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Lockport star hopes to cap season with big award Erin Miller looks back on records for throwing skill

And the award goes to . . .

Erin Miller of Lockport hopes to hear her name attached to the end of that phrase.

During a time of year when it seems like Sundays are reserved for prestigious award ceremonies, Miller -- a senior track and field standout -- will be getting all dolled up for a star-studded affair in which the nominees hope to hear their names escape the lips of the master of ceremonies more than once.

But even if Miller isn't selected Niagara Police Athletic League's female Prep Athlete of the Year today during the organization's annual awards program in Niagara Falls, she has all the reason in the world to feel like a champion -- and not just because it's an honor to be nominated.

Lockport High School's record-setting thrower is literally following the same path of the Lions athlete whose records she broke -- current Lockport High coach Sarah Vance. Like Vance, Miller earned a partial track and field scholarship to attend the University at Buffalo.

That's the same school where Vance set throwing records in the shot put and discus en route to a pair of NCAA Championship Meet appearances against the best of the best in Division I.

"I don't want to say it's following in her footsteps, but she set a great example," said Miller, who set the Lockport indoor shot put record on Valentine's Day with a throw of 44 feet, 1 inch. "The standards are pretty high. What she did in college is something I strive to do, to be able to go to nationals and set school records."

Miller also holds the school's outdoor shot put (41-3 1/2 ) and discus (124-9) records, while she also owns the indoor weight throw mark (44-5).

Miller had a choice of UB, Cornell and the University of Richmond. She opted for the school that's 20 miles away from her home because she already has experience working with the Bulls' throwing coach, Jim Garnham. She's attended a couple of his throwing camps. She became sold on the program after meeting members of the Bulls.

"They made me feel welcome," she said.

"It is a great opportunity for her," said Vance, a former NCAA Eastern Regional champion. "Since I'm her coach now, it makes me feel a little more at ease that I had a hand in her having the opportunity [to break my records]. . . . She's done what she's had to do to compete well."

Ten female and 10 male athletes from Niagara County high schools have been nominated for the PAL's top overall scholastic-athlete award . The dinner begins at 4 p.m. at the Como Restaurant on Pine Avenue. Tickets can be purchased at the door.

Other females nominated for Prep Athlete of the Year are Alyssa Hare (Barker), Emily Mann (Lewiston-Porter), Jessica Vail (Newfane), Renee Polka (Niagara Catholic), Bashirya Doss (Niagara Falls), Kelsey Walck (Niagara Wheatfield), Elizabeth DeWaters (Roy-Hart), Teresa DeLabio (Starpoint) and Raela Wiley (Wilson).

Male nominees include Raymond Paul Jr. (Barker), Robby Seyler (Lewiston-Porter), Justin Guyton (Lockport), Adam Irr (Newfane), Robert Swartz (Niagara Catholic), Brian Archie Jr. (Niagara Falls), Chris Gruarin (Niagara Wheatfield), Corey Callaghan (Roy-Hart), Joseph Scibilia (Starpoint) and Odane Todd (Wilson). North Tonawanda did not submit nominees.

The PAL's Comeback Scholastic Athletes of the Year are Matthew Paonessa (Niagara Falls), Andi Ridge (Starpoint) and Lindsey Burke (Lockport) -- who each overcame serious injuries to make significant contributions to the success of their respective teams.

The PAL also will present awards to the top male and female Post Scholastic Athlete of the Year, a Sportsperson of the Year, the Mark "Chief" Williams Award for volunteer of the year and Board of Directors Awards for outstanding athletic achievement/conclusion of athletic career.

But this PAL show is really all about giving the high school athletes the red carpet treatment (fine dining included), which is why Miller feels privileged to have been the one tabbed by school Athletic Director Patrick Burke to represent Lockport.

Miller hopes to earn the top award but knows it'll be tough, considering that all the candidates are worthy recipients for the PAL's top award. If she doesn't win, that's OK because she's already had a great year. That alone is reason for flashing a winning smile.

"It feels really good to be performing this well and having the scholarship," Miller said. "I'm really grateful for it all."

e-mail: mrodriguez@buffnews.com

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