D1 scouts, Gatorade reps notice 'tough and stubborn' athletes
Annie Nabwe and Meghan Ford both won Gatorade Player of the Year honors. Both have also signed to compete for Division 1 institutions in college.
JAMESTOWN — About a year and a half ago, University of Minnesota associate head track and field coach, Peter Miller, got a text from Jamestown's Marty Hochhalter.
"Marty Hochhalter is a good friend of mine," Miller said. "I coached at the University of North Dakota before Minnesota and since his daughter competed in the Big 10 at Iowa, we saw (Marty) regularly at meets and just kind of stayed in touch.
"I got a text from him in late March or early April of last spring and he said, 'Hey, I think I've got a girl that is a Big 10 level athlete.' Then a week later she threw 45 feet and he said he definitely had a girl that was a Big 10 level athlete."
Therein began the Gophers' pursuit of Annie Nabwe.
Hochhalter sent Miller some videos of Nabwe competing and told him some of Nabwe's story.
"She was basically our top priority as far as our recruiting class in 2022," Miller said. "We were allowed to be on campus June 1 and I was in her house June 2 doing a home visit. Then we worked hard to get her on an official visit. After that, she fell in love with Minnesota just as much as we liked her."
Nabwe committed to compete for the Gophers' track and field team last summer. She is the second Blue Jay track and field athlete to sign to compete at the Division 1 level in two years.
Jamestown High School Class of 2021 grad, Meghan Ford, is currently competing for Furman University in cross-country and track and field.
Nabwe garnered the Gatorade Player of the Year award following both her junior and senior track seasons. Ford won the honor for cross-country three times while enrolled at JHS.
Ford said in order for an athlete to be named the Gatorade Player of the Year, the athlete not only must excel at the sport, but in the classroom and contribute positively to the community.
"It’s a big deal for Annie to win it twice ... because it’s not just one type of athlete competing for the award, it’s athletes from so many different events both on the field and the track that have the chance to receive the POY award," Ford said. "It’s a big honor.
"I think that Annie is a very very talented athlete and works really hard. I also worked really hard to get those awards, so I think the program does encourage work ethic and produces really tough and stubborn athletes."
"I think it says something about both the program and the athletes. The coaches, team members, friends, family and the community push you because they see potential in you. You as an athlete need to believe that you can be the best and you need to set your goals and work towards achieving them."
Tough is just one of Nabwe's many outstanding qualities.
"Annie is unlike anyone else that we have ever recruited what with her sprint speed and her jumping ability and her basketball background and all that," Miller said. "Normally what I look for is a multi-sport athlete who is a good leader with marks that will make them competitive at the Big 10 level."
Nabwe will be solely competing in the throws at U of M. The recent JHS grad will likely be red-shirting her freshman season, giving her time to adjust to the elevated level of competition. She will move to Minnesota on Aug. 30.
Nabwe won state titles in the javelin, discus and shot put. She also placed third in the 100 meter dash.
"Our multi-event and sprint coaches have salivated about her just because she's so fast but I think her future is as a thrower at a very, very high level," Miller said. "As far as high school marks she's the second-best shot putter that has ever come to the university."
It's not just her marks that got Nabwe a full-ride to the Gophers' campus.
Miller said the Gophers do try to put together a team that is well-rounded not only athletically, but culturally and socially as well. Nabwe's volunteer work and singing along with other sets of skills got the Gophers excited to see her signature on the dotted line.
"She's a great team kid," Miller said. "She's told me she will do whatever she can to help the team and so the individual stuff is cool but the biggest thing she wants to do is be a part of a championship team."
While her move-in date is not for another month and a half, Nabwe is ready to start the grind of training and Miller is doing his best to try and contain her excitement.
"Annie is on my case about getting some summer lifting going but I've tried to hold her off a little bit," Miller said. "What I tell all the incoming kids is don't come in over-trained, come in healthy and ready to train hard. Track season at this level is 30 to 40 weeks and if she sees some success and gets summer opportunities, it might be closer to 50 weeks.
"I want to make sure that she's emotionally ready for that and emotionally excited to compete and not overdone by the time she gets here."
Nabwe said a typical workout to strengthen her muscles incorporated doing three or four sets of every major type of exercise. She said while a lot of training went into her physical development, she still needs to work on staying mentally strong as she doesn't like to be the center of attention. Being in the spotlight can mess with her head but she is prepared to train hard whether it's physical or mental, she said.
"It will take some time to adjust but I’ll be all right," Nabwe said. "I knew from the beginning when I made the decision I was not going to be the best (at Minnesota). This is the best of the best in the nation and I want to be one of the best so I think that is going to push me to work hard."
Even though she is pretty well equipped to head to Minnesota, there are still some questions and unknowns for Nabwe heading into her first semester as a gopher.
Her situation is not unlike the one Ford found herself in a year ago.
Ford said competing in high school compared to the Division I collegiate level was much more relaxed, and she had a very hard time adjusting to the rigor of academics and athletics and balancing both the first semester.
She advised Nabwe to give herself grace during the learning process, accept that everything will never be perfect but still do her best through it all.
"Those are all things I wish I would’ve known before I entered my first semester," Ford said. "I would say to ease your way best into freshman year to balance your course load and take a really good look at major requirements for every year and making sure you are taking on a balanced course load throughout your entire college career.
"This makes it much easier to get everything done academically and athletically and not get sloppy."
Ford also said learning to compartmentalize training and school was a big help as she was able to save some mental energy.
"Just thinking about one thing at a time really has helped me to be intentional with what I’m doing and not become overwhelmed with everything on my plate," Ford said.
No matter the marks she puts up at U of M, Miller said he is just grateful to have the Liberian national record holder in both shot and discus on the Gophers' roster.
"She's a good person and a great student — she kind of checks off all the boxes," Miller said.
"She's one of the most unique athletes that we've ever recruited here at Minnesota. We know that she's going to be great at something we just don't know what yet. We're excited to be a part of her journey."