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Yamaguchi pep talk lifts Miller to title

Midwesterners capture top three spots in novice ladies

Hannah Miller was third in the short program and first in the free skate.
Hannah Miller was third in the short program and first in the free skate. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/24/2011) - Sunday, Hannah Miller was disappointed.

She'd missed the triple Salchow in her short program -- an element she'd nailed all season long -- and was third going in to the novice ladies free.

A pep talk from Kristi Yamaguchi soon cheered her up.

"She told me to just stay in the moment, that I was really in a good position," the 14-year-old said. "She said, 'You just have to trust your training.'"

Monday, Miller did that, hitting a big triple Salchow-double toe-double loop combination and three other triples to win the free skate with 82.96 points.

When added to her short program, her 122.30 total edged out two other Midwestern Sectional competitors, Barbie Long and Mariah Bell, and gave her the 2011 U.S. novice ladies title.

Ice sports run in Miller's family. Dad Kevin Miller, now a financial analyst, was a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic hockey team and later played for several NHL teams, where he crossed paths with Yamaguchi's husband, retired NHL defenseman Bret Hedican.

Miller's cousin, Ryan, was the starting goaltender for team USA at the 2010 Olympics. Hannah and her family traveled to Vancouver to watch some games, and that's where the 14-year-old first met Yamaguchi, the 1992 Olympic champion.

"Hannah has a lot of competitiveness in her, which is something you just can't teach," said her coach [and aunt] Kirsten Miller-Zisholz.

"She was a little cautious in the short, so we approached the long program with the attitude that there was nothing to lose. The goal was not placement so much as doing a personal best."

Like any competitive sportsperson, Miller has big goals.

"I want to get the rest of my triples [loop, flip and Lutz] into my programs and eventually compete on the Junior Grand Prix," she said.

Long, second after the short, skated the most technically ambitious free, including double Axel-triple toe and triple Lutz-double toe-double loop combinations, but fell on a triple loop. In addition, her Program Components Scores were not as high as Miller's. She took the silver medal with 121.85.

"I thought it was pretty good, especially since I added a combination to my second Lutz," she said. "I could work more on my skating skills.

"After the loop, I just thought, 'I'd better concentrate on what I'm doing,' and I was able to land the triple toe."

Bell, the short program leader, settled for bronze after a free skate that opened with a double Axel-double Axel sequence and included two triples. Her biggest mistake was popping a triple toe into a single.

"I think I just lost focus for a second on that toe," Bell said. "I was a little nervous, but mostly just excited to compete here.

"Next season, I want to move up to junior and really work on my triple Lutz, triple flip and triple loop. I hope to be at nationals again as a junior."

Amanda Hofmann was fourth with 100.16.