Balers senior Nicole Miller driven to succeed

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Balers senior Nicole Miller has earned a scholarship to play beach volleyball at Concordia University, a D2 program in Irvine.

Nicole Miller wasn’t about to let the coronavirus pandemic deter her from playing volleyball at the four-year level. The San Benito High senior recently signed a letter of intent to play beach volleyball at Concordia University, a Division II program in Irvine. That the 5-foot-11 Miller has only been playing the beach game for three years and earned a scholarship amid the Covid-19 era is all the more impressive.  

With her parents and younger sister flanking her, Miller did a letter of intent signing ceremony at San Benito High on Dec. 4, a moment she’ll never forget. 

“That day was amazing, and I’m super grateful to have done that with everything going on,” said Miller, who praised Athletic Director Tod Thatcher, Athletic Clerk Becky Doty and Haybalers coach Emily Burley for making the event happen. “It was such a relief that after all these years all my hard work was worth it. I was overwhelmed with all the emotions you can imagine, with happiness and excitement being most of them.”  

Even though Miller said she had opportunities to play at other four-year schools, “I fell in love with everything about Concordia.” Her conversations with Concordia coach Jenny Griffith and assistant Brian Failinger were fruitful as she got to know them on a much deeper level. Miller’s path to Concordia was the perfect intersection of talent and determination. 

Once the pandemic began, Miller didn’t have many avenues to work on her game as everything was shut down due to the shelter in place orders. That’s when she got in contact with Hermosa Beach Volleyball Club coach Dave Callus, whom she had known since she was 4 or 5 years old because he was a family friend. 

Every other week from March until August, Miller and her mom Kim would make the 5-hour drive to Southern California and stay there for five days at a time, with Nicole training on three of those days for two hours at a time. In the summer, Callus mentioned to Miller if she would be interested in talking with Griffith, and the two connected shortly thereafter. 

Miller visited the campus a couple of times and had practice-match sessions in Santa Barbara in October with Failinger watching. “I think they loved my speed, love and passion for the game,” Miller said. “They mentioned my attitude, that I’m a positive player and my strategy for the game. … It was just an awesome opportunity first of all to see how this all happened because Dave was always bugging me to go down and play for him. Because of Covid and not being able to play up here (in Northern California), I had to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Miller credits her parents, Mike and Kim, for providing tremendous support. Often times Miller had her mom drive to road games so she could do homework or catch up on classwork, a byproduct of a student-athlete who meticulously uses her time to get things done. Miller’s younger sister, Caitlin, is a sophomore at San Benito High and a promising player. 

A lot of Miller’s determination comes from Mike, who has competed in the King of the Hammers, an off-road race that combines desert racing and rock crawling. Nicole has so many fond memories of listening to music while being in the back seat of her dad’s Ford Bronco as he drove Hollister Hills. 

“I grew up in Hollister Hills,” she said. “I was actually up there two weeks ago with a couple of friends driving around.” 

Nicole can’t wait to be a co-driver for her dad in a future race. “A co-driver means I’m in charge of the map and where to go,” she said. “I talk to the pit crew and tell them where we’re at, just in case they need to get something to us or if our car needs work.”

Whether she’s in the gym, on the beach or off-road, Miller cherishes each moment.