OXFORD, Ohio – Miami University’s women’s soccer team knows what it takes to win a championship. The RedHawks captured both the Mid-American Conference regular season and tournament crowns in 2012, and began the process of repeating on Wednesday with their first practice of 2013. Miami has also added 10 newcomers for the upcoming season and at least one of them already knows what it takes to win a title.
Freshman back Dana Miller came to Oxford just over a week removed from helping her club team, Team Chicago Academy-Botafogo, claim the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship in the U-18 age group. The USYSA National Championships took place from July 23-28 in Overland Park, Kansas, just outside Kansas City.
A total of eight club teams qualified for the girls U-18 National Championship, with Botafogo going 2-0-1 in Pool A to win the pool and advance to the championship match. Miller’s team had to win its final pool play match against a team from Oklahoma to win the pool, and Botafogo cruised to a 3-0 victory. Her squad then met VSA Heat Blue out of Virginia in the final July 28 – a team they had faced back on Jan. 2 during National League play.
“They were the reigning champs from last year, so we really wanted to beat them,” Miller said of the final. “We had played them in National League and beat them, so we knew they wanted revenge, but we wanted to take the title from them. It was a super intense game.”
The game was deadlocked at 1-1 after 90 minutes, sending the match into extra time. By rule, overtime consists of two 15-minute periods to be played in full. After the first overtime was scoreless, Botafogo found the back of the net five minutes into the second extra session on a goal that “defines how our team plays,” according to Miller.
“We were all super excited but we still had 10 minutes left in game, so that last 10 minutes was the most intense thing. The last play of the game was a corner kick for them, so it was scary but we ended up holding them off,” Miller explained. “It was amazing (to win the championship). I didn’t even know how bad I wanted it until I was in that game and I couldn’t even imagine losing. It was insane.”
Miller became the second RedHawk to win a club national title this summer, joining sophomore back/midfielder Katie Mazurek, who captured an Elite Club National League (ECNL) U-18 national championship in June with the Ohio Premier Eagles.
In order to qualify for the USYSA National Championships, a team must either win its regional tournament (there are four nationally), or finish in the top two in the National League, which consists of 15 teams that play each other over several months, almost like a regular season. Miller’s team decided it would qualify both ways.
Botafogo rolled through the National League, going a perfect 7-0-0 to sit atop the Red Division, outscoring foes a combined, 23-3. One of those games was a 3-1 win over the same VSA Heat Blue team it beat again in the national championship. Miller and her team then went on to win the Illinois state cup and went a perfect 5-0 at the Midwest Regional in Des Moines in late June. It was the second straight year Botafogo, who Miller has been playing for since she was in seventh grade, had claimed the state cup and Midwest Regional titles.
Despite all the soccer played this summer, Miller is more than ready to jump right in and continue her career as a RedHawk.
“I’m glad I was able to keep playing soccer the whole summer, but it was definitely hard to try and get in shape for everything here (at Miami) and keep practicing,” said the Wheaton, Ill., native. “It wasn’t bad and winning nationals was all worth it. It just got me more excited to continue (playing soccer).”
Although she’s only been practicing at the collegiate level a few days, Miller is certainly familiar with NCAA talent. Of the 22 girls on Botafogo, 17 of them will be playing Division I soccer this fall. Among the schools her club teammates will be attending: UCLA, Louisville, Kentucky, Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois, Marquette, West Virginia, Wake Forest and the other Miami in Florida, just to name a few. Two others will be playing Division II.
“It’s definitely different. Everyone here (at Miami) is in tip-top shape, super strong, everything like that,” Miller noted, comparing her two teams. “And we (Miami) play a lot different than I’m used to so I’m trying to adjust to that. I’ve been with my (club) team so long; I was used to the way we play. Running forward compared to coming back on defense, this is a little different. It’s just going to take some time to adjust.”
Miller did get some warning as to what college soccer would be like, as a few of her club teammates spent the summer training with their future college teams before rejoining Botafogo for the National Championships.
“They were telling us all their stories and we were like ‘Oh God, it sounds so hard’. They kind of freaked us out but got us excited too, comparing our fitness tests and stuff like that,” she noted.
Now with three full days of two-a-day practices under her belt, the 5-foot-8 Miller can draw her own conclusions.
“They’re probably about equal to my expectations,” Miller said of the first few days. “I knew it was going to be really hard, but it’s also fun and new and different. I’m just excited for the actual season to start. I know preseason isn’t quite as fun as the regular season so I’m excited to get past this, but I know it’s going to help.”
Miller, who also played four years of soccer in high school at Wheaton Warrenville South, as well as three years of basketball, feels she can come in and contribute to the RedHawks right away. Typically a center back, or sometimes an outside back, she’s willing to do whatever she can to help Miami win.
“I’m mainly a defender, but throughout the high school season I’ve played offense. I honestly will play anywhere, it’s not like I’ll only play one position, but I would love to play center back,” Miller concluded. “I’m pretty good at winning balls in the air and am a physical player so that’s how I view myself.”
Despite the RedHawks returning nearly their entire squad from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, Miller will get her first chance to shine when Miami plays at Xavier on Aug. 17 in the team’s lone exhibition. The ‘Hawks then kick off the regular season Aug. 23 at Illinois State.