Simpson is throwing her weight around

May 10—CHAMPAIGN — Amber Simpson wasn't immediately drawn toward throwing events when she first started exploring track and field.

The native of Shotton, Wales wanted to become a runner when she first ventured into the sport while attending high school.

"While I was running around the track," Simpson said, "I saw a bunch of people throwing on the inside and I decided to give it a go."

The rest is history for Simpson, who has set Illinois and Big Ten hammer throw records in her first and only season with the Illini after spending the first five seasons of her college career at Memphis.

Simpson has cleared a few hurdles during her short time in Champaign.

She missed the first two weeks of the outdoor season after battling the flu during the end of the indoor campaign. Simpson was in the hospital a day before leaving to finish 13th with a weight throw of 67 feet, 11 3/4 inches at the NCAA Division I indoor championships on March 7 in Boston.

"I took that time to just get a good base in and start feeling confident and get everything going again, like get my body moving again," Simpson said.

"And then (assistant coach J.C. Lambert) opened me up for the home meet (on April 13) and to my surprise, I ended up doing very well."

The results she's posted since wouldn't indicate any adversity.

Simpson's most recent school record in the hammer throw was also the best throw in Big Ten history when she cleared 230-4 at the Gary Wieneke Memorial on April 13. Her throw of 217-6 topped the leaderboard at the prestigious Drake Relays on April 27.

She'll look to continue the trend of success at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships starting Friday in Ann Arbor, Mich. The Illini women won a Big Ten indoor title in February, but haven't won a Big Ten outdoor title since 2007.

If they do this weekend, Simpson will likely have a strong influence on the final team standings. An influence Lambert knew could prove beneficial to Illinois when he saw Simpson's name in the transfer portal following the 2023 season.

"It was a super good conversation," Lambert said. "She was easy to talk to, she asked all the right questions and she was really receptive to everything that I was talking to her about."

It only took two or three conversations, as Lambert recalls, for Simpson to make up her mind.

"It was quite simple and one of the quickest commits that I've had," Lambert said. "Especially because she was already (at) a pretty good level whenever she was on the portal and being recruited."

Simpson was impressed by Lambert's resume, which has included 20 NCAA All-Americans since he began as a volunteer assistant at Southern Illinois in 2013.

While at SIU, Lambert coached two-time Summer Olympian Deanna Price, who has coached at Illinois since 2022. Price competed as a hammer thrower in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and Tokyo in 2021.

Lambert even helped Simpson find a suitable place to live when she arrived in Champaign.

"Once I committed to them, they gave me a lot of support," Simpson said. "I was over in the UK (competing) and while I was over there, I didn't ask them to or anything, they willingly went out and looked for places for me to stay. They were messaging me a lot and supporting me throughout my season."

Freshman thrower Jordan Koskondy — Simpson's travel roommate — has learned a fair amount under the graduate transfer during their time together.

Hammer throwing wasn't an option for Koskondy, native of Salem, Ore., until her senior year of high school at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

"It's really lovely, especially seeing other people accomplish something that you want to do makes it easier," Koskondy said. "You know you can do that. And that's the same with seeing someone else do that."

Simpson — who also waited before beginning her high school career — found success quickly by approaching a national record on one of her early throws. Interest from abroad soon followed.

"I had already applied to a university back home," Simpson said. "And then another coach from (Memphis) reached out to me. ... It was cheaper for me to come over here and get a good education."

After graduating with a master's degree in management from Illinois, Simpson plans to be around C-U past 2024.

"I love it here so much I'm going to stay for another year and work post-collegiately," Simpson said. "Bopefully be able to help volunteer coach here. I'll be staying out in Champaign, getting a job and living my grown-up life."