Sports Person of the Week
Miller Was Brilliant in the Shoreline Final
Zoe Miller played a pivotal role in the North Branford girls’ lacrosse team’s 2021 Shoreline Conference title scoring a hat trick to help lift the Thunderbirds over Old Saybrook by a 9-3 final score. Zoe moved from midfield to attack in the early stages of the season and it paid dividends for North Branford. (Photo courtesy of Zoe Miller)
Zoe Miller made a big jump as an attacker with the North Branford girls’ lacrosse team this past season. Zoe and the Thunderbirds hoisted a Shoreline Championship banner for the third consecutive season in 2021, and Zoe played an integral part in that title team.
One of Zoe’s clearest memories of the Shoreline final against Old Saybrook was when she score a hat trick against the Rams. The Thunderbirds hadn’t been able to best Old Saybrook yet that season, and getting some scoring early in the game proved pivotal to the Thunderbirds championship hopes.
“I’m really proud of scoring a hat trick in lacrosse in the Shoreline Championship,” says Zoe. “I just remember our whole team being really nervous before the game. I know I scored the first goal and that was a relief for us. Other times when we played Old Saybrook they scored on us first. They beat us twice during the regular season.”
Zoe can still picture how she was able to get around the defense and put the ball in the net in the Shoreline Championship. Zoe has a bit of an advantage as she can stick handle well left- and right-handed. That makes it hard for defenses to take away angles on the net.
“For all three of my goals in the Shorelines, I was coming from the left side with the stick in my left hand, and then I would switch to my right. My right hand is my dominant hand for lacrosse. I was also able to cradle decently with my left hand,” says Zoe. “Switching hands would throw the defense off. I’m left-handed by nature, but for some reason in lacrosse, I’m right handed. In soccer I’m left-footed, too.”
What made Zoe’s success last season so unexpected was her limited time playing with the varsity squad before 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2020 spring season, and so Zoe was two years removed from even playing lacrosse with the Thunderbirds at all.
“I think missing a year set me back. For my freshman year, I played premier soccer, so I wasn’t on the lacrosse team. Then sophomore year, I was only a JV player, and I lost my junior year because of COVID,” Zoe said. “So that was really like my first year of lacrosse. It was a different season. It was scary at the beginning because we were basically an upcoming JV team. We only had like three returning varsity players, too.”
Zoe thought the missing season created a strange dynamic for her and her fellow seniors. Zoe knew that her younger teammates would look to her and her classmates for guidance, but many of them were playing their first varsity minutes too.
“It definitely felt weird. It felt weird being the oldest on the team, and it was only my second year. All the seniors came together because for most of us, it felt kind of new. Making decisions was a group thing,” says Zoe. “We all really came together and got really close throughout the season. I think the closeness just came out of needing to figure it out.”
At the start of the year, Zoe patrolled the midfield, and she felt well-suited to play there after her experience playing defense in soccer. It wasn’t long before Zoe moved up to play an attacker, which was a pretty big shift.
“I started as a middie and two weeks into the season, I was on attack. I play defense in soccer. I think that playing defense during soccer helped me during lacrosse. I knew how tough it felt to be on defense and left alone if the middies don’t drop,” says Zoe. “That transition to attack allowed me to have more energy. As an attacker, I didn’t have to run back on defense as much. I was transitioning to score more goals.”
North Branford scuffled as a squad during the regular season a little bit, but Zoe attributed those troubles to navigating playing in the age of COVID.
“One of the reasons it took us a while for our team to come together was that we had a bunch of kids test positive for COVID. We were set back two weeks because our whole team had to quarantine,” Zoe says. “We came into the season with only three practices as a team. It was just a matter of time getting everyone actually on the field without COVID.”
Even though Zoe’s first love of sport came playing soccer, she’s now more interested in playing lacrosse. If Zoe continues any athletic pursuits in college at the University of Tampa, it will be on the lacrosse field.
“I started playing soccer in 3rd grade, and I started playing lacrosse in 5th grade. Up until this year, soccer was my main sport, and now if I get the chance to play another sport again, it would be lacrosse,” Zoe says. “I’m going to the University of Tampa in January, and I’m studying criminology. I’m probably not going to play on the school’s team, but I would play club lacrosse.”
Part of what made lacrosse really click for Zoe was the guidance of her coaches. Zoe believes that Head Coach Lori Connelly and Assistant Coach Joanna Phabmixay cared about her as a person as much as rooted for her as an athlete.
“I never had a coach that cared so much about her team like Coach Connelly did. She would do anything to win. Anything that she had to do, she would do it,” says Zoe. “My senior year, I knew I really had to step up. I had to put the time in. Coach Joanna really helped me a lot. I’ve known her for a while, and she’s only a couple of years older than me. She was always there for me and she’s brutally honest, too. If I was having a bad day, she would be in there asking what’s wrong, and when I was doing well she was excited for me.”
Zoe hopes that the winning traditions continue for North Branford girls’ lacrosse, and she’s so appreciative of the time that she got to spend on the field. Zoe will always remember the sound of a loud cheering section getting psyched up when she scored those goals in Shorelines.
“When I scored that first goal in Shorelines, I’ve never seen my team or the crowd so excited. Especially for girls’ sports, we don’t really have cheering sections like that, so for the Shoreline Championships, it was huge. Especially after COVID, it was nice to have a student section again,” Zoe says. “I just want to say to everyone, thank you for the past four years. It felt like a family. I hope the team wins the Shoreline Championship again next year. Enjoy every minute that you have on the team. It’s just one of the best experiences.”