Last season’s senior class included some of the top athletes in the history of the Concordia track and field programs. Gone are multiple national championship winners Cody Boellstorff, Zach Lurz and Lucas Wiechman and 10-time All-American Kali Robb. That doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare. Junior Samantha Liermann is ready to take the lead for this year’s group of throwers.
Though mostly calm and mild mannered, Liermann’s competitive fire ranks right up there with the many all-time greats that nationally acclaimed throws coach Ed McLaughlin has tutored over two decades with the Bulldogs.
“The big thing you can see is the competitiveness,” McLaughlin said. “She hates getting second. She despises getting second. She knows how to turn it on. (Former national champion) Liz (King) was the same way. Liz could mentally prepare herself by practicing at 60 to 70 percent and then when it mattered, could turn it on. Sam has the exact same ability. When it comes down to it, she’s going to find a way. She’s always going to find a way. She did it in high school. She’s done it in every meet in college that matters.”
One of many recent Bulldogs to hail from the tiny town of Wisner, Neb., Liermann already owns four All-America awards, an individual national title and was a member of the 2016 squad that became Concordia’s first female edition in any sport to capture a team national championship. In all likelihood, Liermann will enter both the 2018 indoor and outdoor national championship meets as one of the favorites in the shot put.
Given her accomplishments, it’s hard to imagine that Liermann ever had to take a backseat to anyone, but it can be hard to stand out amongst a group of many national champions. She can hide no longer after two years of Bulldog brilliance. Says Liermann, “I really didn’t expect all that to happen right away. It’s really exciting. I’m glad I’m here for the ride.”
The ride Liermann speaks of has sometimes hit bumps in the road and took a meandering road before stopping at 800 North Columbia Avenue. An all-class champion in the shot put, Liermann had a chance to realize a dream by being the small town girl that hit it big in a much larger pond. The product of Wisner-Pilger High School accepted a scholarship offer to the University of Nebraska where she hoped to one day bask in Big Ten glory.
“I think I chose Nebraska because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do,” Liermann said. “It’s not every day that someone from a small town gets that type of opportunity. When I was there it just didn’t feel like home and I wasn’t happy. I thought maybe Concordia was the place for me all along.”
McLaughlin recalls seeing Liermann at a meet not long after she informed him of her college decision. Liermann essentially hoped that McLaughlin wouldn’t even notice her. She felt bad that she had to tell him she wouldn’t be coming to Concordia. McLaughlin greeted her warmly all the same.
Things like that left an impression upon Liermann. It turned out, what’s best for her wasn’t necessarily the big school atmosphere. McLaughlin had no trouble welcoming her as a transfer. No bitterness existed on either side. McLaughlin completely understood her initial decision.
“Her high school coach had heard things from her parents that things weren’t going well,” McLaughlin said. “Eventually her parents contacted me. That’s when we reached out to Nebraska to ask for a release. It didn’t take long. A couple weeks later she decided it was time to switch it. She just felt like it wasn’t the right place for her. I was ecstatic.”
The euphoria continued in Liermann’s first season in navy and white. She earned All-America status in her first career national championship meet. She repeated that feat at the 2016 outdoor national meet, where the Bulldogs raised the national championship banner and trophy.
Her first real adversity at Concordia came that offseason when Liermann found out she needed surgery to repair a torn labrum in her throwing shoulder. Even those unfortunate circumstances failed to derail the 2017 season for Liermann. Another indoor All-America award led into her breakthrough outdoor season that included a GPAC title and the aforementioned national title.
A dream career continues. Said Liermann of winning the shot put national championship, “Later that night it kind of occurred to me how big it was. I was upset right away because I wanted to throw a little bit farther, but once I took it all in it hit me later that night. It was just a really good feeling.”
The scary thing for the Bulldog opposition: Liermann has two full seasons of eligibility remaining in both indoor and outdoor track – and she intends to use them despite her senior academic status. Her experiences with the highs and lows of being a collegiate athlete will be invaluable for a program undertaking a youth movement.
While continuing to hone and master the technical aspects of the shot put as well as additional throwing events, Liermann wants to help grow a large freshman class. Meanwhile, she carries on the program’s tradition of featuring bona fide national throwing stars. Led by Liermann, McLaughlin’s group in the women’s shot put figures to be dominant once again.
“The whole team wants to get better every day and push each other,” Liermann said. “We not only want ourselves to get better, but we have a common goal for everyone to be successful. It’s a little bit of pressure, but I enjoy it. I like watching other people get better. I really like that dynamic.”
If Liermann has ever felt any pressure, it sure hasn’t shown in the results. Cool in the most nerve-racking of moments, it’s easy to envision her accomplishing more big things as the program’s most decorated returning thrower.
Says McLaughlin, “She has that competitive edge where she’ll find a way to step up when it’s time. She will give her best at the big moments.”