Nikiski's Rick Miller makes a save during a game earlier this season.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Senior year has been Rick Miller’s time.
In the classroom at Nikiski, Miller currently has a 3.2 grade-point average overall, but he says that will probably change because he has gotten nothing but A’s this year.
Miller has had similar success in athletics as a senior. He went out for basketball for the first time since his freshman year and was named the most valuable player on the squad after leading the team in points and rebounds per game.
Then in the spring, Miller had more success in the sport he has focused on in high school soccer. From his goalie position, Miller backstopped the Bulldogs to their first undefeated Northern Lights Conference Southern Division record. Nikiski finished with a 2-0-3 record.
Nikiski qualified for the NLC tournament, where it lost to eventual conference champion Colony 3-1 in the first round. Miller had 20 saves in the loss. Miller had set the school record for saves when he made 20 in a 0-0 tie against Kenai Central in early May.
For his efforts this season, Miller was named an all-conference player at goalie on Saturday.
“This year he has really matured and come into his own,” said Nikiski coach Jim Coburn. “He’s the main reason we went undefeated this season (in the Southern Division).”
Added Miller’s father, Aaron, of his 6-foot-1 son: “I’d say this year he actually got more confidence in his length. He knew he could get more saves because of his height. He was stopping balls he never had dreamed he’d get to.”
Before Miller started playing soccer in eighth grade, his main sport was basketball. It was Coburn, who actually coached Miller in basketball while he was in grade school, who convinced Miller to play soccer.
Coburn had Miller pegged as a goalie from the start, but initially Miller disagreed.
“(Coburn) told me I should play goalie because I was taller than most people,” Miller said. “I really wanted to play in the field so I did that a few days.
“But, I went to goalie tryouts and ended up playing the first game.”
So what changed Miller’s mind about goalie?
“I basically figured he knew what he was talking about, and I had no idea,” Miller said of Coburn.
Both Miller and Coburn agreed that Miller faced a learning curve in goal, but Miller improved quickly.
“He took to it like a duck to water,” Aaron Miller said. “Jim is a pretty sharp guy, and he saw something in Rick we didn’t see.”
Coburn said some of Miller’s improvement came due to coaching, but Miller also taught himself a lot of his technique in goal.
Once he got to high school, Miller said he learned a lot as a freshman playing behind senior Josh Winters.
Miller saw varsity action in goal as a sophomore, then played in several indoor soccer tournaments the winter before his junior season with some players from Skyview. Miller said he picked up some tips from Matt Stalnik, an all-state goalie from Skyview.
“The guys up there are good and kick really hard,” Miller said of the indoor tournaments. “I improved a lot because the game was faster, so I got a lot of action.”
Miller also became a more aggressive goalie, rushing out to confront shooters and nip developing attacks in the bud.
“Sophomore year I didn’t come out in the box and coach told me to take more risks,” Miller said. “I would just sit back on my line because I didn’t want anything to get into my goal.”
During his junior year, Miller played on what he thought was the best team in his time at Nikiski. The team was senior-laden and Miller said the seniors gave him more tips on being a good goalie. The team had a couple of tough games and didn’t qualify for the conference tournament.
“That was a surprise,” Miller said. “Last year, I thought we would be good, but this year, I thought it would be for fun. We had a great year this year. The young guys panned out really well.”
Up until he was a senior, Miller spent his career taking tips from those older than him. That colored the way he viewed his role on this year’s team.
“I didn’t view myself as a leader as much as the guy who has been there longer than everyone else,” Miller said. “I’m just here to help everybody get better next year. If they don’t want to listen to me, that’s fine.”
Miller said his time on the basketball court this year helped him prepare for soccer by getting him in shape and improving his hand speed.
“He was our best athlete and statistically our most productive player,” said Nikiski boys basketball coach Reid Kornstad. “It would have been much tougher without him.”
Kornstad said Miller fully committed to the team and didn’t treat basketball like a warmup for soccer.
“It was an awesome year with him,” Kornstad said. “I was ecstatic when he let us know he wanted to come out. He was fun to coach.”
Miller plans to go to Kenai Peninsula College next year to get his general education out of the way, then he will go to the University of Alaska Fairbanks to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. Miller, who has been in two plays while in high school, also will continue to work at Arctic Sun Maintenance, which is his dad’s road contracting business.
“He’s a kid who always seems to make the right decisions, even if they’re not popular ones,” Coburn said of Miller, who arrived at school early twice a week this semester to work in the snack bar and raise money for soccer. “He’s self-motivated. As he’s matured, he’s become his own person.”
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