Dec. 27, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota women's track and field assistant coach Peter Miller is excited about the upcoming season and confident in his group of young throwers. Miller, a former Golden Gopher student-athlete, enters his first season coaching the Gophers. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2008 after earning his bachelor's degree in kinesiology.
"It's been awesome to come back to the University of Minnesota," Miller said. "It's cool to work with coaches Matt Bingle and Sarah Hopkins, who was a teammate of mine when I was here. Coach Bingle was new to the program when I was a student-athlete here, so I saw him go through the things that I'm going through now. He's been a great mentor."
Along with enjoying his fellow coaches, Miller appreciates the balance among the track and field events at the U.
"It's really great for me coming to a program that is really balanced, that has a great cross country tradition and very strong field events outside of the throws. It's fun to be excited about all of the events."
Miller is no stranger to the throwing program at Minnesota. He captained the Gopher track and field team as a senior along with earning three letters and three Academic All-Big Ten awards. Nevertheless, Miller acknowledges that the Gophers' former throwing coach Lynne Anderson left big shoes to fill when she retired at the end of the 2013 season.
"Losing a coach like Lynne is obviously a huge detriment to the program. She was here for 33 years. She's coached longer than I've been alive and had a ton of success," Miller said. "She recruited all of these girls, and they came here because of her. Fortunately, they're open to changes and trying new things. Hopefully success breeds trust, and we go from there."
Miller's throwers have already seen early success throughout the fall semester training and at the team's annual intersquad meet held in early December.
"Almost everyone that competed in the intersquad meet this year threw way further than they threw last year, so I feel like we're way ahead of this point last year," Miller said. "I'm excited to get into real competition and get after it a little bit."
The Gophers return nine throwers from their 2013 squad, led by juniors Devin Stanford (Milwaukee, Wis.), Jess Herauf (Dickinson, N.D.) and Rachel Melum (Iola, Wis.), along with sophomores Lyndsey Thorpe (Stanley, Wis.) and Becci Osterdyk (Mora, Minn.). Stanford and Melum are captains for the throwers group.
"Both Devin and Rachel lead by example," Miller said. "They've done a great job of helping me understand the group. I think we're all still trying to understand each other so the level of trust and level of comfort isn't perfect at this point, but it's definitely getting better every day."
Minnesota graduated four throwers last season in Tina DeLakis, Jeri Johnson-Chambers, Caitlyn Dongoske and Amy Kubat; with no seniors on this year's roster of throwers, Stanford, Herauf, Melum and fellow junior Megan Petermann (Clintonville, Wis.) are the veterans.
"For me, everybody is new," Miller said. "I had some expectations, but it's been fun to work with them and learn about their passions and expectations.
"I think Devin Stanford is going to be the cornerstone of the program for the next two years. She has the ability to be top three in the hammer and the discus this year."
Stanford enters her junior season after already making her mark in the Gopher record books as a sophomore. She threw the fifth-best weight throw in Gopher history to finish 12th at the 2013 Indoor Big Ten Championships (60-1 1/4, 18.32m). Stanford then followed up with Minnesota's seventh-best throws all-time in both the discus (170-4, 51.93m) and the hammer (189-1, 57.63m) during the 2013 outdoor season.
"Lyndsey Thorpe is another person who's made huge progress," Miller said. "She threw her lifetime best in the shot put for the first time since high school at the intersquad this season, and she has some more distance out there that I think we can get a hold of before the indoor season is over. She already surpassed her season goal in the shot, so now we have to reexamine her season goals."
Osterdyk also threw her lifetime best in the shot put at the intersquad.
"Becci Osterdyk had a great performance in the shot put, throwing a meter and a half further than she threw at the intersquad last year," Miller said. "She is going to be really good. She's been training really well, and she's getting more consistent and starting to understand the event better.
"That's a huge part of throwing - to understand the events so you know what you have to do to be successful. All of the girls are learning and watching film and doing the things they need to do make themselves students of the sport."
The Gophers also return three redshirt freshmen from last year's team: Angie Guenther (White Bear Lake, Minn.), Kailee Kamps (Belmont, Wis.) and Autumn Miller (Roscoe, Ill.). Coach Miller sees all three of them in the mix to travel and compete at the Big Ten level this season.
Built for Outdoor Success
With especially strong athletes in the javelin and discus, the Gophers are naturally geared more toward the outdoor season than the indoor campaign.
"We're definitely built toward being an outdoor team," Miller said. "That being said, we are putting more emphasis on the indoor season now than in the past. I would like to think that we can have at least one finalist in the shot put and the weight throw - hopefully more than that. Our goal is to score at least one point and get at least one person to finals in every event at the indoor Big Ten championships."
Once the outdoor season gets underway, Miller is especially excited about his team's potential in the javelin, led by freshman Nicolle Murphy (Arkansas City, Kan.). Murphy was a high school All-American, posting the third-best javelin mark in the nation as a senior. Her throw of 168-5 at the Kansas Class 5A Region 8 meet would have placed third at the 2013 Big Ten Outdoor Championships.
"Javelin could be really special for us," Miller said. "Both Jess Herauf and Nicolle Murphy have no idea how talented they are. At the intersquad, we did a javelin competition indoors in our football building, and both of them threw well over the NCAA qualifying mark. Jess threw over her lifetime best off a very short approach. I think Nicolle could be a first team All-American and push for top three in the Big Ten."
Miller cited the team's balance in the discus as another one of the team's strengths outdoors. He identified Stanford, Guenther and Kamps as three student-athletes who have the capacity to be Big Ten level discus throwers.
Immediate and Long-Term Goals
The team's overall goal during the indoor season is to score at least one point at the Big Ten championships, but the Gophers are looking at building something bigger in the process. As a new coach, Miller has implemented some changes without pushing the team too far out of its comfort zone, and he is happy that the Gophers have been open to trying new training ideas and new workouts. He recognizes that balance and trust early on are essential to long-term success.
"The girls have been really good throughout the transition," Miller said. "I understand it's been really hard on them. The coach who recruited me out of college is not who coached me in college, so I went through a similar transition. I have been trying to be as understanding as possible while also establishing the culture that I feel we need to establish in order to reach the goal of being the best throws program in the Big Ten. I think we have the talent to be there in a couple years, but we have a lot to establish as a group in order to make that happen."
Miller is grateful that everyone is healthy and throwing well heading into the indoor season. The Gophers kick off the season with the Northwest Open at the Minnesota Fieldhouse on Saturday, Jan. 18.
"We just have to keep building and keep understanding that it's a process," Miller said. "We don't have any seniors this year, so whatever we do this year is only going to get better next year as long as we do things right and stay healthy."
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