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Before Nebraska's first-ever Big Ten Conference Track and Field Championship, Husker Coach Gary Pepin was willing to go out on a limb on one thing only. "Ashley Miller might not win an event this weekend, but I think she'll be our leading scorer, men or women," Pepin told me. "She can't run any harder, and she loves to perform."
Coaches, especially superstitious ones like Nebraska's head coach, rarely go out on a limb because they never know when someone might cut it off. But let the record show that Pepin was spot on about Miller. The Hawkeye-turned-Husker senior set a school record winning the 3,000 Meter Run Friday night before coming back Saturday to finish second in both the 1,600 Meter Run and the 5,000 Meter Run. For those keeping score, Miller personally posted 26 of Nebraska's 114½ points to lead the Husker women to the Big Ten title over runner-up Ohio State and third-place Penn State.
Interestingly, "My dad works for the University of Iowa Athletic Department. My mom works for the University of Iowa Hospital, and my sister attends the University of Iowa," Miller said Saturday. "I grew up being a big Hawkeye fan as a young girl."
Tipton Planted the Seeds for Miller's Dream
Just about everyone who lives in Tipton, Iowa, a town of 3,200 located 20 minutes from Iowa City, is a Hawkeye fan. Watch Tipton's 3-minute YouTube video, and you'll understand why Miller loves it and has won just about everything possible living there. Founded in 1840, Tipton is a thriving, historic town with turn-of-the-century Victorian homes and a four-word motto ... Tipton: Where Dreams Happen.
Pepin would not dispute that statement. "Ashley's a good, silent-type leader," he said. "She always works hard, always does what she's supposed to do and when the gun sounds, she lays it on the line. She does the best she can every time out. It's kind of like being on stage. Some of us don't like being actors or actresses. But in Ashley's case, whenever it's time to go on stage, she performs, and she performs well.
"In many ways, she's a typical Midwestern girl - good student (second-team CoSIDA Academic All-American), hard worker," Pepin said. "She loves her school, appreciates her coaches, improves every day and pushes for excellence in everything she does."
Program Designed to Win Championships
Listening to Pepin, you get the feeling that student-athletes like Miller are the reason why he's now coached 68 conference championship teams in 31 years at Nebraska, dating back to his first Big Eight title at the 1981 indoor meet. "I think Coach Pepin has been around the block a time or two," Miller said. "The program that he's built here is designed to win championships. That's what he preaches, and that's why I wanted to come here."
Whenever Pepin zeroes in on conference meets, he's at his best. "He's kind of a silent motivator," Miller said, "but you know he's always there watching and analyzing everybody and every performance. He's always cheering you on. He never gives up on anybody."
In that respect, Pepin parallels Ashley Miller's dad, Darren Miller, the director of new media for Iowa's athletic department. "He's covering Iowa in this meet," she said. "It's kind of an added bonus that he gets to see me."
Here's hoping Ashley's proud father got some film of Nebraska's leading point producer and obvious MVP in this historic meet. "I'm happy," Ashley said. "I don't think anyone saw us finishing in the top two, yet we won it. We kind of sent a statement: 'We're here in the Big Ten now' ... and I think we'll be here for awhile."
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