Sports

Stanford's Sion named top women's assistant T&F coach

 
Zeb Sion (middle) is surrounded by his NCAA championship finishers: Valarie Allman (left, standings), Jenna Gray (right, standings), Mackenize Little (left, kneeling) and Lena Giger. Photo courtesy of Stanford Athletics.

Zeb Sion, whose throwers scored 31 points at the NCAA Championships, was named NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Women's Assistant Coach of the Year by the USTFCCCA it was learned Wednesday.

Stanford's throwers would have placed ninth as a team at the NCAA Championships. No team in NCAA women's championship meet history had scored as many points across all four throwing events in 20 years.

All four of Sion's women's throwers earned podium finishes, earned first-team All-America honors, and scored for a Stanford team that placed third, tying its highest finish ever, with 51 points.

"I feel incredibly honored to receive this award," said Sion, in his second year as Stanford's throws coach after arriving from Wake Forest. "I would be lying if I didn't say I was a little shocked by the news based on how the nominations and voting played out. I think it shows how special the performances from my group were; to be recognized with this award as a write-in is pretty awesome."

He never set out to win awards. He just wanted to coach.

"I've told my athletes this before, and it's honestly true, that I don't do this (coaching) for awards," Sion said. "I do it to develop relationships with great people, help them grow as individuals, and help them have an excellent student-athlete experience. The performances and achievements of the individuals, the group, and the team are all just a byproduct of that. Winning something like this, and especially as a write-in vote, speaks volumes to the group dynamics, culture, and relationships that has been developed over the last two years."

Mackenzie Little and Jenna Gray went 1-2 in the javelin, Valarie Allman was third in the discus and eighth in the hammer, and Lena Giger was third in the shot put. All accomplished or matched their highest NCAA finishes.

Little set a school record of 198-0 (60.37 meters) and Gray shocked many by coming out of the first flight to set a nine-foot lifetime best of 187-11 (57.29m).

Along with Trevor Danielson, who placed fourth in the men's javelin for Stanford's highest finish in 50 years, Stanford's javelin throwers set lifetime bests by an average of 2.72 meters at NCAA's.

Allman has the top discus throw among all Americans this year, at 206-1 (62.83m), Gray, who had limited training because of her commitment to the women's volleyball program, is No. 4 among Americans.

At the Pac-12 Championships, Stanford women's throwers accounted for 42 points, 23 in the javelin alone, to help the Cardinal to a third-place team finish.

"I'm so proud of the group's Pac-12 and NCAA achievements, but I'm even more proud of how they approached the season and overcame significant adversity at various points throughout the year," Sion said.

At the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Stanford chances were boosted on the first day of competition by 25 points from the javelin, shot put and hammer.

Stanford's points, all from the throwers at that point, vaulted the Cardinal into the lead. Stanford, led by Director of Track and Field Chris Miltenberg, would hold the lead through 16 of the 21 events and was still in contention to win until the second-to-last event.

"Coach Miltenberg said multiple times throughout the week that it's hard to score even one point at the NCAA Championships," Sion said. "For us to put together a string of performances resulting in 31 points, was truly incredible. Coach Milt's support was invaluable in allowing me to do what was appropriate to prepare them for this environment over the last two years."

Little, a junior, had placed seventh as a freshman and fourth as a sophomore, but came into NCAA's as the top qualifier. She unleashed her best throw on her first attempt and had a series of at least 56 meters on all six throws.

Little became Stanford's first NCAA women's champion since Kori Carter set a collegiate record to win the 400 hurdles in 2013. Little also was Stanford's first women's javelin champion.

With Little and Gray, Stanford earned its first NCAA 1-2 finish in any event since 1984.

"One of my favorite moments was Mackenzie winning her first national title and becoming my first national champion," Sion said. "Going back to my first year at Stanford, I definitely had faith in Mackenzie before she had faith in herself. To see her transform into a different human, becoming a super confident person, not just athlete, has been really rewarding for me and worked out pretty well for her too.

"Honestly, I could have left the meet content with that performance alone. However, combined with the phenomenal performances of Jenna, Lena, and Val, it was an incredible group experience. It was even more meaningful to contribute to such a high level team performance.

"Having my wife Marcela, sons Zeke and Zach, and my parents in Eugene to enjoy the week and performances made it all the more special."

Little was thankful for Sion's coaching and mentorship.

"Coach Sion has been a such an influential figure in my life over the last two years and I am beyond thankful for his guidance and support," she said. "The wonderful Stanford throws family he has built is so important to me and the culture of excellence and camaraderie that he has fostered here is so humbling to be a part of.

"The way that he interacts with everyone on the team, thrower or not, shows how much he values building relationships and his contagious energy is such a positive influence on the whole Stanford team.

"He is undoubtedly deserving of this recognition, but there's so much more to come. I am so excited for next year and to see how phenomenal this team can get, it's just the beginning."

— David Kiefer

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