Lexi Miller came to Chiawana High School unsure of where her soccer career would lead her.
As a freshman and sophomore, she watched Erin Huisingh — now a starting forward for Concordia (Ore.) University — flourish as the team’s leader and hoped one day to inherit that role.
It’s safe to say Miller has succeeded. In May, not only will she have secured a chance to play at the next level, but she’ll leave as the Riverhawks’ most celebrated scorer and playmaker ever.
Miller is also the Tri-City Herald’s player of the year after leading the Mid-Columbia Conference with 20 goals and 13 assists, the second consecutive season she’s led the league in both categories. She was named the MCC most valuable player for her efforts.
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“I’m so happy because I’ve worked hard the last four years in high school and club. I feel like (the work) paid off,” said Miller, Chiawana’s all-time leader in goals (58) and assists (36).
She also credited the players and coaches around her with creating a positive atmosphere that led to a 12-6 record this season and put the Riverhawks within reach of its first league title. They finished two games behind Richland and lost in the first round of the MCC district playoffs, but Miller said the memories she built with her teammates mean more than a trophy ever could.
“Our team was so close. I remember always enjoying and loving soccer practice. It’s probably the best team I’ve ever been with,” she said. “(The playoff loss) was definitely difficult for all of us. We all thought we were going to state, but luck was not on our side.”
Over the final few weeks of the season, Miller has received added interest from Eastern Washington University, Seattle University and Washington State, as well as Columbia Basin College and Walla Walla Community College. She hasn’t decided where she’ll attend yet, but Chiawana coach Rich Zoller believes she’ll be a perfect fit just about anywhere, and at any position.
“She’s got a big skill set. You can move her around to different positions on the field and find some space for her,” Zoller said. “She’s just a player you can rely on. She never has a bad game.”
Kamiakin coach Chris Erikson, the Herald’s coach of the year, guided her team to the MCC title and earned her 18th trip to state in her 26 seasons as Braves coach. Kamiakin finished 17-3-2 with a young lineup and battled potentially crushing injuries to key players all season but found a way to keep winning big games.
“Ten of our league games were won by one goal,” Erikson said. “Lots of pressure from good teams made us better.
“We’re fortunate to have a group of fellow coaches that respect each other and love the game of soccer. To be given the honor of coach of the year humbles me, as I know that any one of them deserved as much.”
Miller was one of five repeat selections to the first team along with forwards Ellie Heiden of Kamiakin and Kirsten Calmus of Richland, midfielder Katherine Virden of Richland and defender Emma Sanders of Southridge.
Calmus was named to the first team as a sophomore in 2010 and made the second team after an injury-shortened junior season.
Grandview forward Oryian Matheny, the CWAC player of the year, makes her first appearance on the first team after making the second team in 2011. Joining her at forward is Kiona-Benton senior forward Mykenzie Lilly, the SCAC East player of the year.
Three midfielders made their debut on the first team: Pasco junior Abby Buckenberger, Southridge senior Hannah Sanders and Kamiakin senior Brianna Turley.
Three defenders also earned first-team honors for the first time: Kamiakin senior Lauren McKinney, Richland senior Serena Robertson and Hanford senior Savanna Steele.
Hanford junior Emily Busselman was named the first-team goalkeeper.