MORGANTOWN — After earning Class AAAA first-team all-state honors last season, University girls basketball senior guard Ella Simpson gave her verbal commitment to play for the University of Rio Grande, located in Rio Grande, Ohio.
As a junior last season, she averaged 16.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 2.1 steals per game, leading the Hawks to a 16-8 record that included an upset of then top-ranked Wheeling Park, 65-57, in the middle of December.
“I chose Rio because of the academics, coaches, and overall environment of the school,” Simpson said on Monday. “One of my travel coaches from this summer, Brandon Bias, is actually the coach at Rio so I saw how he coached and we developed a great relationship, and with head coach (David) Smalley also, which is really important to me.”
Ella says the family feel is something she sought during her recruitment process and that while stressful and sometimes overwhelming, staying focused on environment and academics throughout helped her come to her decision.
“The biology program there is strong and that meant a lot to me because academics come first,” she said. “Finding the things that were most important to me was my main focus while making my decision.”
UHS head coach Nick Lusk said that Ella has a vital role to his team both with her performance on the court and her leadership off of the court.
“I can’t say enough about Ella and what she has meant to this program since I started here three years ago,” he said. “Obviously what she does on the court and her stats speak for themselves, but it’s really what she does off of the court that makes her so special. She works hard on her game individually, working out and such, but also never misses a team work-out or meeting. Her mindset is so strong and she is special to our program. That’s the kind of player they’re getting at Rio Grande and I couldn’t be more excited for her.”
Having now committed to play at the next level before the high school season begins, Simpson says it feels like a huge weight has been lifted off of her shoulders.
“Trying to decide was stressful and I feel really happy with my decision and excited for what’s to come,” she said. “I can focus on using this upcoming season to help my team win and as an opportunity to get better and have fun, because it’s the last time I’ll be playing high school basketball.”
Cherishing her time at UHS is important to Ella, but she says playing in college is something she has looked forward to since she was young.
“I think it’s so special being able to continue playing the sport I love after high school ends,” she said. “I’m excited to play with new teammates and against great competition. Although one chapter will be closing, I’m so excited for the new one to begin.”