Jan. 15, 2014
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 8, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2013-14 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Jasmine Simpson was nervous, then distraught. It was her first season competing for the University of Iowa track & field team, she had relatives watching at the Musco-Twilight Invitational, and all three of her hammer throws went into the net for fouls.
A family member came by to console. It was her grandfather, who knows a thing or two about competing, dusting yourself off after being knocked to the ground, and succeeding.
"He said that being in a slump is all in your head and all you have to do is change your outlook to getting a hit rather than how you haven't been getting a hit," said Simpson, who is entering her senior season. "That advice stayed with me, so when I'm having bad throwing days I stop worrying about how bad I have been throwing and start worrying about how well I can be throwing."
Simpson's grandfather is not your typical sage. He is baseball's Billy Williams, the 1961 National League Rookie of the Year, six-time All-Star, and 1987 inductee into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
"I'm proud to be his granddaughter, and I'm proud of all the things he has done," Simpson said. "I'm excited for him to be there because at the end of the day he's just my grandpa."
Simpson comes from an athletic family. Her older sister played softball at the University of Illinois and her younger brothers participate in baseball and basketball.
"I'm in a different realm (with track and field), but it is still representing my grandfather and our family," Simpson said.
Simpson is from Wheaton, Ill., and graduated from Glenbard South High School, where she lettered in basketball and excelled in the shot put and discus. She was recruited to the UI by assistant coach Scott Cappos who had visions of Simpson being a main cog on the ground floor of building a successful women's throws corps.
The first area of emphasis for Simpson was the javelin.
"I thought that was similar to a baseball throwing motion, but that didn't work out," said Cappos, who knew about Simpson's ancestry.
"I don't think I was flexible enough in the shoulders," Simpson said. "It didn't pan out well, so I jumped into hammer."
And what a jump it was. Simpson specializes in the weight throw indoors and the hammer throw outdoors. She broke teammate Ashlyn Gulvas' weight throw record last season at the Bill Bergen Invitational hosted by Iowa State (62-feet-2 ½), but the mark lasted 20 days before Gulvas reclaimed the top spot with a throw of 63-6.
"We're proud of each other," Simpson said. "When Ashlyn and I came in, there were no women throwers and coach Cappos stressed that we were going to be the foundation. Last year was seeing that all come to fruition.
"It is never unfriendly, we were excited for each other and that motivated us. If Ashlyn broke it, then I was motivated to do it; if I broke it, then she was motivated to do it. In the end we were making each other better."
Annemie Smith, a junior, adds to the strength and depth of the Hawkeye throwers.
Last season Simpson placed eighth at the Big Ten Conference Championships in the weight throw (61-2 ¾) and was seventh in the hammer throw (186-1). She set the school record in the hammer throw at the Alabama Relays on March 23, 2013 (197-7).
"Last year she was a Big Ten scorer for us and had a good day at the Big Ten meet, but not a great day," Cappos said. "Our goal for her is to be in the top five in the Big Ten Championships and look to break through to be an NCAA-level thrower this year and compete in the NCAA Championships indoors and outdoors."
In order for Simpson to accomplish those goals, she will focus on details and try to fix the little things.
"I would like to keep building on the success I had last year and finishing on a high note," Simpson said. "That would be the best-case scenario for me."
At the season opening intrasquad competition Dec. 7, Iowa's big three throwers went 1-2-3 in the weight throw. Gulvas was the winner with a toss of 60-3 ¼, followed by Simpson (59-4 ¾) and Smith (57-0 ¼).
"Last year we had three girls who were school record holders at one time or another in the weight throw and it was broken three different times by two different girls," Cappos said. "All three of those are outstanding weight throwers and hammer throwers and will help our program in the Big Ten, and we're looking to break through on the national level with that group."
Cappos is a Chicago native, but he grew up on the south side and followed the White Sox, not Simpson's grandpa and the Cubs.
"I know a little more about the history now," Cappos said. "It is exciting to have a famous former athlete involved in your track & field program."
A household of Cubs and White Sox fans is divided; the Simpsons have managed to survive despite having a daughter at the University of Illinois and another at the University of Iowa.
"It's competitive in a fun way," said Jasmine, who is majoring in secondary English education. "When I go home, there will be an Illinois cup in the cabinet next to the Iowa cup, and I'll push it over to the side and grab my Iowa cup. We used to work out together when we were home for break. She would have her Illinois stuff on and I would have my Iowa stuff on; it was fun."
The Hawkeyes open the 2014 season Saturday by hosting the Big Four Duals beginning at noon in the Recreation Building. Other teams competing are Drake, Iowa State, and Northern Iowa.