BYU’s NCAA tourney has added meaning for senior McKenna Miller, who had to sit out the Cougars’ last postseason run
(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) McKenna Miller (14) hugs head coach Heather Olmstead as they celebrate the Cougars win over Utah, in volleyball action at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.
Provo • When BYU begins its postseason on Friday, it also marks the start of McKenna Miller’s last run as a Cougar. And this NCAA Tournament has added meaning.
Miller suffered a season-ending ACL injury three weeks before the Cougars opened NCAA play last year. For the outside hitter, it was excruciating.
But she also almost immediately began focusing on her recovery so she could come back even stronger for her senior season. And it has worked.
Miller, who was recently named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, will help lead the Cougars in their eighth straight NCAA Tournament appearance, which starts Friday when 14th-seeded BYU hosts New Mexico State.
“Especially because I got hurt so close to [the NCAA Tournament], that did kind of fuel my fire a little bit,” Miller said. “I'd like to imagine that's the worst case of missing out of something and I was like 'I'm not going through that again.'”
BYU VS. NEW MEXICO STATE
When • Friday, 7 p.m.
Where • Smith Fieldhouse, Provo
Miller not only listened to her trainers and doctors, but relied on a strong support system to help her through recovery.
About 10 years ago, Miller saw her mother go through the same type of injury. Miller's mother was able to join her daughter for surgery and warned her physical therapy would be hard.
Sure enough, there were times Miller found herself crying, trying to get through a session, but she continued pushing through because she knew it would pay off in the long run.
“I knew what I wanted to accomplish and I knew I wanted to be back, so I kind of sucked it up for the six months,” Miller said.
However, having therapy in the football training room helped.
Miller joined seven other athletes that were coming back from the same, or similar, type of injury together.
“It sucked not being at practice, obviously, but that definitely made me look forward to it more,” Miller said. “I don't know if I looked forward to it, but it made it more of an enjoyable experience having other people in similar stages as me up there.”
Miller ended up recovering in time for the start of the 2019 season and has averaged 4.71 kills per set, good enough for 11th among Division I leaders. She is also part of the Cougars' 1,000 Kill Club, ranking 11th with 1,426 kills.
Senior Mary Lake, who was named WCC Libero of the Year for the third-straight season, knows what going through an ACL injury is like. Lake suffered a season-ending knee injury at the beginning of her senior season at Palm Springs High School.
Then she set the single-season all-time digs record at BYU (547) her freshman season as a Cougar.
Lake believes Miller's injury helped her teammate reach a new level.
“When you go through something like that, it really teaches you who you are,” Lake said. “And that’s what I love about Mac, she’s apologetically herself and it shows on the court. She’s confident and she’s excited to play. I really think those things are strengthened when you go through hard adversity.”
BYU (25-4) will need to get through New Mexico State (27-3) first if the Cougars hope to advance.
Coach Heather Olmstead is aware of the Aggies’ 19-game winning streak, which led the team to a WAC title, which can pose a challenge for the Cougars.
“They’re locked and loaded, and we’re excited,” Olmstead said. “I know Michael Jordan, their coach, is a good coach. He’s got them, a feisty, little scrappy group, but they’re good. They take big swings.”