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Gophers women’s track and field team has next rising throwing star: Nabwe

The Gophers women's throwing team is made of quiet performers, but their results are making noise entering Saturday's Big Ten outdoor track and field championships in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Ranked No. 21 in the NCAA, Minnesota has seen a continuous stream of successful athletes, especially under associate head coach Peter Miller and the throwing program.

The surplus of rotating talent over the years fostered a healthy mentorship system between the upper and lower classmen, which helped produce record-holding throwers and future leaders, such as national champion Kaitlyn Long and Big Ten champion Shelby Frank.

"The group culture is the reason why everyone succeeds here," Miller said. "There's a leadership group right now that doesn't allow people to settle. … That then carries the younger kids to get to that level quicker than they would on their own."

Miller's next prodigy, Annie Nabwe, is one of four freshmen on the team and has looked up to Frank since her time in the program. However, Nabwe is quickly making herself known across the Big Ten as the next top Gopher to watch.

On Feb. 23, Nabwe launched an NCAA freshman record-breaking 23.36-meter weight throw to win the Big Ten Indoor weight throw event. Frank, not too far behind with a throw of 22.08 meters, finished third in the competition.

"We set reachable goals and the goal was to go 20 meters this year," Nabwe said. "Doing that was really surprising, but Peter told me I can do better. So I just kept pushing."

At the Drake Relays in late April, Frank and Nabwe placed in the hammer throw, with Nabwe finishing first, leaving the program ranked No. 3 nationally in the event.

Frank had high praise for Nabwe, saying she is the strongest weightlifter on the team and "has the second-fastest sprinting time," runners and all.

Nabwe, a native of Liberia, moved to the United States when she was 14 years old. She enrolled in Jamestown High School in North Dakota and left a multi-year state champion with the state record in the Class A championships for shot put at 15.19 meters.

In her first collegiate outdoor season, Nabwe has placed marks that rank among the top five in Gophers history in each of her threeevents: shot put (second, 17.00 meters), discus (third, 55.76) and hammer (fourth, 65.23).

Despite the expeditious improvement in her production, Nabwe, often described as shy by her teammates, is still taking in the sport's day-to-day routines and adjusting to its social aspects.

"Over the year, [Annie's] gotten so much stronger," Frank said. "And also her confidence has definitely gone up."

Frank, inspired by throwers before her, took upon the leadership role in the perennially ranked program and is guiding the young group of throwers. The team's goal is its first outdoor conference championship title since 2018.

Frank intends to return for a fifth year, giving her another year to mentor Nabwe after spending her last few years being mentored by others.

"I learned to be positive about training because our training gets hard," Frank said. "It gets repetitive, so I try to remain positive in our training and be like a good leader for the freshmen."

Theo Franz is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for Star Tribune.