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End of an Aggie basketball era. Or is it?

The UCD women’s basketball team gathers around retiring coach Sandy Simpson at the conclusion of the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament game on Saturday. The Aggies stayed close for much of the first half at Maples Pavilion, but top-seeded Stanford pulled away for an 86-59 victory. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

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March 19, 2011 | Leave Comment

It’s time to turn the Paige, so to speak.

And say “hi-de-ho” to Heidi.

One of the most successful eras in UC Davis athletic history has come to an end with the Aggies’ 86-59 loss to Stanford in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

Or has it?

Departing players Paige Mintun and Heidi Heintz and their coach Sandy Simpson all think UCD’s first-ever berth in the women’s NCAA championship tournament is just another step in a positive journey.

“I feel blessed to have played for a guy like coach,” Mintun said after her swan-song 17 points paced the Aggies on Saturday.

“We played so hard … and it was all for him.”

Mintun, who like Heintz, hopes her basketball career continues overseas, was impressed with the playoff experience and felt she and her teammates did a good job “showing people what Davis is about” before a national-television audience on ESPN2.

“This is a good stepping stone for what this program is about to become,” the Valley Center native continued.

Tara VanDerveer, Stanford’s Hall of Fame coach who won national crowns with her 1990 and 1992 Stanford teams, wished Simpson luck in his retirement after 14 seasons as Aggie coach:

“I want to compliment Davis. They came out and played a very inspired game. Congratulations to Sandy and his staff for having a great year.

VanDerveer, a former University of Indiana player, went on to talk about Simpson’s retirement. In her 25th year Stanford, VanDerveer hinted she was a little envious of the now ex-coach …

“They must be paying him a lot there to have him retire,” she said jokingly. “He is young (Simspon is 54; VanDerVeer is 57). But more power to him that he’s not just taking a check … that’s he’s able to retire and cheer (his) team on. And I know the new coach will continue to do a great job.”

That “new” coach is former Aggie standout and longtime assistant Jennifer Gross.

Gross, in her seventh season at Simpson’s side, was the point guard on the 1997 NCAA Division II Final Four team that Simpson coached.

Gross plans to keep the current Aggie staff together and, according to Simpson, takes over the reins immediately.

“We’ll all take some time off, but it’s immediate that (Jen) is the coach as of (Saturday). She is going to be the head coach of the program … all the spring workouts, the individual work with the athletes — that will be hers and her staff’s responsibility,” Simpson said.

Simpson will remain involved in planning the April team banquet, “then I’ll step away and let them tweak the program the way they want.”

“They’re extremely intelligent … they’re great people,” Simpson said, continuing to talk about his now-former staff. “(They) care about the welfare of the student-athlete, not just as an athlete, but as a whole person.

“They have the energy, I think, to move this program forward — aspire to be eventually like a Gonzaga or UCSB, like they were in their hayday. Not just (strong) in the Big West conference, but become a regional power.”

Simpson finishes with a 251-153 record with the Aggies. He is a 1981 UCD graduate who plans to continue teaching in the school’s physical education department.

Bruce Gallaudet

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