A little more than a month ago, volleyball was the furthest thing from Erika Miller’s mind.
Having come to terms with the fact that she would be taking a gap year after playing volleyball at Lincoln Land Community College (Ill.), the junior from Monticello, Illinois, was in Tennessee on a family vacation in early August when she got an unexpected text.
It was Lincoln Land alum Kiersten Anderson, now an All-American outside hitter at Columbia College. Injuries and NAIA clearinghouse issues had left the Cougars without a surefire middle hitter for the upcoming season and CC was searching far and wide for a quick fill-in.
Miller fit the mold for what the Cougars were looking for: a powerful attacker on a successful 29-win team at Lincoln Land and immediately-eligible with an associate’s degree to her name. Anderson said that if Miller was interested, she had the phone number of CC head coach Allison Jones-Olson to discuss the opening further.
So, in the middle of vacation and less than a month before the start of classes, Miller — who’d never been to campus or been in touch with anyone at Columbia outside of Anderson — committed to the Cougars and sidetracked her gap year plans.
As No. 12 Columbia has started its season 10-2 overall entering American Midwest Conference play Tuesday, Miller looks and sounds like she’s made the right choice.
“I couldn’t pass it up,” Miller said. “It was something that was so sudden, but I’m so thankful for it. It’s perfect for me...the transition has been as smooth as it could’ve been.”
Since being officially NAIA-cleared before Columbia’s match on Aug. 30 vs. Mid-America Nazarene, Miller has been a key piece of the Cougars’ attack, which ranks in the top-20 nationally in kills per game.
As she gets more accustomed to her new home, Miller has also found more playing time. The junior has played every set since Sept. 4’s win over Missouri Valley College, a stretch of seven games. Filling in when needed for CC’s starting attack, she is the Cougars’ leader in kills off of the bench and fifth on the team overall.
“It was just meant to be,” Jones-Olson said. “I think she has a good knowledge of volleyball. She understands the game and is able to read the hitters on the other side and able to close. When she does transition really well, she usually hits a good ball. She’s still getting in the groove and it’s starting to come back a little bit.”
Anderson never officially played with Miller at Lincoln Land; Miller, a year older, transferred to CC for her junior year while Anderson was transferring to the school from Kankakee Community College (Ill.).
But Anderson, who said she has a good relationship with Loggers’ head coach Jim Dietz, contacted him once finding that CC could be short an attacker for the upcoming season. Dietz provided Miller’s contact info and the two hit it off from there.
“I know a lot of Lincoln Land girls so I already knew of (Miller),” Anderson said. “We just got to talking and I said, ‘How soon can you be here?’ and she was all on board and excited. She got back from vacation and then everything kind of got set up from there.”
Multiple players have said throughout this season that Columbia, despite only having two returning players on the roster from 2018, already has a family feel to it. Miller agrees, saying that the program’s openness and friendly atmosphere quickly cured all of her fears associated with suddenly moving to a new city.
“(I was) nervous, of course. Coming into anything new, I’d be nervous for it,” Miller said. “(But) all the girls are so nice, the coaches are great and everyone has been such good help.”