South’s Miller grows into distance ace

Pirate freshman will compete in state Group IV meet

By: Justin Feil
   Lisa Miller hasn’t actually sprung up, but the West Windsor-Plainsboro High South freshman has grown plenty in the last year.
   As an eighth grader, she ran a lot of 100-meter races and nothing more than the 400, which she had a best of one minute, 20 seconds. There was little indication other than her tiny frame that she had the possibility to become a record-setting distance runner. In fact, Miller was quite opposed to distances as recently as nine months ago.
   "Last summer, I didn’t really run at all," she said. "I practically had to be pushed out the door to run for 25 minutes, and that was a jog."
   But push her older sister Becky Miller did. And eventually Becky convinced her younger sister to follow her footsteps and join the cross country team. In her first cross country practice, recalls Pirate girls’ cross country and track and field head coach Wendy Gottshall, Lisa was wheezing so loudly that she was afraid she’d collapse.
   By the end of the fall season, however, it was Becky following Lisa’s footsteps as the newcomer was at the lead in taking the Pirates to a sectional cross country appearance.
   This spring, Lisa has continued her rise to development. At last weekend’s Central Jersey Group IV track and field meet, she finished third in the 1600 and sixth in the 800, both in season best times and good enough to qualify for this Friday and Saturday’s Group IV state meet to be held at Egg Harbor High.
   "She was also first for our team in cross country at sectionals," Gottshall said. "This season is a continuation of that. She’s still leading our team and getting to the next round."
   With a sixth-place finish or better in either event that will be run Saturday, Miller could make her first appearance at the Meet of Champions. Also looking for M of C spots are Group III individuals from WW-P North and Princeton High as well as Group II Montgomery. Miller is the lone Pirate in this weekend’s meet and would like to give her school a representative in next weekend’s M of C.
   "According to this," said Miller, holding a list of last weekend’s Group IV results from around the state, "I should make it. But I have to run a good race."
   Miller is seeded 16th in the 800, but had the fifth-best time in the mile after finishing in 5:15.10, a school record.
   "Judging from her last five races, she’s gotten her best time each time," Gottshall said. "She’s on a roll. Nothing is holding her back.
   "She got her best time in both (events) last week. Running both of them doesn’t seem to affect her. She recovers quickly."
   It’s quite a change from just less than a year ago when anything more than a 400 was too far. And, in comparison to her top 80-second time for one lap around the track in middle school, she’s now run back-to-back 71-second laps for the 800 and can sustain 78-second laps for four consecutive laps in the mile. Lisa credits Becky with helping her get to this point.
   "I got into it because of Becky," she said. "She’s always been a distance runner. She’s done it for four years and she wanted me to come out. I told her, ‘Fine, I’ll try it.’
   "It was a little hard at the beginning. I couldn’t run more than 20 minutes. By the time winter track came around, I knew I’d stick with it."
   Lisa still relies on Becky, who will be a freshman at Princeton University this fall, for advice. And Becky is thrilled to help her younger sister continue to improve.
   "She’s real happy," Lisa said. "We had a lot of freshmen and she was happy our team got to go to sectionals. She still helps. She knows so much more about running. I’m still learning. I always ask her questions, like if I should go hard or take it easy on a day. She gives me a lot of advice."
   Becky is a second coach, says Gottshall. What no one can coach is the little extra kick that Lisa Miller doesn’t necessarily come from being a former sprinter, but comes from within.
   "She does pretty much what everyone else does in practice," Gottshall said. "But she has a real competitive edge. She just turns it on on race day. Other people in practice can keep up with her. In races, no one can."
   The Group IV mile will test that as Miller is among a pack of 14 girls separated by five seconds. And in the 800, she is just 1.4 seconds behind the sixth-place finisher. If it comes down to a sprint, Miller likes her chances.
   "I do have a kick," she said. "That’s when I pass a lot of people. Plus, you can give everything because you’re almost done."
   And getting done sooner than later is still something Miller likes. It’s why she favors the shorter 800, though she’s comparatively a better miler. Now, she comes into the Group IV meet with a chance to move on in both events.
   "I thought I had a chance," Miller said of the sectional meet. "My sister did point out that I was seeded third in the mile and that’s what I finished. I thought technically I should have made it. I wasn’t expecting to get there, but I would have been disappointed if I didn’t.
   "I hope I can move on again," she added. "If I run a good time, I’ll be happy. I hope to improve and continue through high school."
   Having overcome a slow start, Lisa Miller is racing toward quite a career in long distance, something that nine months ago would have seemed laughable. That changed when Miller’s sister got her serious about running.
   "She just started," Gottshall said. "You improve the most in the first year. She has the enthusiasm it takes to keep improving. There’s not a lot of pressure on her right now. She’s great for the team. She makes it fun for everyone."
   Everyone except those scampering behind WW-P South’s new running giant.