How does a small town girl find her niche in the suburbs and become one of the best shooters in the MIAC? Abby Miller steps away from the only community she’s ever known and uses basketball to navigate a new environment.
By Marshal Lortie | Sports Reporter
Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. Abby Miller drains a dozen three-point jumpers in a row, all without grazing the rim. As each ball pierces through the nylon, her coach watches in awe as his newest addition to the team practices her daily routine.
Just months earlier, Miller stood outside Arden Village, surrounded by a group of Welcome Week workers. On this sun-drenched August day, fellow student and basketball teammate Rachel Parupskyapproached Miller.
“I’ve got her,” Parupsky said to her Welcome Week team as she led Miller to her new residence.
Parupsky, the senior star of Royals, ushered her new teammate up the stairwell. Miller, a sophomore transfer from the College of Saint Benedict, had just arrived on campus. Amid an entirely unfamiliar environment, the Howard Lake native plopped down her belongings and settled into her new sanctuary.
After spending her first year of college with the Blazers in St. Joseph, Miller had made her way to the Twin Cities suburbs.
“Honestly, the first few times I came to the cities, I needed a GPS just to find my way back to Bethel,” Miller said.
As a freshman at Saint Benedict, she had played the most minutes and scored the most points of any first-year player in the MIAC. Standing 5-feet-3, Miller was the shortest player on the roster but started 16 out of 25 games.
“It was a long haul and it was stressful because I don’t like to feel like I quit anything. I talked to my parents and grandparents almost every day,” — Abby Miller
Despite her success on the court, the team camaraderie disappointed Miller.
“At St. Ben’s, all the girls would go their separate ways after practice, but at Bethel the girls are always hanging out together, that’s what I wanted,” she said.
Following the conclusion of the basketball season, Miller began contemplating a decision to transfer and after many conversations with family members, she decided on Bethel.
“It was a long haul and it was stressful because I don’t like to feel like I quit anything. I talked to my parents and grandparents almost every day,” Miller said.
Miller admits she may not have moved without the encouragement of her parents. No one was happier about the news than Bethel University head basketball coach Jon Herbrechtsmeyer. He had recruited Miller as an incoming freshman before the 2014 season.
“What we see day-to-day is a lunch bucket kid. She brings her lunch pail and you would never know from watching practice whether she’s made seven of her last eight or whether she’s missed them all.” — Jon Herbrechtsmeyer, coach
Herbrechtsmeyer received the transfer news while on the beach, vacationing in Puerto Rico.
“She told me she had just put in her enrollment deposit and I immediately responded, ‘Our team just got better today,’ ” he said.
Even with her skills on the court, her attitude and work ethic that impressed Herbrechtsmeyer and the Royal teammates the most.
“What we see day-to-day is a lunch-bucket kid,” Herbrechtsmeyer said. “She brings her lunch pail and you would never know from watching practice whether she’s made seven of her last eight or whether she’s missed them all.”
For Miller, the road back to basketball did not come without its share of setbacks. While adjusting to a new physical environment, Miller faced an entirely new system of basketball.
“It was a struggle at the time because some people were catching on faster than I was,” she said.
At the beginning of the 2015 season, Miller suffered a shooting slump and said she did not play up to her usual standards. The slump surprised both Miller and Herbrechtsmeyer but neither panicked.
“I think some of her shooting difficulty early on was due to how much she was having to think within a new system offensively and especially defensively,” Herbrechtsmeyer said. “All of that thinking just clogged the mechanism.”
As the season progressed, Miller clawed her way out of her shooting woes and settled in to her new team. She has played in all 17 games for the Royals and ranks fourth in the conference in three-point field goal percentage while standing among the league leaders in free-throw shooting as well.
Miller acknowledged that her upbringing on a dairy farm in Howard Lake helped her through her early season struggles.
“On the basketball court, it’s all about accountability,” she said. “It’s important to take responsibility and I feel like you get as much out of it as you put in.”
Moreover, this mindset has influenced Miller both on and off the court as she acclimated herself to a new culture. Academics caused some anxiety during her first year of college. She now has greater clarity about her expectations moving forward.
On the court, Miller has found the missing piece of the puzzle: connectedness.
“The team is so supportive and that fuels everyone else to play together and work together at a high level,” Miller said. “I feel so much more comfortable here and I do feel like I’m in the right place.”