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Huntsville - Madison County Athletic HOF Member

NAME:Mandy Miller
BORN:  
INDUCTED:  2018
SPORT:  volleyball
  
On a mid-October afternoon in 1992, sportswriter Jon Collins of The Huntsville Times showed up at the Huntsville High School gym with his reporter’s notebook and a ballpoint pen. His assignment was to interview 17-year-old Mandy Miller and her volleyball coach, Sherry Ammons. Collins’ centerpiece story appeared in the next day’s newspaper, along with an accompanying 2-column photo by William McCormick showing Mandy returning a serve to the other side of the net, her hands clasped together, her arms extended in a classic underhand follow-through. “This girl is 5-foot-8 but she has a two-foot vertical leap," Ammons told Collins, “and she plays at the net like she’s a 6-footer. She’s a very coachable player. She comes to play, and she plays to win." Mandy Miller started playing to win in the first grade while competing on her co-ed T-Ball team. Right off the bat, it was obvious she was as talented as any of the boys. The next year, she was playing organized girls softball. By the 5th grade, she was also heavy into basketball. In the 7th grade at Huntsville Middle School, one of her PE teachers recommended that Mandy add volleyball to her repertoire. “I’ve always enjoyed team sports," she said in the 1992 interview, “and it gave me another team sport to play. I like the challenge that volleyball presents. Every aspect of it is a challenge. There’s a great physical challenge and there’s a great mental challenge. I’ve always wanted to play something in college, and I really got a taste for volleyball my freshman year." Mandy had already acquired a highly competitive taste for basketball and softball. In basketball, she led Huntsville High in scoring, rebounding and free throw shooting as a sophomore and junior under coaches Lewis Patterson and Ricky Vaughn. Playing for coach Greg Patterson in softball, she lettered three years and led the team in runs batted in as a sophomore and junior. She had been All-City, All-Area and All-State in all three sports heading into her senior year in 1992-93, and was being actively recruited in volleyball by several colleges. Meanwhile, she continued to maintain a high academic standard by “budgeting my time and putting in a lot of late nights studying." Three weeks after her feature story appeared in the local paper, Huntsville’s volleyball team finished fourth in Mobile at the 6A state tournament, which was won by the Panthers’ crosstown rival, Grissom. Mandy’s post-season volleyball awards as a senior included All-City, All-Area and All-State, and four All-Tournament awards. Many of those special moments from 1989-92 are still indelibly etched in her mind. Her favorite volleyball memory came when Huntsville defeated Grissom in 1991 in the finals of the Margaret Blalock Invitational at the University of Montevallo. Grissom, ranked 20th nationally at the time, brought a 57-1 record into the showdown. Huntsville was 51-6. Ironically, both head coaches, Ammons and Grissom’s Gloria Birmingham, had played for Coach Blalock in college. The Lady Panthers won the first game 15-13 and wiped out a 12-2 deficit to win the second game and the match, 15-13. “I was sick and running a fever the whole weekend," Mandy recalled recently, “but it was worth it." Another special memory from her junior year was hitting a grand slam home run in the 7th inning to beat Berry High School and keep the Lady Panthers in contention at the state softball tournament in Montgomery. “Other than those specific game memories, the relationships I made were the best thing about high school," she said. “Sherry Ammons has always been my second mother. The lessons I learned as a player for her have stayed with me. She always told us, ‘Adapt, improvise, and overcome.’ As an athletic trainer now, that’s something I have to do every day." Mandy also holds a special appreciation in her heart for the support she always received from her parents, Ronald and Jan Miller. “After my freshman year when I made the starting lineup at a volleyball tournament in Atlanta, they never missed a game," she said. “I owe so much to them for their tireless and unwavering support of me and my teams. Sometimes we’d be playing late at night, even early Sunday mornings, and they’d be right there in the stands." Like Becky Stitt, her friend and rival from Grissom in those teen years of the ‘90s, Mandy’s high school sports career ended suddenly and painfully in a varsity basketball game. She tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in Huntsville’s second game of the 1992-93 basketball season. She didn’t realize the extent of the injury until the next day when Dr. Eric Janssen gave her the bad news. A few weeks later, Becky Stitt broke a leg in a basketball game against Athens at midseason. For Mandy Miller, her final basketball season was over almost before it started, and her senior season in softball never happened. On Feb. 3, 1993, the University of Alabama in Birmingham signed her to a volleyball Scholarship anyway, despite the injury. “What the ACL injury did was introduce me to Mark Noble and Charlie Davidson and the world of Sports Medicine," Mandy recalled recently from her home in Ruston, La., where she works as an athletic trainer at Louisiana Tech University. “It was easy to commit to UAB knowing I wanted to either go into physical therapy or athletic training." Two years after becoming a Blazer, she blew out the other knee. “When I tore my left ACL the first day of preseason my junior year at UAB, I knew what it was immediately," Mandy said. “I was devastated. I couldn’t believe it had happened again. What happened next is the Sports Medicine Staff at UAB allowed me to be involved in the design and implementation of my own rehab, and allowed me to count my rehab towards my internship hours. They discussed every aspect of my rehab, giving me fi rst-hand experience and knowledge of the process that continues to help me professionally to this day. I was able to come back and play one more year of college volleyball, but gave up my fifth year for academic reasons and to finish my athletic training program." Mandy wanted to make one other point. “My story isn’t just my own," she said. “All the success I had as an athlete wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible coaches I played for or against, and all the wonderful women I got to play with, and against. My story’s their story. Also, I couldn’t be happier getting inducted to this Hall of Fame at the same time as Becky Plott. She’s like a sister to me and going in together makes this occasion even more special."