Joe Miller has spent the cross country season running with a target on his back.
Well, OK, the St. John s Jesuit senior hasn t been lugging an honest-to-goodness target around. But as the top returning individual runner from last year s Division I state meet, Miller has spent the year as the one his competition are aiming for.
If there s a target on his back, it s because he places it there, Titans coach Todd Black said. He sets very high goals for himself.
In fact, Miller doesn t see this particular target as a burden. Instead he has used as motivation to improve and exceed the weight of expectations that surround him.
I have set [winning a state title] as a goal in my training, Miller said. I ve tried to use it to help push myself farther.
Presumably Miller s goals already were lofty ones. He finished 26th in the Division I state meet as a freshman, then rose to eighth the following year.
But Miller took another step forward last season, setting a meet record in winning his first City League title with a time of 15:20.42 (5-kilometer course).
At the state meet last year, he finished second to Emil Heineking of Chardon, helping St. John s finish second in the Division I race.
Black said Miller has used a simple formula for success.
[Miller] is good because he works so hard, Black said. He has talent, but he has the success he has because he works hard to get better.
Heineking has graduated, but so have two of Miller s teammates from last season, Chris and Matt Lemon. That led many observers to believe the Titans wouldn t be able to match last year s team finish at the state meet.
Instead the development of several other runners has led the Titans to be ranked first in the Division I state poll of cross country coaches. Miller had high praise for the teammates who have stepped up this fall.
Kevin Yarnell is a great competitor and a great No. 2 runner, Miller said. I ve run with Chris Madaras since grade school, and he has worked very hard to get better.
Brett Wagner has been plagued by injuries, so this is the first time he s had year-round training, and you see how well he has done. And Greg Turissini has been important for us; as a freshman he has run very well.
So has Miller. He set an Ottawa Park course record early in the season with a time of 15:18.01 at the Toledo Newspaper Guild/Chet Sullwold Invitational before calf problems interrupted his season.
But Miller proved he had put those problems behind him by winning his second straight City League crown with a time of 15:23.27 last weekend. After the race Miller said he was more pleased with St. John s fine team effort than with his individual performance.
It s been a lot more fun to run having a good team back you up, Miller said. It s exciting to have the team have the success it is having.
Black said much of the team s success comes from Miller s leadership.
His leadership comes by [teammates watching] his work ethic, Black said. He sets a high standard for himself, and as a result for the team as well. The kids give him the highest level of respect.
They respect him so much, in fact, that the Titans are gunning for a state team title while Miller works to erase that target with an individual crown.
A team title at state is really what drives me, Miller said. The team and I both know we just have to keep working. We have set our goal. Now we have to ignore what everyone else is saying and focus on ourselves and our goal.
Contact John Wagner at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-7240-6481.