Current and Former UMD Hockey Connections Testify at Miller Trial

Baihly Warfield
Updated: March 08, 2018 11:55 PM

Witnesses on day three of the Shannon Miller v. UMD discrimination trial predominantly had UMD hockey connections. 

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It was the second full day of testimony, and the plaintiff's team continued to call its witnesses. 

Donna Lopiano

Dan Siegel, one of Miller's attorneys called Title IX expert Donna Lopiano. She was asked to examine how Miller's employment compared to men's hockey coach Scott Sandelin's, how the men's and women's hockey programs were supported, and how UMD chose to make cuts. 

Lopiano testified that UMD made a great effort to provide top coaches for its student-athletes.

"From that point on, there are great differences," Lopiano said. 

Lopiano said she saw differences in the coaches' support staffs, availability of a strength and conditioning coach, experience level of athletic trainers and game operations. 

Lopiano is a consultant to universities about various athletic department issues. She said firing a coach in the middle of the season is "something (she's) never seen in (her) entire life." 

Gina Kingsbury

Then it was on to UMD hockey connections. Former assistant coach Gina Kingsbury said Miller has "quite a reputation" in women's hockey circles. 

"It's a reputation of one of the best coaches to ever coach our game," Kingsbury said. 

Kingsbury said she always felt that "UMD wasn't necessarily in (Miller's) corner," and that Miller "had a target on her back." 

She said learning that Miller would not have her contract renewed was scary for the players and "a distraction beyond measure." 

UMD attorneys asked Kingsbury if she was aware it was Miller who had asked for a contract decision by Christmas, and she answered that she was not aware of that. 

Zoe Hickel

Former forward winger Zoe Hickel played for UMD from 2011-2015. She said she came to UMD because Shannon Miller was the coach. 

"I wanted to play for the best coach in the world," Hickel told the jury. "I don't regret one second of it." 

Hickel said Miller was the most impactful person in her life besides her mom. 

Hickel also spoke to the 2012-2013 season when the team went 14-16-4. Hickel said it was "the perfect storm of injuries that year." 

"I've never seen something like it," Hickel, who is currently playing in China, said. 

She was emotional when asked about Miller's nonrenewal. She said she was "completely devastated" because the seniors thought it was their year. 

She also talked about the team's meeting with Chancellor Lendley Black. She said he didn't share too much detail. Black said during his testimony that sharing details of a decision like that with students would be inappropriate. 

Scott Sandelin

Men's hockey coach Scott Sandelin was next. Miller's attorneys asked him about reasons for a fluctuation in teams' cmpetitive success every year. Sandline said skill levels, injuries, graduations and pro contracts and players' ages all can play a role. 

Ultimately though, Sandelin said it is the head coach's responsibility to manage those factors. 

Sandelin said in his poorer years, he was hard on himself. He said although he thought "something" might happen after a losing season, he didn't need an athletic director to tell him his job was on the line. 

His contract was renewed in 2016. He said he had conversations and negotiations with Athletic Director Josh Berlo about the salary and length. 

The men's team begins conference playoffs Friday. If they make the NCAA tournament, it will be four years in a row they've accomplished that. 

Josh Berlo

Continuing his testimony from Wednesday, Berlo rounded out Thursday afternoon's witness list. 

"I've always loved what sports can do for people's lives," Berlo said, explaining why he got into a sports management career. 

Berlo said it was exciting to arrive at UMD in May of 2013 and that he felt the athletic department staff was craving new leadership. 

During Chancellor Black's testimony, Miller's team had questioned how much training Berlo had in Title IX and equity issues. Berlo told the jury Thursday Title IX was well covered in his college courses, that he'd had training at NCAA conventions and he had attended an NCAA inclusion forum several times. 

Berlo said complaints and advocacy from coaches is a frequent part of his job, and it does not get under his skin. 

He said he has hired four head coaches since he began, and all four have been women. 

He learned of UMD's budget deficit during the interview process, Berlo said. He said he tried to remedy that by not filling a position left open by a retirement, and by sharing employees with other departments. Berlo also testified there was a 10 percent cut across the board in 2013, and another 2 percent cut across the board some time later. They also "put a foot on the gas" in terms of fundraising, he said. 

An April 2014 performance review Berlo gave to Miller has been brought up several times during the trial. Berlo gave Miller a "competent" rating in that review. 

"I felt it was a pretty strong signal," Berlo said. 

He said competent was defined as "acceptable" or "standard," but he would expect excellence from a coach of Miller's caliber. 

Between 2010-2015, the UMD women's hockey team did not win first in the WCHA, did not win a league tournament, and only made one appearance at the NCAA tournament, in which they lost in the first round. Berlo said those were major concerns for him. 

He said he was also concerned that the women's hockey team's Academic Progress Rate, or APR, was near the bottom of all women's hockey teams in the country. 

Berlo said when he and Miller discussed performance concerns at a July 14, 2014 meeting, "Plainly, it felt like she was blaming her staff." 

He said it felt like she pointed fingers at her assistant coaches for recruits not succeeding. 

A couple weeks later, Berlo, Black and Miller all met to discuss Miller's contract renewal. Berlo said Thursday he walked away from the July 29 meeting with the impression that Miller would not take a salary cut unless everyone in the department did. 

He said he and Black had not made a decision at that point, and he was "hopeful and optimistic" the team would improve next season. 

The 2014-2015 season got off to a "rough start," in Berlo's words given this record:
-Two losses to the University of Wisconsin-Madison
-One loss, one tie (with a shootout victory) against the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
-One loss, one win against the University of North Dakota. 

"I was concerned," Berlo said.

After he performed a financial analysis known as the "moneyball analysis," Berlo determined Miller was being paid $13,947 per win. 

"It showed that we were paying Ms. Miller more than our chief rivals," Berlo said. 

He and Black came to the decision not to renew her contract at the very end of November, according to Berlo. 

Berlo's testimony is expected to pick back up Friday morning, when he will discuss the Dec. 9 meeting where he and Black told Miller she was not being renewed. 


Baihly Warfield

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