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State cross country preview: Spartans’ Miller looks to cap off banner season

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ADAMS — When Justin Crossway showed up to his first practice as a South Jefferson cross country coach, the first runner he talked to was a modest freshman named Jackie Miller.

After discussing the program for a few minutes while waiting for her teammates to arrive, Crossway asked Miller if she was “the real deal.”

Her response, according to Crossway, was “I don’t know. I’m willing to find out.”

Four years later, Miller provided the answer — a resounding yes.

The Spartans’ senior — who missed the last month of her junior year with a stress fracture in her foot — will run the girls Class B state championship race on Saturday at Queensbury High School’s 5K course.

“She’s definitely one of the ones that, I mean she has talent, but she’s definitely one of the ones that put everything she has into it to be here,” Crossway said.

Miller is the only Frontier League runner in boys or girls that qualified by virtue of a fifth-place finish in last Saturday’s Section 3 meet at Jamesville Beach County Park.

Miller said that she went into that race assuming it was the last of her high school career, and was emotional before the starting gun went off.

“Before the race I was looking around at my teammates, and these are people that I’ve really grown up with,” Miller said.

“Cross country has really been who I am throughout high school, it’s really been a defining thing for me,” she added. “And I was looking around at my friends and thinking ‘OK. This is it.’”

Miller is making her first state championship appearance. She finished ninth in the sectional race as a sophomore, two spots short of an automatic qualifier.

Last season, the stress fracture ended Miller’s season before the big year-end tournaments. She was also forced out of the Frontier League meet after finishing third as a sophomore.

“It just came at a really inopportune time,” Miller said. “It was right near the end of the season. It really didn’t keep me out for that long, but it was enough to keep me out for the rest of the season.

“It was just really devastating to me because I thought that was going to be my year, I thought that was going to be it. But luckily I was able to kind of redeem myself for that this year,” Miller added.

Crossway said that Miller looked to be a good bet to reach states last year before the injury flared up.

“Last year was looking to really be her peak year… I think a lot of people would have kind of stopped there and slowed down and not progressed. But she was determined to make this her last go at it, and she earned it,” Crossway said.

Even after a successful outdoor track season and productive summer of training without setbacks, Miller said she didn’t feel like a contender to reach states until the McQuaid Invitational on Sept. 18.

She set a personal record of 18 minutes, 46 seconds, and believes that race to be the highlight of her season.

“Last year I was feeling really devastated and even though it was a minor injury, I was really bummed out about it,” Miller said.

“I had no idea that I was going to be here, even at the beginning of the season,” she added. “Some of my teammates were really getting good, so I was looking around and feeling kind of down on myself. I’ve really surprised myself.”

Miller — who also won her first league meet earlier this season — said that last year’s missed opportunity has added personal significance to this season’s success.

“It makes all the difference and it makes it so much more special. I’ve come from there to here and it’s really a huge progression,” she said.

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