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Cross country: Miller sisters become the next talented siblings for Alexandria

The Miller sisters, (left to right) seventh-grader Jaelyn, freshman Aleah, and junior Bethany, are helping lead a talented Cardinals cross country team this season. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Alexandria girls cross country has some experience when it comes to working with talented sisters in its program.

The Hasz twins, Bethany and Megan, have moved on to the University of Minnesota and are establishing themselves as some of the best runners in the Big Ten as juniors after finishing first and second at the Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 29.

The Hasz sisters set the tone for Alexandria for years, and now another group of sisters -- this time a trio -- is pacing the Cardinals through many of their meets this fall. Bethany Miller, a junior, and Aleah Miller, a freshman, were running together on varsity for Alexandria when it finished the season at the state meet a year ago. Now this year, another talented Miller was added to the mix in seventh-grader Jaelyn.

“I think the other schools wish they had that, too,” Alexandria head coach Travis Hochhalter said of Alexandria’s success with sisters. “It is super fun. There’s some dynamics you have to work through, but you just embrace every chance you get to coach sisters like that.”

Between junior Caitlin Bright and the Miller sisters, it’s anyone’s guess who might lead the Cardinals on a specific race day. They often run together as a pack, and that was on full display at the Lions Meet of Champions in Alexandria on Oct. 6. Jaelyn led the Cardinals to a sixth-place finish that day by finishing 22nd overall in 19:38.5, but Bethany (24th, 19:41.9), Aleah (29th, 19:55.5) and Bright (30th, 19:57.4) were all close behind.

If there is a sport where young athletes can compete against their older counterparts on an even playing field, it’s distance running. Jaelyn has proven that again this year by pacing Alexandria in races at Detroit Lakes, Little Falls and the Lions Meet.

“I kind of felt confident (coming into the season) because I’ve run with my sisters,” Jaelyn said.

Hochhalter has not been surprised by her success early in her career, either.

“She’s got a lot of talent,” he said. “She’s just willing to put in what we ask her to do. She fits really well with our team.”

Running with her sisters and comparing times with them let Jaelyn know she could stack up with talented runners on the varsity level. The three do not always get to run together outside of practice at school, with Bethany being older and being on a different training plan at times, but she too saw Jaelyn’s success coming.

“I’ve seen her race in the summer track meets and hunting down our times through middle school races in the two-mile race,” Bethany said. “I knew she could do it.”

Anyone who knows the Miller family probably is not surprised by the siblings’ love of running. Bethany said their dad is starting to get into running. Their mom, Julie, is a longtime runner who has qualified for multiple Boston Marathons.

“She motivates us to do the little things right,” Bethany said of their mom. “At home, it’s getting to bed on time, eating right, being encouraging toward our teammates and our sisters, and just sticking with running. Run for the fun of it and don’t psych yourself out. She has a lot of insight because of all her experience. She’s been through it all.”

Good teammates push each other to be at their best, and the Cardinals are no exception this season with plenty of depth on another talented team. Add siblings into the mix, and that friendly competition often gets taken to another level.

“It pushes me to do well,” Aleah said. “I know that I can run with them, but it’s very easy to be happy for them, too. We’re sisters, we’re happy for each other, but it is a lot of fun to run together. The wanting to run together as a family is cool. That’s what motivates everybody.”

It’s a bond that is good for them and good for this program. The Central Lakes Conference meet is Alexandria’s next contest on Oct. 16 in Willmar before the Section 8AA meet in Thief River Falls on Oct. 25. If the Cardinals are going to add another state appearance this season to their storied history, the Miller sisters will be a big part of that.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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