Playing big, Morgan Miller determined to lead Northridge to first NLC title

A player whose former nickname was "Bambi" showed Saturday night she's a lot tougher than the name denoted.

Posted on Feb. 1, 2014 at 10:00 p.m.

MIDDLEBURY — Morgan Miller shredded off her old nickname the moment she plowed toward a defender, got hit and finished the layup anyway.

"Alright," Northridge coach Doug Springer conceded. "No more Bambi."

Nicknamed her freshman year after the spindly Disney deer, the 5-foot-11 Miller initially looked out of place alongside her bigger, older varsity teammates.

"As a freshman, she came in competing against Emily Peppers-VanNamee and Tori Roberts," Springer said. "Those were two, big physical seniors and she is this little freshman, long and gangling. I saw the potential, but she was honestly like a baby deer. She'd get hit and she'd flail."

Now as a senior on the 14-4 Raiders girls basketball team, Miller has had to grow both physically and mentally over the past four years to fit into a new role with Northridge. She made a goal to become more of a leader this season, to help the team in any capacity.

So when the Raiders dropped three games straight midway through the year, including a loss to NorthWood, Miller and the other seniors sat the team down before they would face the Panthers again.

"We all came together and talked about how we wanted to restart our win streak," she said. "And we all played as a team and beat (NorthWood) by a lot."

Her playing style changed, too. Miller had always been a finesse player, owning two school records in career and single-season free throw attempts. But after the graduation of Northridge staples Haley and Madison Schrock, Miller was charged with becoming more physical and aggressive to fill in the gaps they left behind.

Not exactly a task for Bambi.

Northridge relied on Miller to battle 6-2 Knox center Haley Martin and NorthWood's Morgan Olson the second time the two teams met. The Raiders won both games this year, something Springer credits partially to Miller's hard play in the paint.

"That's a testament to her," he said. "She's taken to getting stronger, getting in the weight room."

Even though Miller was expected to bring the physicality the Schrock twins once brought, the scoring responsibilities have been evenly divided. Some games, Miller is the top scorer. Other games, it's fellow senior Brienne O'Dell or junior Taylor Miller.

"I sat down with the four seniors and talked to them about my expectations were of them now as seniors, what their expectations were," Springer said. "We set team goals. They all said they wanted to be unselfish."

As a result, the Raiders have a strong shot at winning the Northern Lakes Conference title for the first time in team history. After beating Elkhart Memorial on Saturday, Feb. 1, Northridge will only have to put away Wawasee on Feb. 7 to get there.

After this season, Miller will move on to play volleyball at Indiana Wesleyan University. She'll wrap up a career with 593 points, 245 rebounds, 75 steals and seven double-doubles as a three-year starter with the Raiders.

But before she turns in her uniform, she has some unfinished business to take care of.

She glanced at the empty rafters at the Northridge Middle School gym.

"We've never hung a banner," she said. "That's one of our top goals, to hang a banner before we graduate."

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