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Former coaches, players and the athletic director testify in Shannon Miller's discrimination case against UMD

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DULUTH, MN -

Day three of the Shannon Miller discrimination case is seeing testimony from former UMD players and coaches as well as the man who ended Miller's career at UMD.

Her legal team is working to convince the jury UMD chose not to renew the women's head hockey coach's contract past 2015 because she is a woman, and as a form of retaliation for her history of Title IX complaints.

UMD denies those claims.

Testimony for Miller's witnesses began Thursday morning with her expert witness, Donna Lopiano, who testified to Title IX law and compared Miller's hockey program at UMD with Scott Sandelin's men's hockey program at the time.

Next the jury heard from former assistant coach Gina Kingsbury, and former UMD women's team captain Zoe Hickle.

Kingsbury and Hickle explained what it was like to work with Miller, especially during the 2014-2015 season - the year Miller learned her contract would not be suspended.

"My main reason for coming to UMD was Coach Miller," Hickle said. "I wanted to play for the best in the world."

Hickle also testified that her previous seasons faced challenges to the team's success including the single losing season of Miller's career as head coach. Hickle described her sophomore year on the team a "perfect storm of injuries" including her one of own.

Kingsbury and Hickle testified Miller's last season started promising despite earlier testimony that the four loss, one win, one tie, record to start the season against three in-conference rivals did not meet the team's expectations. In early December, the team was ranked 6th in the nation.

"We thought as seniors that this was our chance," Hickle said, choking up as she testified about the second half of the season.

They then testified to the devastation the team faced when they learned Miller's contract would not be renewed, and the team's conversations with Chancellor Lendley Black after the decision was made public. 

"It's a distraction," Kingsbury said. "In a season that's extremely destructive."

In their cross examination, UMD's attorneys pointed out it was Miller's decision to announce her contract would not be renewed mid-season, and when the team met with Chancellor Black, he reassured them the women's hockey program would continue and their scholarships would likely be honored.

The afternoon heard testimony from men's hockey coach Scott Sandelin, and athletic director Josh Berlo, who began his testimony on Wednesday.

Sandelin testified to his ups and downs as a hockey coach and his pressure to win. 

He said while he was never explicitly told his job was on the line when he wasn't performing as expected he says no one had to.

"You live by pressure every year," Sandelin said. "He didn't have to tell me my job was on the line based on success."

Sandelin also testified he did not experience anything he would call retaliation from any of his complaints to the athletic director.

"I've been looked at sternly."

The last witness on the stand was the man who made the decision not to renew Miller's contract.  Athletic Director Josh Berlo had the chance to tell his side of the story.

Berlo testified on his success as an athletic director and his experience with diversity education and female coaches. 

He testified seven of the nine women's head coaches at UMD are female. 

"It's greatly important to have women head coaches to serve as an example," Berlo said.

He then got into the events leading up to his decision not to renew Miller's contract. 

He says he mentioned performance to Miller multiple times before her 2014-2015 season as the team had not made it to the N-C-A-A tournament in three seasons repeatedly telling her the best thing he could do to secure her contract was "get back to the Frozen Four."

He said he went into the season optimistic but hadn't made up his mind on Miller's contract.

"I evaluated the season as it came," Berlo said

In October, UMD lost two games to Wisconsin, lost one game against a Minnesota and won the other in a shootout and split a series with North Dakota.

He believed based on the start of that season, which showed one win against all three of the team's conference rivals, he saw no signs the team was getting better. 

He also claimed Miller's salary, which made her the highest paid women's coach in the country meant those were reasonable expectations as a return on the university's investment. Especially given the budget deficit UMD faced at the time, he said there was a "microscope on individuals with high salaries."

Berlo said based on these factors he decided the women's hockey team needed to go in a new direction and chose not to renew Miller's contract and because Miller requested an answer before the holidays he gave it to her mid-season in December of 2014.

Berlo's testimony continues tomorrow. The trial is expected to last until Wednesday.

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