Miller paces Flashes to wins

Chris Gates

Australian leads team with 11 assists and is second in MAC

Senior Rachel Miller plays against Ball Sate on Sunday October 26, 2008. Sam Twarek | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Thirteen years of experience is rare in field hockey, especially when it comes before attending college.

That’s what sophomore midfielder Rachel Miller, an Australia native, had coming into her freshman season last year, and she turned it into a 33-point campaign and a Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year award.

“Last year, it was great,” Miller said. “It’s quite different playing in Australia. We start playing when we’re very young – I started playing when I was five. It was quite a bit different to play alongside freshmen that have only been playing for maybe four years (maximum).”

Miller has not slowed a bit this season, even after changing positions before the season began. After starting all 21 games of last year at the offensively-focused forward position, she became a midfielder this year, assuming more defensive responsibilities.

The adjustment to the midfield position, it turns out, was not a hard move at all. Miller said midfielder is her natural position, and she welcomed the change.

“I played midfield at home more than I played at striker,” Miller said. “More of last year was adapting to be a striker than anything else. Coming back to playing midfield, it took a little bit of a while to adjust back to it. But once I’m back there, I feel more comfortable in that position.

“I like to be able to pass the ball when I can.”

Miller’s passing caused her to finish this season in second place in the MAC with 11 assists. That, combined with another 11 goals, placed the Aussie third in the MAC scoring standings with 33 points.

Kent State coach Kathleen Schanne has encouraged Miller to join the attack whenever it feels right, even though she is not at her old position.

“I really just … don’t give any of the players rules or regulations,” Schanne said. “I just want them to play with a lot of flow and trust with one another. Rachel plays (midfielder) really well. A center-midfielder needs to defend and they also need to attack, and I think she does both of those really well.”

The offensive success Miller has experienced thus far in her Kent State career is in large part because of her choice to come to Kent State. She said the system has allowed her to thrive.

“I definitely made the right decision,” Miller said. “It was definitely great coming in last year as a freshman. The team was very supportive. It was just nice to be able to play.”

Coming to Northeast Ohio from Australia might seem odd, but for Miller it was a perfect fit. She contacted Kent State early on, before the time period when coaches are allowed to contact recruits and expressed her desire to play for the Flashes.

“Rachel initially contacted me via e-mail,” Schanne said. “It was during a time where it was not permissible for me to write her back with NCAA regulations, so I had held on to the e-mail. And then when it was Sept. 1, I wrote her and we started e-mail correspondence.

“(Assistant coach) Rich Sutton and I both talked with coaches (and) got recommendations. She came down to three schools here in the states, and she chose to come to us.”

In watching video footage, the coaching staff saw promise in Miller’s speed and athleticism. To their delight, she has delivered and is part of a youth movement in the program. Of 21 players on the roster, 15 are either freshmen or sophomores.

Miller and the young Flashes head into the MAC Tournament today, focusing on what got them to this point: playing Kent State’s brand of field hockey.

“Basics, basics,” Miller stressed. “We want to get our basics right. When we play our short, quick game, we’re on top of everything. So as long as we keep that going, then there’s no limit to what we can do.”

Contact sports reporter Chris Gates at [email protected].