Elise Umbarger Wanting to End KU Career on a High Note

April 12, 2011

When KU senior Elise Umbarger thinks back over her four years as a Jayhawk, she has trouble thinking of just one moment that sticks out in her mind. The veteran thrower has had a stellar career at Kansas with several highlights on the field and in the classroom, but when asked about her favorite memory, the Shawnee, Kan. native had a fascinating answer.

041211aac_259_4449524.jpeg“Honestly, I would just say my favorite memories have come from working out with my teammates everyday,” Umbarger explained. “It’s so much fun. Everyday we joke around with each other. We’re a really tight knit group. We’re pretty much a family. We do a lot of stuff together. We’re always having a good time.”

Umbarger never envisioned herself becoming a thrower in college, or even in high school. She had been a fantastic athlete in high school, breaking the women’s squat, hang-clean and bench press records at Mill.ValleyHigh School When she joined the track team, she had little feel of what events she would be best suited for, but one coach quickly grabbed her attention.

“I just kind of showed up for the first practice one day and we had just gotten a new coach,” said Umbarger. “The coach came up and introduced himself to me and said, ‘Hi, I’m the new throws coach, you’re going to throw shot put for me.’ I just said, ‘Okay, let’s do it!”

Little did they know at the time, but the MillValley coaches had hit a home run. Umbarger was a natural. She would go on to qualify for the state championships in the shot put her sophomore, junior and senior years and qualify in the discus her junior and senior years. She placed fifth in the 5A state shot put in 2006 and 2007 and set a school record in the shot put and in the discus at the state championships in 2007. As a senior, Umbarger had several colleges offering scholarships, but luckily for Kansas, she already had her mind made up.

“I always wanted to come to KU,” Umbarger explained. “My whole family had been Jayhawks. It was just kind of tradition. I honestly didn’t look anywhere else.”

After arriving in Lawrence her freshman year, she quickly become acquainted with KU’s decorated throws coach, Andy Kokhanovsky. The two quickly formed a bond that has grown tremendously over Umbarger’s time in Lawrence. She still can’t imagine being as successful without coach Kokhanovsky’s help and says he has been a huge reason for her continuously growing love of the sport.

“He is awesome,’ Umbarger said of her coach. “He is literally one of the coolest guys that I’ve ever met. He is so laid back and he is extremely knowledgeable about throwing. He’s been amazing.”

Umbarger not only has a great coach to look up to, but also a great group of teammates that she has no problem calling her family. With the growing success of the throws group, Umbarger admits they have grown far closer over the past few seasons.

“We’ve gotten a lot closer over the last two years, the throw squad especially,” Umbarger explained. “We do a lot of stuff together outside of practice. We hangout. We make dinner sometimes. We just have so much fun together.”

When Umbarger isn’t relaxing with her teammates she says she likes to sit down with a book, but between studying, practice, class and traveling to meets, it’s tough for her to find much downtime.

She has found her niche in the classroom as well. Just last season she was named to the Academic All-Big 12 team. In May, she will graduate with an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science and plans on one day going after a master’s in physical therapy. After the season though, she wants to take a year off for a much deserved break.

Umbarger’s main focus right now is to put together a strong finish to her final season in a Jayhawk uniform. She admits she has been frustrated by her best not always coming out in the meets and knows it must be fixed with just a few weekends left.

“I just want to reach my potential,” Umbarger said. “I just want to do it at a meet. I want to throw it far in a meet, instead of just practice.”

There is no doubt Umbarger is pushing herself to do just that. She has been having some of the toughest practices of her career and just as she has done her entire career, she is leading her teammates by example. As she winds down her time at KU, she will look to maintain the drive and look to leave a lasting impression on KU track and field.