HARRISONBURG — When Harrisonburg senior Hannah Miller started applying to colleges, she didn’t have any idea where the process would take her.
Quite honestly, she said, she didn’t even know if she wanted to continue her athletic career at the next level.
“Every school I applied to, I contacted the coach just to keep my options open,” Miller said. ”I really didn’t know whether I was going to run or not. It all kind of just depended.”
Miller’s college vision eventually became clear and after touring several schools and talking with several coaches, the HHS cross country and track and field standout signed her national letter of intent last week to continue running at Elon University.
The Division I school in Elon, N.C., is a member of the Colonial Athletic Association and has strong connections across different sports to the Shenandoah Valley.
“None of the schools I applied to really had any rhyme or reason,” Miller said. “Elon was originally on my list because I have some family members that went there. It stayed on my list because when I went down for a visit, I absolutely loved the campus. The coach was great. The team was super friendly and outgoing and the school is super great academically as well. It just kind of had the whole package.”
The idea of being a Division I runner wasn’t something Miller always envisioned, she said, and that’s because of the trials and tribulations she went through as a runner throughout her career.
HHS coach Jerry Hertzler said Miller’s ability to push herself and get through disappointing results at times is what ultimately allowed her to become one of more decorated runners in Blue Streaks program history.
“Hannah has that special ability to push herself beyond what most high school athletes are willing to do,” Hertzler said. “She is fully committed and consequently successful in every activity that she takes on. At the same time, she is a very humble and caring teammate.
“Not every race ended in the manner we envisioned, but sometimes those experiences have told me more about Hannah than her successes,” Hertzler said. “Getting up the next morning and going back to work after a disappointment speaks more to a person’s character than just celebrating a win.”
One of Miller’s biggest friendly rivals in the Valley District was Broadway’s Jessica Cantrell, who will run at James Madison next season and competed against Miller in cross country and indoor and outdoor track.
The two will continue to battle against each other next season in all three seasons in the CAA.
“My biggest nerves are revolving around the fact that I have three seasons of Division I athletics,” Miller said. “Those nerves are calmed a lot though by the girls on the team because they absolutely love it so much. I know it’s going to be a lot of fun and I know I wouldn’t enjoy college as much if I didn’t run.”
The adjustment to running at the college level is one Miller said she knows will take time.
She said she hopes to get to Elon, adjust quickly and then set some long-term goals.
“I’m really looking forward to pushing myself even harder and being in a little bit different setting than high school athletics,” Miller said. “College is the next level so it’s a little bit harder, a lot more work. I feel like that means the good races are going to be just that much more rewarding.”
Hertzler had seen firsthand the work ethic of Miller.
He said he has no doubt she’ll continue to find the same type of success she’s had at HHS in the next stage of her career with the Phoenix.
“From a coaching point of view, she is that athlete that most coaches dream of,” Hertzler said. “Hannah has a very level head, never too high or too low and always looking to improve. She is willing to put in the work needed to attain her lofty goals. … She has been the team captain for the past two years in all three sports. Her motivation to train is above most high school athletes and it has been infectious for her teammates.”
Miller still has two more races left in her high school career with the Region 5D track and field meet coming up as well as the Virginia High School League Class 5 state meet, where she’s qualified in the 1,600.
“I’d love to qualify for states with my 4x800 relay team just because we were really close in indoor and didn’t make it,” Miller said. “I’m already qualified in the mile, but hopefully we’ll all just perform well. I just want to enjoy my last few weeks of high school because it’s the last chance I’ll get.”
Miller’s team-first attitude and drive to continue to get better is what made her so special during her time at Harrisonburg.
While Hertzler noted that Miller’s “legacy is still being written,” he also couldn’t deny how much of an impact she’s had during her time at HHS.
“She will graduate with the highest academic honors and leave as one of the very best distance runners, if not the best, to ever wear the navy and white,” Hertzler said. “She holds the school record in practically every distance that she competed in. It is impossible to replace an athlete like Hannah Miller, but she has willingly passed on her training mentality to the younger runners. Thereby, her legacy will live on. Elon will be a great fit for Hannah.”
The connection between Miller and Hertzler is one of the reasons she said her time with the Blue Streaks will be one of her favorite memories when she looks back.
“It’s been so special,” Miller said. “As I grow older and I start thinking about high school as a memory, my greatest ones are going to be with my teammates in the locker room, with my teammates at the races, with my coach before and after races. My memories will definitely revolve around running and I’m appreciative of that.”
Now, she’ll continue her career at Elon, where she said she built a connection with the runners as well as coach Mark Elliston.
While running may not have originally been in her college plans, it is now because of those connections and what means to Miller, she said.
That’s just who she is.
“Ultimately, I chose Elon and I couldn’t imagine going there and not running because the team made it seem so fun,” Miller said. “The coach really cares about all the athletes there. I’m really looking forward to it. I really, really am.”