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BOYS' WATER POLO PREVIEW

Rivals Don't Crave Miller Time

September 16, 2003|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Early retirement might be the best option for coaches preparing their teams to play against La Verne Damien senior Grant Miller this season.

It's doubtful they will come up with a better strategy.

Miller was the Southern Section Division V co-player of the year last fall, scoring 124 goals and handing out 50 assists, both school records, and recording 141 steals in leading the Spartans to their first section title.

But Miller's offensive prowess is secondary to his ability at the other end of the pool. The last two years he has been one of the primary two-meter defenders on the U.S. youth national team.

Although he spent much of his time and energy last season on defense, with the graduation of two-meter offensive player J.P Wright, Miller is expected to take an even more prominent role on offense this year.

At least that's what opposing coaches believe.

"Our whole team strategy has to be finding someone to match up with him or a team defensive scheme to keep him off the scoring sheet," said Riverside Poly Coach Mark Colwell, whose two-year reign as Division V champion ended in a 10-9 loss to Damien in November.

Riverside Poly had one of the top goal scorers in the Southland last season in Mike Looy, the division's other co-player of the year.

Miller shadowed him in the section final and shut him down from in close at the two-meter position. On offense, Miller scored four goals and contributed three assists.

In the semifinal against Upland, Miller shot seven for seven in the 16-7 victory. In a late-season nonleague game against division rival Palm Desert, he scored five goals in the first quarter to help Damien to a 6-1 lead. Miller finished with five goals and four assists in the 12-7 victory.

"In the big games, he always steps up," Damien Coach Andrew Gates said.

Miller, 6 feet 3 and 185 pounds, would rather deflect attention toward his teammates. His most memorable moment last season came in the final seconds against Riverside Poly in the championship game, when senior Phil Giudice scored to end the seventh tie of the game and give the Spartans their final one-goal lead.

Miller said the team then piled into separate cars and returned with their families to a pizza parlor in La Verne, "where the party really began."

Miller's biggest influence has been his older brother Dave, who graduated from Damien in 1998 and has been a Spartan assistant since 1999.

Miller never paid much attention to the sport until he watched Dave play at Damien. Though the Spartans did not compete at the level they do now, Grant was interested enough to begin playing in the seventh grade.

Shortly before he began high school, the Chino Hills Area Water Polo Club was formed, giving Miller and other Damien players a chance to hone their skills year-round.

"That was a big advantage teams had over us," Miller said. "Bonita and Rowland were practicing over the winter and our guys were just sitting around."

Miller keeps his focus on the upcoming season. Whether he scores 100 goals or 50, he said all he really looks forward to is winning another section title.

"To me, it really doesn't matter what honors I get, it's a team kind of thing," he said. "If I get player of the year and we lose early in the playoffs, it means nothing."

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