If tried by a jury of her peers, Kate Miller might turn out to be guilty of being the happiest person in the room almost all the time.
In the CIF Southern Section cross-country finals at the Riverside City Cross-Country Course last Saturday, however, there were a few brief moments of nervous energy for the Sage Hill School senior.
Miller crossed the finish line with a personal record of 18 minutes 54.1 seconds, which was good for seventh place in the Division 5 girls’ final. Her result would have extended her season individually, but her concern was over the broader welfare of the team.
A recent privilege afforded to cross-country teams has been the ability to track team splits through advances in chip timing. At the halfway point, members of the Sage Hill team were able to inform the Lightning’s competing runners that they were running in eighth place as a group.
Teams hoping to move on to the CIF State championships must finish in the top seven of their divisional final to continue on.
“When I crossed the finish line, then our second runner came in, and then our third, fourth and fifth, and then we were moving up to fifth [as a team],” Miller said. “It was like, ‘Oh my gosh. We can’t drop that much.’
“Then it was settled, and we came in fifth. [We were] jumping up and down because we didn’t really know if we would place fourth or 12th.”
Senior Hannah Ren (20th, 19:53.4), sophomore Olivia Borland (63rd, 21:23.8), freshman Ella Wrate (87th, 22:00.4) and freshman Lorelei Jorden (90th, 22:03.6) were also in the scoring five for Sage Hill.
It was, in fact, the love of the team that propelled Miller to the best three-mile time of her career. She said she worked on internalizing the mentality that her performance was “for the greater good of the team.”
“This year, my goal, honestly, was to just break 20 [minutes] in the three-mile [distance races], and then have our team go to state, so kind of a personal and a team goal,” Miller said. “Both of those have happened, so I’m pretty happy.”
Miller joined the cross-country program as a sophomore after beginning high school as a member of the junior varsity tennis team.
“Almost immediately, for her, it was undiscovered passion,” Lightning coach Nate Miller said. “She just really found that running was her thing, and it made her really happy.”
The new cross-country athlete wound up being almost too enthusiastic about running, and injuries took away significant time from her training. As a sophomore, she dealt with shin splints. As a junior, she had tendinitis on the top of her feet, which inhibited her ability to do hard speed workouts.
A founding faculty member of Sage Hill, which opened in 2000, Nate Miller is in his 20th season as the Lightning cross-country coach. He managed the mileage of Kate Miller, holding her to roughly 30 miles a week. The long training runs have been limited to seven-to-eight miles.
“It ended up being really, really smart,” he said. “She was healthy the whole season. She definitely turned the corner, too, in terms of mental strength this year. I think being healthy was part of that, but she just became rock-solid, mentally focused.
“There are small differences between running 21 [minutes] and running 19 [minutes]. A lot of it was between the ears, I think. She just did a really good job mentally this year.”
The longtime coach called Miller one of his favorite athletes because of her passion for the sport. He said she has taught him a thing or two.
Miller gained inspiration from the upperclassmen that came before her like Brooklyn Button, Alice Warden and Maya Jaffe. Her coach believes that her teammates have learned from her, too.
“She’s just all-in,” he said. “She loves the running, and that’s really spread to the team in a really positive way. In the same way I think she learned from the people above her, I think even more so, the young kids in this year’s program are going to benefit from having her around this year.”
Senior Ashley Zeng, who will be headed to her third state meet in four years with the Lightning, said that Miller’s enthusiasm permeates through the team.
“She is an amazing leader for our team,” Zeng said. “She really gets everyone excited for our meets, and her dedication is definitely inspiring for all of us.
“She sends us emails before our meets to remind us to hydrate and get us pumped up for the meets. Her excitement is definitely infectious.”
The next meet for Miller and Sage Hill is the biggest, the state championship at Woodward Park in Fresno on Saturday.
Born: Jan. 7, 2002
Hometown: Newport Beach
Height: 5 feet 5
Weight: 110 pounds
Coach: Nate Miller
Favorite food: Beets
Favorite movie: “Minority Report”
Favorite athletic moment: Miller was thrilled to discover that the Lightning qualified as a team for the CIF State Division V final because she knew it took a complete team effort to accomplish that goal.
Week in review: Miller finished in seventh place in the CIF Southern Section Division 5 girls’ final on Saturday at the Riverside City Cross-Country Course. The senior ran a lifetime-best time of 18:54.1, breaking the 19-minute mark for the first time in her career.
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