Terry Miller vividly remembers the rough introduction he and his Cherokee Trail girls volleyball program got in its debut into the Centennial League.
No new teams have come onboard since the Cougars arrived in 2007, but under Miller’s watch, Cherokee Trail has grown into one of the league’s powerhouses.
So it is with no bit of sadness that Miller has decided to step down as head coach at the end of the current season — pushed from the fall to the spring due to the coronavirus pandemic — after leading the program since the school opened in 2003.
“I don’t have any regrets when I look back at it; I’ve accomplished all the goals with the program that I ever wanted,” Miller told the Sentinel. “I’m sure someday they will forget about Old Man Miller, but I started the program in 2003 and I’m giving it back in 2021. It has been that long. I’m getting old.”
Miller had decided that the next school year would be it for him in teaching and coaching, but with the Cherry Creek School District offering an early retirement package to some of its longest-tenured teachers and coaches — a ripple effect of the coronavirus pandemic — he made the decision to leave early.
He’s not the only one around the district, as John Schultz stepped down as football coach of Grandview after 17 seasons and others are considering following suit (story).
Miller’s departure leaves Cherokee Trail with just two of its original coaches in Chris Faust (boys cross country and track & field) and Jeremy Schaller (girls soccer).
“It was a deal I really couldn’t pass up, but it is definitely bittersweet,” Miller said.
The 2015 season will be etched in the memory of Miller and everybody involved with the program at the time for many reasons.
A talented mix got infused with the arrival of transfer Celeste James, who was on track to be the most talented player the program ever had in uniform, but tragically died before the season.
The emotion pushed the Cougars to new heights and they swept Fairview in the Class 5A state championship match to complete a 24-5 season.
“With all we went through that season and to win it is one of those things that I will never forget,” Miller said.
If this season’s senior-laden team has anything to say about it, Cherokee Trail will give Miller another title before he departs.
This season’s team is one of it not the most filled with seniors in Miller’s estimation, with Maddie Cooley, Alyssa Hooten, Izzy Sommers, Amaya Messier, Amber Williams and Haley Spadaccini playing regularly along with Sierra Johnson. The roster has no freshmen or sophomores and just two juniors, including standout libero Gabi Maas.
“It feels great to be part of his last season, because we want to make it super memorable for him,” Williams said. “We just want to work hard for him and work hard for each other. The main goal is to win state and we are all super determined to make that happen and we know every little step along the way matter.
“Miller trusts us and we just build off each other so well. It feels great on the court knowing he is a friend as well as a coach.”
What has turned out to be Miller’s final season has been anything but usual.
The sport got moved from the fall to the spring, bringing about a conflict with the regularly scheduled club season, though Miller has found both sides have worked well together. On top of that, nobody had any idea what the postseason would look like, as the season began with no definite outline from the Colorado High School Activities Association.
That finally came down last week, when it was announced that 24 teams — league winners plus a number of at-large teams — will qualify for the postseason and eight teams will advance to the state tournament, which will now be played in Loveland.
Miller, of course, would like the certainty of getting in as a league champion, especially in the Centennial League, where the going was rough in the early years for his program before he finally built it up enough to compete.
A lot is still be determined and could be interesting at the end given the Cougars and Cherry Creek remain tied atop the standings past the midway point of the schedule.
Cherokee Trail and Cherry Creek have split the season series and both matches went five sets, including the March 31 meeting in which the Cougars had to claw back from a two-set deficit to send it to five before losing the decision set 15-10. That could loom large in the tiebreakers if both teams finish with the same record.
Cherokee Trail survived a huge challenge April 6 when it outlasted rival Grandview in five sets to remain in the league title hunt.
Miller would love a title in his final season, but his real goals are a lot more tangible.
“There are so many battles you have to fight this year, I just want the girls to have fun,” he said.