MINNEAPOLIS – The University of Minnesota women's track & field team is set to kick off the 2018 indoor season. Assistant coach Peter Miller looks ahead at the indoor season for the Gophers' throwers as GopherSports.com previews each event group.
"Shot will be a good event for us," Miller said. "We return the school record-holder in Kiley Sabin and the athlete who was fourth in the Big Ten indoors last year in Shay Nielsen, so that's a good place to start. We have a transfer in Nayoka Clunis who has thrown unattached already and would be right behind where Shay was last year. She's very talented at a lot of events, so splitting time with her has been a challenge."
Kiley Sabin returns to lead Minnesota's shot putters as the indoor and outdoor program record holder with an indoor PR of 17.17m (56-04.00) while Shay Nielsen is back after placing fourth at the B1G Indoor Championship and ending the 2017 indoor season ranked seventh all-time (15.85m, 52-00.00).
"Kiley is definitely the leader by example and vocally," Miller said. "She's a lot stronger than she was last year, which is something we really emphasized in the off season. She's a lot more confident. I think you'll see a lot more consistency out of her. She has matured a lot physically and emotionally over the last year.
"I would say the same about Shay," Miller continued. "Shay had a great indoor season -- and really had a great outdoor season besides the Big Ten meet -- last year, too. She's much more confident, communicates a lot better, and has grown a lot. They both are great leaders for the new kids and the young kids. It's great to see how much faster the young athletes are developing thanks to the leadership in that event area."
Clunis comes to Minnesota after two seasons competing for Cloud County Community College in Concordia, Kan., where she was an 11-time national place winner at the NJCAA Indoor and Outdoor National Championships, including four top-seven finishes in the shot put. Freshmen Tess Keyzers and Erin Dunning round out the Gophers' shot put corps.
"Our two freshmen, Tess and Erin, are probably both going to redshirt, but they are both father along than either Kiley or Shay were at that point in their careers, so they are super exciting young talents," Miller said. "I think we have the deepest group we've ever had in the shot -- not to mention Ayesha Champagnie, who is a multi who has thrown around 47 feet as well. We'll be very deep in the shot, but the Big Ten is super challenging.
"I'm excited to see where we can go. We had a great fall of training, everyone is healthy in that group, and technically I think they are all more stable. We have a lot of work to do, and right away, we'll open the gates with a very big challenge against Wisconsin. We have a much more competitive schedule this year than we've had in years past, so there are going to be a lot of challenges. Hopefully that prepares us for a competitive Big Ten meet as well."
Listen to Miller's weight throw preview.
"The weight is going to be a great event for us," Miller said. "It's crazy; I say this every year, but I feel like it's the best year it'll ever be but it keeps getting better. Obviously Agnes comes back as Big Ten runner-up and ranks second in school history. Behind her, Nina Horvath has had an awesome summer and fall. Temi Ogunrinde had a great outdoor season last year and will take a huge step forward in the weight just based on her confidence and her experience with the hammer."
Senior Agnes Esser (20.94m, 68-08.50) and redshirt juniors Nina Horvath (19.42m, 63-08.75) and Temi Ogunrinde (19.34m, 63-05.50) begin the 2018 season ranked second, seventh, and eighth, respecively, among all-time Gophers in the weight throw.
"Along with contributing in shot put, Nayoka Clunis will add depth to the weight," Miller said. "She opened up at 19.42m, which would put her tied with Nina's PR.
"I haven't even mentioned Kaitlyn Long, who is the number 12 weight thrower in NCAA history. She's thrown 22.70m and has had a great fall of training. Obviously it's a transition. I don't know what to expect, but she threw unattached already and would've broke our school record if she was competing attached. Those five are awesome, and our newcomers are not far behind."
Clunis and Long both bring impressive resumes to Minnesota's weight throw group. Clunis earned two top-five national finishes in the weight at the NJCAA Indoor National Championships while competing for Cloud County Community College.
Long joins the Gophers as a transfer from Winona State, where she competed for the Warriors for three seasons and won back-to-back NCAA Division II national titles in the weight throw in 2015 and 2016 before finishing as national runner-up in 2017. She has a career-best mark of 22.70m (74-05.75) to rank 12th in NCAA history.
"Our practices are like most conference meets," Miller said of the Gophers' depth and talent in the weight throw. "It's crazy, but it's exciting. It's a fun environment because they all love each other and support each other. They're all more concerned about everybody else throwing far than they are about themselves throwing far, which is good at times and not good at times.
"It's great to see the development there and how much further ahead we are than we were at this time last year. The worked hard this fall. We have depth, we have talent, and we have the right attitudes and the right focus on the process and getting better every day."
Check back to GopherSports.com as the Gophers coaching staff previews the indoor distance events before Minnesota's season-opening weekend on Friday, Jan. 12 (UST Opener) and Saturday, Jan. 13 (Minnesota vs. Wisconsin Dual).
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