Student Stories

That's the way the ball bounces

Shortly over a month ago, on the Ratner Athletic Center basketball courts, the dream of a championship season ended earlier than expected.

On March 9, the University of Chicago women’s basketball team faced-off against Calvin College with a spot in the Elite 8 on the line. Just prior to tip-off, the energy in the gym was palpable, open seats were few and far between, and the majority of the crowd was rooting for and excitedly anticipating a win by the Maroons.

Forty game minutes later, the gym was noticeably quieter. Fans were solemn, heading for the exits as the UChicago players and coaches walked towards their locker room, struggling to cope with the end of a record-setting 27-game winning streak, an undefeated season, and their quest for a Division III NCAA championship.

Once they reached the locker room, few words were said, plenty of tears were shed, and feelings of shock, devastation, and disbelief pervaded. Their season wasn’t supposed to end this way; it wasn’t supposed to end this soon.

Although weeks have passed since the game, the disappointment still weighs heavily on fourth-years Morgan Herrick and Taylor Simpson, the team’s former anchors.

“I really try not to think about it,” said Simpson.

Simpson and Herrick, who were named All-Americans for the 2011-2012 term, led the Maroons in a historic season, advancing women’s basketball to where no other UChicago team has ever gone. However, these achievements did not come without sacrifice.

In the past four years, Herrick has undergone several knee operations—she twice tore her ACL and once tore her meniscus—and now, she might have to undergo surgery again, this time to fix a bone spur that resides in her left ankle. These days, she rarely plays pick-up basketball games simply because of the painful effects they will have on her knees the following day.

“I’m old,” Herrick joked.

Fortunately for Simpson, she has avoided the catastrophic knee injuries. She can be found often in Ratner, running up and down the court playing pick-up games and holding her own against the guys. Up until sometime between her junior and senior year in high school, playing basketball at the college level wasn’t on her radar. She had played soccer competitively since she was five years old and had aspired to play it in college. Then one day, she changed her mind.

“I don’t think that I have a better reason other than I just loved playing basketball,” Simpson said.

Herrick played Division I for a few years at Drake University but then transferred to UChicago before the 2010-2011 season partly because of the knee injuries and partly because her younger sister, Meghan Herrick, was also playing basketball for the school. Morgan doesn’t regret the injuries but notes that if they didn’t happen, she probably would have stayed at Drake all four years prompting Simpson to chime in, “Well, I’m glad you didn’t,” which elicited laughter from both.

Herrick, who wants to coach basketball after she graduates, played the forward position and was a tremendous post defender.

“Her mid-range jump shot [was] about as accurate as anybody else’s that I have ever seen at this level to the point that I [felt] just as good about her pull jump shot as I did about anybody else getting the ball directly underneath the basket,” said Aaron Roussell, the head coach of the women’s basketball team who recruited both players.

Simpson, who received a Fulbright scholarship and will be teaching in Malaysia after undergrad, was a physically gifted center. At 6’2”, she towered over most of her opponents, yet was surprisingly fast.

“The speed at which she [was] able to play, I don’t know if we’ll ever have that again,” said Roussell. “Some times you had to re-watch film because you were like there is no way she could have gotten down the floor that fast.”

She was also a ferocious rebounder, snatching rebounds at a team best rate of 8.1 per game, surpassing the next best rebounder on the team by at least 3 rebounds per contest.

Although their styles contrasted, their play complemented one another. For the past two years together, Simpson and Herrick terrorized opposing frontlines and led the Maroons to an outstanding 48-2 record, helping establish UChicago as a D3 basketball powerhouse.