Miller's first year at Mitchell ended way too soon

Fond memories of her first victory as a college head coach are still fresh in Erin Miller's mind.

Almost a month ago, Miller stepped on the field with her Mitchell College softball team for the season opener against Cabrini University in Clermont, Fla.

A former standout at Waterford High School and Eastern Connecticut State University, Miller experienced a variety of emotions that day before, during and after the game.

"I was excited because I knew my team was excited about me being there, too, which made it even better," Miller said. "I definitely think I had a little bit of nerves. But I trusted the work that we put in in the preseason. Not that I didn't know what to expect, but it was the first time I had ever seen any of them play against someone other than us.

"Then they made me a little more nervous as the game went on and we were battling back."

The Mariners took Miller on a thrill ride, rallying from a two-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning to post a dramatic 6-5 victory. She loved her team's fighting spirit.

"They were funny afterward," Miller said. "They were like, 'I swear we won't give you a heart attack every game.' "

Miller would gladly coach a few more heart thumping games. After returning to New London from the spring trip, Mitchell's season was put on the shelf after eight games due to the coronavirus pandemic. She's staying connected with her team from afar.

Quite a time to be running your own program for the first time.

"When we came back from Florida, I was so ready to go, ready to start working on the things that we need to work on," Miller said. "I was just so focused on what we had to do right in this moment to get ourselves better for the season. Then when we got the news they were sending everyone home, I was like, 'Okay, now what?'

"I know that I'm supposed to be with my team. It just feels so weird to be home and not with them when I know that this is the heart of my season."

For a large chunk of her life, the 26-year-old Miller has spent her spring on the softball diamond.

At Waterford High School, Miller helped the Lancers win two Class L titles. She was the 2014 Little East Conference pitcher of the year at Eastern and part of four conference regular season championship and two league tournament title teams.

After graduating from Eastern, Miller wasn't ready to give up softball. She took a position as pitching coach on Donna Koczjawoski's staff at Coast Guard.

"Just going to that first practice and being with a team again, I was like, 'Wow. I don't want to ever give this up.' Probably my favorite part of coaching is the relationships I get to have with the team. I know how great those relationships are. I just want to give every team I'm with that same experience."

Miller spent two seasons at Coast Guard before heading to Smith where she earned a Master's degree in exercise and sports studies and served as a graduate assistant and pitching coach.

After leaving Smith, Miller applied for softball jobs as an assistant and pitching coach. She turned down a few offers because she wanted to stay in the area. Then the Mitchell job opened up last fall and she was hired in November.

Miller called it a perfect situation.

She's thoroughly enjoying her new job. She's attempting to build a successful program at Mitchell, which has been competitive in the New England Collegiate Conference but had four straight losing seasons overall.

She is tapping into her vast experience from previous stops as a coach and player. She's using some things that she learned from her high school coach, Liz Sutman.

"She was huge on keeping us together as a team and doing fun activities that would break up practices a little bit...," Miller said. "The little things that she did really made an impact on us. So I try to carry that with me. Every Friday we do a game or competition just to keep them engaged."

Miller makes it a point to always show up at practice with a positive, upbeat attitude. She gives her players room to make mistakes and grow.

"Coming into practice, I love to show how excited I am to be there," Miller said. "Because if they don't see that from me, then they're not going to be excited to be there. When I got into this job, they just wanted me to be passionate. .. That's exactly what I am."

g.keefe@theday.com

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