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Miller way ahead of her time North sophomore among nation's best

When Chantae Miller came to Western New York, she had never seen field hockey before.

As it turns out, Western New York field hockey has never seen anything like Chantae Miller before.

Miller, who plays for Williamsville North, was a first-team all-state selection in Class AA and a first team All-Western New York pick. She was also a regional All-American last year, rated fifth among 52 players of all grades in New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

And she's only a sophomore.

This past summer, Miller was the only incoming sophomore among 48 players selected for the United States under-19 contingent that played in the Can-Am Games in British Columbia. But Miller was way under 19.

She's only 15.

"Chantae is just absolutely outstanding," said 13th-year Iroquois coach Pete Tonsoline, who has coached Miller on the Empire State Games team the last three summers. "It really is uncanny. We've had great players come through here like (Sweet Home grads) Lauren Stiver (who played at Iowa) and Robin Merritt (Duke), and I look at where they were and Chantae is ahead of them. She will probably be the best player to come through Western New York."

Miller and her family moved to Williamsville from Idaho when she was just a kindergartner, and the first time she saw the sport she was an elementary school student watching her sister Brittany play in leagues at the Epic Center on Wehrle Drive. Brittany, who is six years older than Chantae, would go on to captain the Brockport State team.

"One day they didn't have enough players and they tossed me some shinguards," said Miller, who will turn 16 next month. "I remember that I didn't understand why we couldn't use our feet, or why we could only use one side of the stick."

She figured it out fast. Brittany's team won the Christmas Tournament at Epic one year, and the team's leading scorer was fifth-grader Chantae.

"I love playing field hockey," she said. "It's not really like any other sport. It's fun and exciting, and I actually enjoy the practice. It's a sport, you can learn fast but it takes a while to get down the skill to master it, and I still have a ways to go and a lot of work to do."

Williamsville North ninth-year coach Kris LaPaglia first watched Miller when she was in sixth grade, playing in an extramural program for fifth through eighth graders.

"I'm watching these kids, and I see her play and I'm like 'Whoa!' " said LaPaglia. "It's just incredible what she's accomplished in just 3 1/2 years. The kid just works her tail off, for the benefit of the team. She's not about 'me-me-me,' and you can see it when she plays."

Miller attended JV tryouts as a seventh-grader, but LaPaglia walked over from the varsity field to invite her to the varsity tryouts.

"It was really coach LaPaglia who inspired me," said Miller. "She just always believed that I could do it and that helped me become confident with myself."

Miller worked her way into the starting lineup as a seventh-grader and finished with nine goals and five assists. In eighth grade she had 13 goals and 10 assists. Last year, she had 32 goals and 29 assists.

"No one has ever scored 32 goals in their career at North," LaPaglia said.

Entering Monday's action, her career totals were 60 goals and 51 assists. Western New York coaches are researching their record books right now, because whatever the all-time records are, they're in serious danger.

"She can see things forming in front of her," said Tonsoline.

Major Division I college coaches have seen her play, read her lengthy resume and have given her a call, only to politely tell her they can't talk to her due to NCAA guidelines -- she's too young.

That doesn't mean Miller doesn't have a short list of college choices already, thanks to mailings from a who's who of Division I. It includes Wake Forest, Duke, James Madison, Harvard, Connecticut and Northeastern. All of those schools are among this week's top 25 poll; Wake Forest is No. 1.

"I hope to go to a college which has a great Division I program so I can get the teaching and coaching for that level," said Miller.

But that's not her only goal. "I really hope to be in the Olympics in 2012 in London," she said. "We'll see."

A 15-year old talking about the Olympics? Check that long resume. In addition to playing on the elite Can-Am teams, Miller attended USA Field Hockey's National Futures Tournament this summer. She was one of just 64 girls selected to the top step of the Futures program, the Olympic Development Trials at Penn State.

The Spartans, who lost the state title game in 2003 and lost in the state semifinals in 2004, are off to a 4-0 start.

"I really think we're going to win it this year," Miller said. "We don't like to lose."

e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com

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