For much of the last two seasons, Chiawana girls soccer coach Rich Zoller has diligently worked to make sure Lexi Miller wasn’t the only source of offense on his team.
Fortunately for Zoller, his senior forward has been working on bringing a balanced approach to every game since she began playing at age 4.
“My coaches used to like that about me. I was young, but my maturity level was really high. I could always make plays, even at an early age,” Miller said.
The approach shows in the numbers she puts up. Miller leads the Mid-Columbia Conference in both categories with 19 goals and 11 assists with three games remaining in the regular season.
But her dedication to soccer also is reflected in her relationship to her teammates and coaches, who have watched her develop into a positive leader with an added kick of authority when she needs it.
“Her first two years, she was working with Erin (Huisingh), seeing how Erin went about her way. She had to be patient and wait her turn,” Zoller said. “We’ve had discussions about how to be a leader. We had a talk before the Southridge game this year. I told her this was her time to step up, and the team was going to need her more than ever tonight.
“And she did. She stepped up.”
With two assists against the 2011 CBBN 3A champion Suns in the Riverhawks’ MCC opener, Miller was off and running in 2012. She’s doing it with a strong blend of agility, strength and confidence, and her grace under fire doesn’t hurt either.
“She’s really strong with ball control. She knows when to take a shot and when to pass it off, when to dribble and when not to dribble,” sophomore forward Alexis Stephenson said.
Stephenson has been the beneficiary of several Miller set-ups this season, scoring 11 goals to rank third in the MCC in scoring. Miller admits that scoring is her greatest pleasure on the field, but delivering a ball to set up a teammate for a score is a big reward, too.
“It makes me feel good to see Alexis score, because I know she works really hard, and I know she loves having that pay off,” Miller said. “As a senior, I feel like I need to always keep people on track and do the right things. As a rule, I like to be in the middle and make plays for the forwards.”
Miller, the youngest of five siblings, played basketball and ran track as a freshman and sophomore. But after getting burned out a bit between club soccer and basketball in the winter of her sophomore year, she decided to dedicate herself to one sport.
That move paid off for her as a junior, when she led the league in both goals (16) and assists (8), earning first-team All-CBBN 4A honors.
“She’s a tough kid. I remember the summer before last, we were practicing with some guys, and she got tackled really hard, fell and broke her arm,” Zoller said. “She didn’t say anything. She didn’t want to complain. She had to miss the rest of the summer, but she came back ready for the season.”
She continues to be a mainstay on her club team — Three Rivers G94 team coached by Max Weber — along with Chiawana teammate Lexi Ellingsen, a junior defender. The pair have been fast friends for over 10 years, and they’re enjoying every last minute playing together in Miller’s final year.
One thing they don’t enjoy is battling against each other in practice.
“We never want to go against each other. Neither of us wants to lose,” Ellingsen said. “I try to body her up, but I still haven’t really figured out how to stop her yet. Sometimes I get her, and sometimes she goes right by me.”
Miller, the Riverhawks’ career leader in goals (57) and assists (34), doesn’t know where her next stop will be just yet. She’s planning on putting some thought into that after the season but says Walla Walla Community College is on the short list of possibilities.
Until then, she wants to end her high school career with a return trip to the state tournament, the same way Chiawana sent Huisingh off in 2010.
“We were all so proud. We felt good for Erin, because it was her last year, but it made us all happy and confident. I hope we can do that again this year,” Miller said. “I think we have (the ability), but everybody has to be strong and aggressive and make good passes. And everybody has to work hard.”
They could do a lot worse than to follow their captain’s example.