. For his part, he earned Big West Conference Coach of the Year honors.
In 2008-09, he reached two key coaching milestones. On January 4, he captured his 200th career victory with a win over Cal State Northridge. Then on March 4, Simpson's victory against the Matadors was his 206th, the most in program history.
DAWN OF DIVISION I
After a four-year transition from Division II, Simpson led the Aggies into the 2007-08 season for their first year of official Division I competition. The Aggies stormed onto the scene winning the Waikiki Marriot Classic in Hawaii with three straight victories over Northern Arizona, Hawaii, and Pac-10 member, Washington. The non-conference schedule also featured the 2008 NCAA runner-Up, Stanford, as well as Arizona State. As for Big West Conference play, UC Davis beat each league team at least once enroute to a 12-4, securing second place and the No. 2 seed for the Big West Tournament. In the conference tournament, the Aggies knocked off two-time defending Big West champions UC Riverside in the semifinals to reach the championship game. Although they came one game short of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, their second-place finish earned them a bid to the Women's National Invitational Tournament (WNIT).
UC Davis was also just the second team in league history to advance to the championship game and earn a postseason berth in just its first year in the conference. The Aggies qualified for the Big West Tournament for the second straight year in 2008-09 despite battling a shortened roster affected throughout the year by injuries.
Their success in the first two years of Big West play has been exemplified with several postseason honors. Simpson was named 2007-08 Big West Conference Coach of the Year. He has also helped six Aggies earn All-Big West Conference honors. Jessica Campbell (2008) and Paige Mintun (2009 and 2010) have been named to the first team, Haylee Donaghe (2008) was a second-team honoree, and Heather Bates (2008), Lauren Juric (2009) and Kasey Riecks (2009) have each captured honorable mention. Additionally, Juric was selected Big West Freshmen of the Year in 2009, joining Riecks on the All-Freshman team.
TRANSITION FROM DIVISION II
Before the Aggies began their transition to Division I, Simpson had continued the program's outstanding tradition of D-II excellence. In 2003-04, he guided UC Davis to its 19th consecutive winning season, accomplishing the feat with a team that included no juniors and just two seniors. One year later, Simpson led the program through its first season against D-I competition and its first tour through the teams of the Big West Conference. Facing the toughest schedule in school history, the Aggies won nine games and enjoyed sweeps against future Big West league-mate UC Irvine and Causeway Classic rival Sacramento State.
In 2005-06, Simpson's team posted a 16-12 overall ledger, including an 11-5 record against the teams of the Big West Conference. That record, had the Aggies counted in the conference standings, would have tied for first place in the regular-season standings and secured one of the top three seeds at the Big West tournament. During that run, UC Davis beat each conference member at least once.
In 2006-07, Simpson ended the reclassification period with a team that had no returning starters from the previous year. Nonetheless, he led a relatively young and inexperienced team to 13 wins, including a victory versus Big West champion UC Riverside.
ANNOUNCING HIS PRESENCE
The UC Davis graduate has twice been interim coach of the Aggies. The first was in 1996-97 when former coach and recent Cal Aggie Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Jorja Hoehn took a leave of absence, and the second was in 1998-99 when Hoehn retired prior to the start of the season. Simpson was named head coach on a permanent basis on June 1, 1999.
His credentials as interim coach made his selection for the permanent position a logical one. In 1997, Simpson guided UC Davis to a program-best 29-3 record, a Northern California Athletic Conference championship, and a third-place finish in the school's first-ever trip to an NCAA Division II Elite Eight basketball tournament. Simpson was named NCAC Coach of the Year, having led the team to a 14-0 conference record.
It was a magical season for UC Davis, which enjoyed a perfect 16-0 mark at home, hosted the NCAA West Region Tournament, and then posted wins over West Texas A&M and Bentley at the Elite Eight in Grand Forks, N.D.
In 1998-99, the first for UC Davis in the 12-team CCAA, the Aggies won the league with an 18-2 record, finished 25-4 overall and advanced to their 10th straight regional, including their fifth straight regional final. Simpson was named the CCAA Coach of the Year, after his team posted its sixth straight 20-win season.
Simpson is no stranger to either the Aggie program nor the UC Davis campus. Simpson, who stands 6-foot-8, played for legendary coach Bob Hamilton in 1976-77, helping the team capture a share of the Far Western Conference championship.
His coaching career started in 1977 when he began a four-year stint as an assistant under Gill-Fisher. He served on the Aggie staff during the program's heydays in the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), helping UC Davis capture a pair of Golden State Conference titles. In 1980-81, his final season before graduating with a degree in history, the Aggies went 23-8 and advanced to the AIAW Division III quarterfinals.
Simpson then moved on to the University of Washington staff for three years, while doing graduate work in kinesiology. He later served on the George Washington University staff for a year, then assisted at Washington State until 1990, then spent a year as head coach of a First Division professional team in Germany.
Despite his coaching journey around - and even out of - the country, Simpson had retained his ties to his alma mater by serving on the UC Davis girls' basketball camp coaching staff. He rejoined the Aggie program as the top assistant for the 1991-92 season, replacing Kathy Hagerstrom.
By this time, UC Davis women's basketball was under the impeccable tutelage of Hoehn, and had begun one of the most promiment stretches of conference and national success of any Aggie team. Simpson was Hoehn's top assistant for five years, served as head coach on an interim basis for that historic 1996-97 season, returned to his post (this time as assistant head coach) for a year, then took over at the helm for good in 1998-89.
Including his two stops as an assistant for Gill-Fisher and Hoehn, plus his years as head coach, the 2007-08 season represents the 21st year that Simpson has been involved with the Aggie women's basketball program.
Simpson and his wife, Chris, live in nearby Dixon. They are parents to daughters Olivia (13) and Ingra (7), and son Sebastian (10).
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