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Ninow's track record paying dividends for UK throwers

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Throws coach Andrew Ninow has implemented a new training program since his arrival at UK. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Throws coach Andrew Ninow has implemented a new training program since his arrival at UK. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
When Edrick Floreal decided to uproot his staff at Stanford and try and rebuild the Kentucky track and field program, he envisioned a program-wide change in philosophy.

That change was immediate and implemented on the spot. When he first met with his team, the message was clear.

"The first team meeting we had with Coach Floreal he basically said everyone needs to improve or you're going to be gone," said junior thrower Isiah Kent. "I think that kind of hit home with some people. I know for the throwers squad, as soon as we heard that, we knew we had to get going."

One of the most important carryovers from Floreal's staff was throws coach Andrew Ninow, who spent four seasons coaching with him at Stanford.

Ninow, one of bright young minds in the sport, was a key hire for Kentucky as he was taking over an already established stable of talent. The throwers at Kentucky had two All-American throwers before Ninow ever arrived on campus in Andrew Evans and Raymond Dykstra.

Early on this season, however, it's been Kent and his training partner Bradley Szypka that have been making waves for the UK throwers. Ninow might have something to do with that.

"I came out the first meet this year and threw a personal record in the shot put," said Kent. "I have to give all the credit to (Ninow). He knows what works for me."

UK currently has two throwers in the top 17 in the nation in the indoor shot put. Kent sits currently No. 17 at 59-02.75 and is chasing Szypka who is knocking on the door of the top10 at No. 11 with a throw of 60-03.00. After strong 2011-12 seasons, both are reaping the benefits of the new throwing program. It's been a complete overhaul in philosophy for the throwers and the results are already showing as UK track and field prepares to host the Rod McCravy Memorial Meet on Friday and Saturday.

"I'm throwing farther," said redshirt freshman Beckie Famurewa. "Not as far as I'd like, I'm obviously never happy, but I know I have the potential in me. I'm a lot more positive about my throwing now, so that's a good thing."

The biggest change in Kentucky's training regiment has been a shift from the weight room back to the track. While there is still a strong emphasis on weight training, Ninow believes that the key to quality throws is increasing the "volume" of throws, or the amount, each day.

"We do lift hard and we're aggressive in the weight room, but our focus is more on the throwing and the movement and a lot, a lot of throwing," said Ninow. "So we probably double the amount of movements they do each day. I think that's my big philosophy because they're more comfortable with what they do."

Ninow's throwers at Stanford had an impressive track record. During his time there, he coached five conference champions and five top-10 and three top-three NCAA finishers. His outside-the-box training philosophies have played a big part in those performances.

Though he's quick to give credit to his former coach at UCLA, Art Venegas, for most of the basics of his coaching and lifting philosophies, he's made several tweaks of his own.

At UCLA, athletes focused heavy on mechanics of the throwing motion with sophisticated movement and drills. But there, they put great energy into high-intensity, low-volume throwing while undergoing high-intensity weight training. He's also added speed training.

"I feel like we're athletes now," said Kent. "We're not just weight-room strong. We can go do a whole variety of things. The increase in volume was big because obviously if you want to get better at what you do, you need to do it more."

When he got to Stanford as a coach, he started tailoring that system to best fit his athletes. With such high academic standards at Stanford, only a few athletes each season could even qualify to compete. In other words, Ninow didn't so much pick his prospective student-athletes. They picked Stanford. That's where the real work began.

"It forces you as a coach to be more creative," said Ninow. "Through that creative process I just kind of liked what I saw. So I've just kind of built on it."

That's why Floreal felt it was important to bring Ninow along with him to the Bluegrass.

"Andrew is a student of the sport," Floreal said. "He eats, drinks and breaths throws. That's his passion."

The transition from Stanford, a place where Floreal and his staff flourished, was a process. For Ninow, it was nearly seamless. It was an important opportunity for him and his wife to start a family with a lower cost of living. While dealing with the obvious culture shock of his new environment, Ninow quickly got to work with his new group of athletes.

Luckily for him, he had arguably the strongest unit of the UK program when he arrived.

"For me, it wasn't as much of a challenge," said Ninow. "I came with some great athletes. I think the throwers are definitely the most productive and talented squad right now. It was an easy transition because they work so hard and they are just very talented and hard-working people.

Instead of having to start from scratch with each of the athletes, Ninow got to focus on the finer details of his craft. With the returning crop of throwers already throwing at a high level, it was his responsibility to elevate them to the next level. Some of those finer details include throwing different weight implements, how many throws each athlete makes every day and their weight lifting program.

"With them, it's more about adding some paint, a little decor and some lawn and you can get going, so it's a little easier," said Ninow, using an apt metaphor for a group of coaches who have had to find new homes in Lexington.

The Kentucky throwers have maintained a high performance level while facing adversity over the last two seasons. This season marks the third straight season that UK will have a new throws coach.

For Famurewa, she was recruited by one coach. She had a different coach when she finally got to UK. Now she and the rest of the throwers have a modicum of stability with Ninow in the fold.

"The change has been nice," said Famurewa. "I like it personally, but I don't know. I was just a freshman, so last year I didn't know any better. This year, I'm more like, 'OK, the change is out of the way. I'm ready to throw.' That's all that really mattered to me."

Floreal, Ninow and the rest of the staff's new philosophy has their athletes thinking big.

Famurewa and Kent each expressed their desire to make the NCAA championships. Kent went on to say he has his eyes set on joining Evans and Dykstra as All-Americans. With the way things are looking for the throwers so far, those seem more like than just hopes and dreams.

"I think the strength in any program is in who gets to nationals," said Ninow. "Getting people to the 'Big Dance' so to speak, that's what you shoot for. For them, it's about getting to those marks.

"It's getting to nationals and getting an opportunity to do something on the national stage for the team. That's the highest level for us collegiately and that's where I want them to be to at the very least experience it and maybe get a few points and put up an All-American on that wall."

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