Randy York’s N-Sider
Thursday, Friday and Saturday are big days for Nebraska track and field performers who have their sights set on the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., June 11-14. For Ellie Ewere and Mollie Gribbin and their Husker teammates who meet certain standards making them eligible to compete for a qualifying spot, the NCAA journey begins Thursday in Fayetteville, Ark. It will continue Friday and Saturday in the NCAA West Region Preliminary Round at Arkansas' John McDonnell Field. While the top 48 West Region athletes in each event and top relay teams compete in Fayetteville, Jacksonville, Fla., will serve as the host for the identical format used in the NCAA’s East Region.
Ewere, a junior from Hillsborough, N.J., finished second in the Big Ten Conference Outdoor Championships in the triple jump. She has the third best triple jump among the 48 West Region competitors. Her 13.44-meter achievement is 44-1 1/4 feet and ranks behind a senior from San Diego State (45-0 1/2) and a sophomore from Texas A&M (44-6 3/4) in the West Region. Gribbin, a sophomore from Montpelier, Vt., qualified for the NCAA regional preliminary round with a 41-8 3/4-foot (12.72-meter) effort and is one of three Husker women who also will compete in the long jump.
Pepin: Huskers Won Two East Coast Recruits
Gary Pepin, Nebraska’s Hall-of-Fame track and field head coach and personal jumps teacher, likes the competitive nature of both East Coast recruits and believes they push each other in practice, as well as competitively on weekends. “Ellie and Mollie are rock-solid people, good athletes and good students,” Pepin said. “We don’t get many transfers here from an Ivy League school, but we got Mollie. In fact, the recruiting stories for both young women are interesting, and we’re glad they came here. We feel like they landed in the right place. I think they feel the same way.”
Gribbin remembers getting letters from Nebraska when she was in high school, but didn’t respond, choosing instead to visit Columbia, Virginia, Oregon and Illinois before settling on Dartmouth, a place where she felt she ultimately didn’t fit. After consulting with her head coach at Dartmouth, she sent emails to Nebraska and Oklahoma. Pepin responded almost immediately. “I was thinking about taking a semester off, but my gut was telling me to go straight to Nebraska, and I’m glad I did.”
Gribbin Wanted to Compete at a Higher Level
Talk about the difference between perception and reality. “I knew I wanted to compete at a big-time program,” she said, “but what shocked me most was the time I spent academically and athletically. At Dartmouth, there was no academic support, which was surprising. Nebraska has been absolutely amazing. The priority put on academics and the support I’ve received makes you more comfortable in the classroom, which, in turn, helps you in athletics because you’re not constantly stressed.”
Gribbin wasn’t the only surprised Nebraska recruit. Ewere visited Massachusetts, Manhattan, Villanova, and Eastern Michigan. She had a good relationship with the Auburn coach and felt comfortable about going there, but every time she checked out Nebraska on Huskers.com, she wondered why she had not prioritized Lincoln.
Ewere Changes Mind, Makes NU Last Visit
Matt Martin, a longtime Pepin assistant and outstanding recruiter, kept encouraging Ewere to visit Lincoln, so she could see what she was missing. “I don’t know if I was expecting wagons and tumbleweeds, but he finally talked me into making Nebraska my last visit,” Ewere recalled. “I fell in love with this place the minute I landed in Lincoln. The people were so nice. It was instant. I called my high school coach and told her ‘I want to come here!’ She told me she knew that I would be shocked by what Nebraska has. She said it really comes down to comparing coaches and seeing who could make me a better jumper, and hands down, that was Coach Pepin!”
Ewere's National Letter of Intent signature "broadened my scope the first day I visited Nebraska,” she said. “I remember Keith Zimmer (Nebraska’s longtime associate AD for Life Skills) asking me how many student-athletes become professional athletes,” she recalled. “That really stuck in my head and helped me with my decision. Every other school was selling me on athletics. Here, they sold me academics first and athletics second.”
Gribbin's Mom Enables a Smooth Transition
Nebraska’s academic emphasis created a new mindset. “It’s what I love most about coming here,” Ewere said. “My academic advisor (Mike Nieman) is always texting me and motivating me. He’s such a good listener. My freshman year was rough. I would go into his office almost ready to cry, but he would help me analyze and figure out a better way to get things done. The support system here is great.”
Gribbin has always had an academic mindset, but was surprised to adjust to Nebraska’s style and approach within her first week. “It was a great transition,” she said. “My mom was the only one who supported my transfer from the Ivy League to a bigger university. She was so supportive. We rented a car, packed up my stuff and drove out here. She was amazing and helped me get out here so quick and move into a house.
Dartmouth Transfer: Lincoln 'Very Cool'
“We had no idea about what to expect,” Gribbin said. “Spending a year here, I can say Lincoln is a very cool city with a lot of different things to do. The campus is a lot prettier than I could imagine, and I like how the campus is separated from the city and all the athletic stuff is so close together. I like the mentality of the athletes who want to succeed in the classroom as well as in our sport.”
Gribbin is thankful that her coach at Dartmouth helped clear the way for her at Nebraska. “He helped me through my freshman year, and I have a lot of respect for him,” she said. “When I talked about transferring, he willingly released me, so I wouldn’t have to deal with all the drama. He helped me look through different schools where I could be a fit. He wanted what was best for me, and he knew it wasn’t Dartmouth.”
He also knew about Nebraska’s dedicated approach to academic excellence. “I’m a physiology major,” she said. “I’m very happy to be in Lincoln. It’s a great fit for me."
McCoy Finished Third in Big Ten Outdoor
Ewere once saw success mostly through the lens of athletics. “I’m here to succeed in track, but I’m also a student,” she said. “I learned you can’t get caught up in your sport and forget the academic side. I love being on a team where everyone respects each other. We have people from all sorts of different countries and different views. I’m glad Matt talked me into visiting this place. I had no idea Lincoln was be the perfect place for me. You can’t meet nicer, more welcoming people than those who work for and follow the University of Nebraska.”
Ewere will focus on qualifying for the NCAA in the triple jump in Fayetteville. Gribbin will join Ewere in the triple jump field, and also compete in the long jump, along with two freshman teammates – Tierra Williams and Jazmin McCoy. Gribbins’ 6.07-meter best (19-11) trails Williams’ 6.27 (20-6+) and McCoy’s 6.10 (20-1+). At Auburn, Neb., High School, Williams won two long jump, two triple jump, two 100-meter and one 200-meter state championships. McCoy, pictured above, finished third in the long jump in the Big Ten Outdoor Championships and was a two-time Missouri Class 4 state champion long jumper at North Kansas City High School in Missouri.
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