April 18, 2014
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 8, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2013-14 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The difference between a personal-best long jump of 18 feet, 9 inches and a school record of 20-4 ¼ is more than 19 inches. For University of Iowa senior Zinnia Miller, the difference is consistency.
Miller is finishing her Hawkeye career in a memorable way. The native of Abaco, Bahamas (via Florida Air Academy in Melbourne, Fla.) joined the UI track and field program to compete in multi-events. That means the five-event pentathlon (800-meter run, 60 hurdles, long jump, high jump, shot put) during the indoor season and the seven-event heptathlon (200 dash, 800, 100 hurdles, long jump, high jump, shot put, javelin) during the outdoor season.
Regardless of season, the strain of training and competition in so many areas caused annual nagging injuries that slowed Miller's development. You name it, and at some point from 2011-13 it probably hindered Miller in some form: back, toe, hamstring, ankle. She can still be found in the training room, but this season it is to stretch, not rehabilitation.
"She has always been the best athlete we have had at Iowa in the last four years," UI assistant coach Clive Roberts said. "What has happened is trying to stay consistent with her training and then to get her to the runway; make sure she is not injured."
Another advantage is specializing in the long jump, while mixing in a new wrinkle, the triple jump. Gone are the days of training for high jump, hurdles, and throws.
Miller entered her final season of college with personal bests of 18-9 in the indoor long jump and 18-3 ¾ outdoors. She had never scored a point in a major meet. That changed Feb. 28 at the Big Ten Championships in Geneva, Ohio. On her first jump of the final round, Miller sailed 6.20 meters. More notable is the distance of Miller's sixth and final attempt when she jumped 6.15 meters. Miller, Erin Busbee of Michigan, and Abieyuwa Ehimwenman of Ohio State all achieved the top mark of 6.20. But the second-best leap for Busbee was 6.17 and the second-best for Ehimwenman was 6.16, giving them first and second places at the Big Ten Championships. Miller was third, missing gold by two centimeters.
"I was upset," Miller said. "For that to be the first time to score in an event and grab 10 points would have been amazing, a work of God I would say. Afterward I was kind of upset, but also pretty happy that I actually jumped a mark beyond my expectations."
It was a distance that surpassed anything anyone had ever done in UI women's track & field history. A week earlier, senior teammate Carisa Leacock broke the Hawkeye record that stood 28 years with a leap of 19-9 ½ (6.03m). Miller outdid that mark on 4-of-6 attempts at the Big Ten Championships.
Miller credits the environment of the Hawkeye horizontal jumps training group that also includes Leacock and junior Sarah Ryan for providing motivation.
"She has always been the best athlete we have had at Iowa in the last four years. What has happened is trying to stay consistent with her training and then to get her to the runway; make sure she is not injured."
UI assistant coach
"It feels connected as a family," Miller said. "We try to fix each other's mistakes and it has been a lot easier because it is more of a peer group."
Miller and Leacock talk often about the legacy they will leave as members of the UI track and field program. Leacock congratulated Miller when her long jump record went down within a span of seven days.
"Carisa is like my sister," Miller said. "It is more like a family feel than always a competition."
Miller hasn't limited her success to the long jump. She placed fifth in the triple jump at the Big Ten Conference Championships with a leap of 41-2 ¼.
Miller also hasn't limited her success to the indoor season. At the outdoor season opener in Tempe, Ariz., she won the long jump with an outdoor PR of 20-1 ½. That puts Miller third on the all-time Hawkeye leader board behind Aisha James (22-3) and Renee White (20-3 ¾).
"I am aiming for it," Miller said of James' record. "You have to aim big."
The second time out, Miller placed third in the triple jump (40-9) at the Arkansas Spring Invitational. Her distance puts her fourth all-time in UI women's history.
"It's being technically sound," Miller said. "If you aren't technically sound, then the smallest thing could mess you up. It has been an issue for me to get things perfect all the time; consistency is something I continue to work on."
That same consistency is the reason for Miller's breakout senior season.
"Everything kind of stayed the same week in and week out from a training standpoint," Roberts said. "Getting some consistent training. Zinnia has seen the light at the end of the tunnel and success is right around the corner."
Four meets remain before the outdoor conference championships May 16-18 in West Lafayettte, Ind. The first round of the NCAA Championships is May 29-31 in Fayetteville, Ark.
"My goal is to jump a minimum of 6.30 meters (20-8), which I believe is pretty realistic," said Miller, who is majoring in leisure studies and therapeutic recreation with a minor in Spanish. "I want to make the national meet -- not just to qualify -- but to place in the top three. Also with the triple jump. I want to be in there two times."
Roberts wants Miller to focus on what she can control. Yes, the Hawkeyes talk of Big Ten championships and success at nationals, but those are long-term goals.
"We're focused on the daily grind of things," Roberts said. "We never talk about records and things of that sort. If it happens, great, if it doesn't, it doesn't. The only thing we can control is getting better every single day. Our focus today, tomorrow, is always to keep improving."
Iowa competes at the Mount Sac Relays from April 18-19 in Walnut, Calif. The Musco Twilight meet is May 3 at the Francis X. Cretzmeyer Track.