By BRETT MARSHALL
During the dog days of summer, Alex Miller and some of her cross country teammates were running miles upon miles, establishing a base for conditioning for the 2012 fall high school season.
"It gives you a motivation if you will get out there to run with others," said Miller, a junior at Garden City High School. "Self-motivation comes harder."
That combination proved successful both Miller and her Lady Buffs teammates as they produced the best season in school history — the team, and Miller — placing second at the Class 6A state cross country meet at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence on the last Saturday of October.
"One of the goals that we've always had and really held on to, is winning WAC (Western Athletic Conference)," Miller said. "This year, we wanted to win regionals because we were so close to Derby a year ago. On top of that, we really wanted to do something at state."
With those goals set, the Lady Buffs set about accomplishing those with a rigorous training regimen that also included lifting weights.
"I feel like it was not just me, everyone really improved," Miller said of her teammates. "We lifted weights so we weren't scrawny little suckers anymore. I think we truly did give everything we had, whether it was at a meet or at practice. That ultimately helps you for the race. That's what helped us with our success."
Miller said it was a meet of the team members to establish goals for the 2012 season that laid the foundation for the fall schedule.
"We had a meeting, sat down and talked about," Miller recalled of that gathering. "If we give it our all, at every meet and every practice every day, then we can do this. It can't be just one or two of us, it had to be all of us. And that's the way it was."
In an era when many athletes settle for sports where the training might not be so demanding, Miller and her teammates have chosen the distance running as their place to shine.
"Chelsea (junior teammate Jackson) calls it a 'runner's high,'" Miller said. "After you've run so many miles, after you're done, you get this feeling of accomplishment and you feel amazing. You only get to witness it if you run. That's what motivates me and my teammates. If I'm not feeling so hot, I know my teammates are going to run, so you just get up and do it. You're not only benefitting yourself, but you're benefitting the team."
Miller had high praise for her coaches — Krista Linenberger, Derek Algrim and Adam Casillias.
"They put the plan together, the workouts that we do, the miles we run," Miller said. "They're amazing and they really keep us motivated and positive. We wouldn't accomplish what we did without them."
While having won numerous races throughout the regular season, and then claiming individual titles at the WAC and regionals, Miller raised the bar with her spectacular finish at the state meet.
It was there, at the midway point of the 2.5 mile layout, that she found herself in about 30th position. Over the next mile to mile and a half, she bypassed all but one runner in claiming the runner-up spot to Shawnee Mission West All-American Alli Cash.
"I had my eye on a Blue Valley Northwest runner, and I caught her," Miller recalled. "I then saw Deidre Walker (a sophomore and top runner). And then I saw Alaina (Manhattan's Schroeder). I thought, 'man, almighty!' There's a pack of girls behind me, I better keep pushing. I just tried to kick it in and go as hard as I could to the finish line."
Miller edged the Manhattan standout by a mere --- seconds to claim the runner-up medal and provide the spark that led her team to its best finish in history, eclipsing the seventh place team finish a year earlier.
"I didn't realize at first where I had finished," Miller confessed. "Not until Kayla (Doll) finished and came up and gave me a hug and said, 'You got 2nd!' It was an amazing feeling."
Then, it was time to wait for the team standings to be compiled and nearly 30 minutes after the race had finished, Miller and her teammates still were unsure of their finish.
"Then, we were watching the other awards and somebody came and told us coach Linenberger wanted to talk to us," Miller said. "So we went back, and she started talking like maybe we had gotten 4th or 7th or something. And then she said 2nd, and it's like, 'Holy cow! Some were crying. Me and Kayla were laughing. It was just a joyous feeling to know we had accomplished one of our goals."
With six of their top seven runners returning for 2013, the Lady Buffs will re-set their goals, fully aware of the work that lies ahead.
"We're shooting for that next step," Miller said. "But you can't just sit back and say, 'We've got this.' You can't say that. Everyone else is working hard, too. Everyone has the same goals. The important part is how are you gonna reach it. That's what our coaches do in keeping it in our minds on how to to push yourself if you want something."