FAYETTEVILLE -- Ashley Miller's world could have come crashing down on her four years ago, had she let it.
Instead, Arkansas' freshman libero took inspiration from her late father's determination and resolved to succeed in life.
On May 5, 2000, Ronald Miller died after an 18-month battle with the severest type of brain tumor.
"They gave my dad three months to live, and he lived a year-and-a-half," Miller said.
During that time, the Miller family of Vacaville, Calif., including Ashley's mother, Ginny, and older brothers, Adam and Eric, bonded closer than ever.
"We were always a tight-knit family," Miller said. "But my dad did some things he had always wanted to do, like see the Statue of Liberty in New York, Mount McKinley in Alaska and a Northern Lights presentation.
"We didn't act like he was dying -we did everything normally."
The day before Ronald Miller died, he attended a junior high track meet in which Ashley, a budding star in the 100-meter dash and 300-meter hurdles, competed.
Ronald Miller, who had flown an F4 Phantom fighter jet and made the 150,000th landing on the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk during his vigorous life, attended that last track meet in a wheelchair.
He could not speak, but he could see his daughter.
"He definitely was my hero," Miller said. "I looked up to him so much. He showed that you need to have determination.
"I try to live that way now, and I know he sees me."
At the time of Ronald Miller's death, Ashley was 14 and active in track, soccer and volleyball. Leading came naturally to her.
"Ever since I was little, I've always been vocal," she said. "My coaches enjoyed having me on the team, and I would always instruct the other players where to pass the ball. No one ever said anything negative about it, so that's a positive aspect."
In her junior year at Will C. Wood High, Miller had to give up track because she also played on a volleyball club team for nearby Berkeley.
"Our club team traveled a lot," she said.
Miller drew the attention of Arkansas coach Chris Poole, who was scouring the country for the best available liberos.
"We had a list," Poole said. "We specifically wanted a vocal libero, because we felt we had been lacking that on this team for the last few years. Liberos can have a big impact on the game, especially now that they're allowed to serve this year."
Miller had 116 aces while making all-conference three times in high school. She also had 649 kills and 891 digs.
Her 2.4 passing efficiency rate this year already is the best since Lady'Backs star Yarleen Santiago (1997-99).
"Even though Ashley is a freshman, we told her, 'Don't change who you are,'" Poole said. "We liked her aggressiveness. She's already making more than half of our passes.
"Our upperclassmen are stepping out of the way to let her pass the ball."
Though the Lady'Backs have struggled to a 3-8 start against tough competition, Miller is certain better results lie ahead.
"Our mindset is that we're more confident now," Miller said. "We're all really excited. We know this year is not going to be easy, but we want to show people we can do this. There's no doubt in our minds. Being young is not an excuse."
Arkansas, 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference's Western Division, can sweeten its record with wins at home against Ole Miss on Friday and Mississippi State on Sunday.
The Lady Razorbacks lost in four games against No. 5 Florida in Barnhill Arena last week, but not before scaring veteran Gators coach Mary Wise, who praised Miller after the match.
"Miller is a great addition for Arkansas," Wise said.
Wise couldn't help but notice how assertive the 5-foot-7 Miller was, despite playing against three of the Top-10 freshmen in the country plus some established Florida veterans.
"I was very surprised by what coach Wise said, and very excited, too," Miller said. "But that's what my job is -- to play aggressive. I was really pleased with that game. It's so exciting to go out and play good teams like that."
Miller had 25 of Arkansas' 85 digs against Florida, plus an ace to go along with three errors.
"Ashley is working on a jump-serve, too, but it needs to be more consistent," Poole said.
Before nearly every point, fans can see Miller calling out last-second adjustments.
"I've gotten away with it," said Miller, grinning. "No one on the team has hit me yet."
Somewhere, you figure Ronald Miller is smiling.
Miller Learned Lots From Father
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