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Millis High’s Miller, Rice Display Class & Dignity Pandemic Thwarts Accolades For Hoop Stars

Jan 29, 2021 02:00PM ● By Ken HAMWEY

Eryn Rice, left, and Abby Miller admire the Sectional championship trophy that Millis High won when they were sophomores.

Covid-19 has a way of interfering with personal achievement.

Two Millis High basketball players — Abby Miller and Eryn Rice — will not get the opportunity to compete for a Sectional or State championship this season, and neither will likely get the chance to become 1,000-point scorers.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) eliminated post-season playoff games and also recommended schedules be reduced. So, instead of a 20-game schedule, the Mohawks are playing only 10. Miller began the season with 691 points and had 742 at Local Town Pages deadline (Jan. 15). Rice had 802 points to start the campaign, then added 22 after three games for a total of 824. 

Eryn Rice, left, and Abby Miller take a break during a Millis High practice.

 

Although they know a 1,000-point milestone is a longshot, they harbor no animosity or anger. Sadness and disappointment are difficult emotions to shed, so they choose to focus on a different number — the pandemic’s death toll.

“The health and safety of everyone is what’s most important,’’ Miller said. “Hopefully, it’ll be in our past soon and we can all be living normal lifestyles. There is a sense of disappointment because our team could have done some amazing things. It was realistic that we could have advanced deep, if there were playoffs. As for missing out on 1,000 points, I’m also disappointed, but I’m leaving a good blueprint behind and that’s more important than my point total.’’ 

Rice says she is disappointed on both fronts but glad a vaccine is on the way. “That will help a lot,’’ she emphasized. “My two goals were to win a State title and to top 1,000 points but the health and safety of everyone in the country is the top priority. When I was a fourth-grader playing youth basketball, I thought about scoring 1,000 points. But, I still feel fortunate and I’m glad we’re playing this season.’’  

Their achievements at Millis have not only been amazing but also incredibly similar.

Both are four-year veterans in basketball, both are captains and both have been two-time Tri Valley League all-stars. Both have played key roles in leading the Mohawks to one TVL crown and one Sectional championship. And, even when they aren’t wearing a Millis uniform, they’re both on the same team. They both have played seven years of AAU basketball for the Mass. Mavericks.

Miller, a 5-foot-6 point guard, and Rice, a 5-foot-7 wing/forward, are three-sport athletes. Miller competed in soccer and she has another season of outdoor track before she graduates. Rice will play volleyball and softball when basketball concludes. Miller was a captain in soccer and Rice is a two-time captain in softball.

The seniors are also dynamic in the classroom. Both are National Honor Society students who’ll be in college next fall — Miller at Babson College and Rice most likely at either the University of New Hampshire or Trinity College.

“Abby is a very talented basketball player,’’ said Millis coach Dave Fallon. “She’s always been a great shooter but she also has the ability to create her own shot in a variety of ways. Most importantly, she’s the type of emotional leader who inspires her teammates."

Miller is an aggressive pass-first point guard whose best shot is a three-pointer. Her strengths are a high basketball IQ, technical skills, athleticism, court awareness, and speed. The 18-year-old Millis native displayed her ability under pressure when the Mohawks faced Tyngsboro last year in the second round of the Sectional tourney.

“We were down a point with 1½ minutes left,’’ she recalled. “I got a steal and a lay-up, then sank four straight free throws for a five-point win. I finished with 21 points.’’

Being a league all-star and a captain are high honors but Miller’s top thrill in her career is simply “being part of a fantastic program.’’ Millis has qualified for tourney play 12 times in the last 13 years and during that stretch has won three State crowns and Six Sectional titles. 

“The culture is super special,’’ Miller said. “We’re a small town where you play sports with your friends at an early age. From grade seven up, a sense of unity is created and we become close-knit.’’ 

Miller, who averaged 14.1 points and 3.1 assists last year, has adjusted well to the modifications implemented by the MIAA. “I played soccer with a mask on,’’ she noted. “I’m flexible with any changes and just pleased that we’re allowed to play.’’

Calling all teammates, past and present, “awesome,’’ Miller also lauds the way Fallon directs the squad. “Coach Fallon is a great motivator who’s helped me to enhance my skills,’’ she emphasized. “He knows the game and he’s tuned in to his players.’’

Fallon is also bullish on Rice’s front-court play. Last year, she averaged 11.9 points and 6.5 rebounds a game. “Eryn is a dangerous player on the basketball court, especially in the open court,’’ he said. “Her speed and finishing ability make her a tough player to cover. She’s  a hard-worker who does a lot of little things that often go unnoticed.’’

An aggressive two-way player, Rice enjoys driving to the hoop and her favorite shot is a mid-range jumper. Her strengths are similar to Miller’s and she is a vocal and supportive captain who leads by example. 

Rice demonstrated terrific leadership qualities in last year’s matchup against Westwood. She scored 12 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked 5 shots. “We won by six and the year before we beat them for the first time in eight years,’’ she said. “I wanted to make it two straight wins and it was rewarding to play a complete game. My top thrills at Millis are winning the Sectional tourney as a sophomore, becoming a league all-star twice and being part of a great program.’’

Rice, who plans on majoring in child psychology in college, rates all her teammates in a positive light — “they’re caring, understanding, accountable and solid team players.’’ Fallon also gets high marks. “Coach Fallon knows the game and he’s always been supportive of his players,’’ Rice said. “He also is very motivating.’’

Rice and Miller complement one another perfectly on the court. Miller is the team’s quarterback, controlling the pace effectively. Rice is a finisher on offense and a rebounder who gets her share of put-backs. She also is an adept shot-blocker.

At Local Town Pages deadline, the Mohawks were 2-1. There’ll be no Sectional or State tourneys for Miller and Rice, and reaching 1,000 points is unlikely. But there are no regrets. They’ve shown class and dignity in dealing with those disappointments.

Both know that two championships, being captains, all-stars, and honor students are blessings. And, they know the value of team success. 

Abby Miller and Eryn Rice also know the importance of overcoming adversity. That means bringing an end to the pandemic. 

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