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Warriors Athlete of Week: No. 1 position merit for female runner

Brainerd's Meritt Miller competes in the Run for the Melon cross country race. (Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls)

Brainerd cross country coach Dave Herath hopes the No. 1 runner position on the Warrior girls team is locked up through the 2016 season.

Junior Meritt Miller thrust herself into the Warriors' top spot this fall by winning the Crosby-Ironton Invite at Ruttger's and with a runner-up finish at the Rey Zimney Pierz Pioneers Stampede. She added a 13th-place finish at the Monticello Invite and was 17th at the prestigious Roy Griak Invite at the University of Minnesota.

She also has clocked the Warriors' fastest 5-kilometer time of 19:35 which she ran at Monticello.

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Meritt Miller

Sport: Cross country running

Year: Junior

Age: 17

Height: 5-2

Career highlight: Winning Crosby-Ironton Invite at Ruttger's

Other sports: Track and field

Grade-point average: 3.2

Favorite class: Spanish

Favorite food: Spaghetti

Favorite movie: "Stepbrothers"

Favorite TV show: "Grey's Anatomy"

Hobbies: Swimming

Future plans: Attend college, possibly pursue career in nursing

Parents: Jon and Rita Miller

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"What's been neat is the second half of the season to see her confidence level grow," Herath said. "She led 500-some runners at the Griak meet the first mile-and-a-half. Even though she finished 17th, it was a big shot in the arm like 'Hey, I can run up here.'

"They were cruising then she came back at C-I and shot out from the start. Anybody that wanted to go with her could, but she was not backing down. Her confidence level has definitely grown."

Miller said she wasn't used to hilly courses like the one in her first appearance at the Griak meet.

"It was hard to stay up there in placing," she said. "Most of our courses have been not as hilly."

At Ruttger's, she finished in 19:55.

"It wasn't a (personal record) but it was really cool to win," Miller said.

Stress fractures in her legs prior to this season probably prevented Miller from reaching her potential.

"In past years, she's been struck with the injury bug," Herath said. "A lot of it had to do with her mechanics. She has kind of a muscle imbalance in her left leg. She would swing the leg instead of bringing it straight - front to back. That put a lot of pressure on her lower legs. It was tough for her to run pain free.

"Now she's lifting (weights). It's just done a world of difference for her as far as evening out those muscles. It's helping her become much more effective form-wise."

This is the first season that girls have run 5,000 meters in meets like the boys. Miller said the adjustment to the longer distance hasn't been noticeable.

"It hasn't been that much of a difference," she said. "We run a little longer in practice."

Herath said the Warrior girls have always run 5,000 meters at the Griak on an extremely challenging course.

"But not many of our kids have been under 20 minutes," he said. "Meritt has done that a couple times. She was the real deal there. We take it for what it's worth.

"We keep track of our top 10 times everywhere. I've found what I believe to be a reliable conversion table. Her time at C-I would have been about 10 seconds faster than Anna Gessell running a 4K - if you factor them together. Meritt's up there with our all-time best. That would be the fastest C-I time we've ever had.

"She's quietly building a resume for herself. I'm OK with quiet. She's set a goal of making it to state. Nobody's looking at her. She's been right there at meets against section opponents."

Herath believes Miller's mental toughness gives her an edge.

"She's tough," he said. "She can handle the discomfort of running fast for a long period of time better than most kids. That's something we work on, but I don't know if you can teach that. I think you're born with that. We try to maximize it in everybody but Meritt's just got it.

"She's not super tall. She doesn't stick out as being an amazing athletic specimen yet you put her on the line and she's going to give it all she's got."

Other notable efforts:

• Brooke Mimmack-Ashley Fitterer, girls tennis, were runners-up in the North Subsection 8-2A doubles tournament and qualified for the section meet.

• Jenna Swenson-Kennedy Rusk, girls tennis, finished fourth in the North Subsection doubles tournament and qualified for the section.

• Payge Fitterer, girls tennis, finished third in the North Subsection singles tournament and qualified for the section.

• Megan Tschida, girls soccer, posted her fourth shutout in five games vs. Sartell.

• Hanson Devine, football, passed for 117 yards against Sartell.

• Allison Crum and Hannah McKeag, swimming, each won two events vs. Grand Rapids.

• Nicole Borg, volleyball, recorded 13 kills vs. Apollo.

MIKE BIALKA may be reached at mike.bialka@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark .

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