Shane Miller's playing style may be unorthodox, as he describes it, but there's nothing unconventional about his rise to become one of the Red Raiders' top varsity singles tennis players this year.
Miller spent his freshman season as the No. 3 junior varsity singles player. Since then, three years of hard work has taken Miller to the top of Bellingham's tennis hierarchy for his senior season.
"It's funny to say, but he really cares about what he is doing," Bellingham coach Steve Chronister said. "I never have to be worried about if he is going to be motivated. I don't have to worry about if he's practicing ... and, it's paid off."
Miller has seen the changes, too.
"My freshman and sophomore years, I was one of those dinkers who just didn't miss but didn't hit winners," Miller admitted. "At the lower positions, I was able to win a lot of those (matches). Starting my junior year, I started hitting the ball harder and going for more shots, advancing toward the net more and I've only done more of that since it's my senior year. I turned from a really defensive player to a really aggressive player."
He also changed from a player Chronister wasn't sure about to a player destined for quality varsity time.
Chronister said he didn't anticipate Miller being the player he is today when he was a freshman. Chronister's view changed during Miller's sophomore season.
"I've done this so long that I've seen enough kids that end up doing a lot better than I thought they would," Chronister said. "It makes me want to give people a longer look. Shane just really wanted to be a good tennis player."
Miller posted a 10-7 singles record as a sophomore, advancing to the Northwest District quarterfinals before being bounced from the tournament.
The Red Raider showed his versatility last season. Miller went 5-1 in singles play and 7-3 in doubles and was pivotal in helping Bellingham win a Northwest Conference title. However, even though Miller was seeded No. 2 in Northwest District doubles with partner Auden Schilder, the duo reached only the quarterfinals before exiting the tournament.
"We had high hopes for making it to state," Miller said. "We won a tough first-round match against probably the toughest play-in team. We were feeling really good coming off that, but we had to wait until the next day for our next match, and the next day both of us didn't have our game together."
With an additional year of training, Miller is hoping his more complete game will finally get him to state.
"I have a real - you could say - unorthodox style," Miller said. "There's no one thing I do to win every match. I try to read my opponents and tailor my game to how they play. Some games I might rush the net, others I may try to hit winners from the baseline or I might try to out-rally them. It all depends on the player."
Chronister praised Miller's tennis mind. He said it's one of the reasons his senior has enjoyed the success he's had.
"I always expect Shane to do well," Chronister said. "Shane is a very good thinker. He plays a lot of tennis, and he can change his style if he needs to in matches, and a lot of people can't do that. He makes adjustments and analyzes his opponents well."
Not only has Miller slowly risen through Bellingham's tennis ranks with hard work, he's trying to serve as a team leader, too, given the void left by 2011 standout senior Reed Welch.
Miller said he recalls being an underclassman and Bellingham seniors helping him, giving him confidence to be a better player.
"I still remember, when I hit a good shot, one of the seniors on varsity would compliment it, and I remember feeling good about that," Miller said. "I just want to try to build up the team, and give them confidence for their matches."
Miller would also like to see Bellingham contend for another league title.
The Red Raiders snapped Sehome's four-year reign as NWC champs last season by beating the Mariners 4-3. Bellingham posted a 14-0 overall and 8-0 league mark, and it seems to have the depth and talent to see similar results this year.
E.J. Troutman, who finished third in doubles at the Class 2A State Tournament with Welch last season, returns as Bellingham's top player. Brad Dale, Auden Schilder, Chad Cheldelin and Sam Ferguson also provide Chronister a number of experienced pieces to work with.
"It was incredible," said Miller of beating Sehome and winning the NWC. "When we did it, it was just an incredible feeling with the team, (because of) how we pulled through so many close matches. That was just a special day with how everybody played."
Miller has logged numerous hours during voluntary summer practices and general offseason playing. He's hoping the additional work will pay off with a state berth that has been so elusive during his career.
"I'd like to be able to make it to state with whatever we end up planning to do," Miller said. "That has always been a goal of mine. Sophomore year I got to the final eight in districts. Since then, state has always been in my sights. This is my last year to get it, and this is my last chance to try to do one of my high school tennis dreams."
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.