Nov. 25, 2013
By Rich Hidy ('16)
Junior swimmer Cameron Miller has a responsibility to live up to the esteemed reputation of the Irish men's swimming class of 2015. Based on his 2012 campaign and start to the 2013 season, Miller has only scratched the surface of his potential.
The class of 2015, ranked 12th in the nation in 2011 by Collegeswimming.com with twelve total swimmers, has risen the level of the entire program to new heights under head coach Tim Welsh. The class helped the Irish win back-to-back BIG EAST Championships, and also send a Notre Dame record nine qualifiers to the 2013 NCAA Championships in Indianapolis.
Miller, a 6'1 breaststroke and individual medley swimmer, was one of the nine qualifiers for the most important meet in the college swimming season, and he said the experience was invaluable to his goal of constant improvement in the pool.
"Everyone that was at the NCAAs really learned something from that meet on technique or how to swim like the elite athletes that were there," Miller said. "We learned what we needed to change to make ourselves better."
Miller has remained on a steady trajectory of improvement since enrolling at Notre Dame after four years at Michigan City High School in Indiana. He finished his high school career as a four-time captain and a member of the U.S. Junior National team. Miller chose Notre Dame over Northwestern and Michigan because of Notre Dame's proximity to his four siblings and his parents, and his ties to the school throughout childhood.
"My parents followed the school when I was a kid," Miller said. "It was wonderful to find out that I could get in. I didn't know that I was the highest ranked recruit that year, but the rankings don't always line up to how you actually perform your freshman year."
Miller struggled in the pool for the first time in his life during his freshman year at Notre Dame. Like all undergraduate students, he had to adjust to a new routine at the college level. Even though Miller was a member of the all-BIG EAST team in the 200 medley relay and represented the Irish at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, he found himself trying to catch up to others on the roster due to the rigors of the training necessary to garner top finishes.
"I had come from a program, Michigan City High School, and we didn't do morning practices or push ourselves very hard at all," Miller said. "I guess it was talent that got me as far as I did. Freshman year, I couldn't do much of the training. I was one of the worst on the team at almost everything. I stayed the summer after my freshman year and improved a lot then."
Miller participated in distance training following his freshman season, which he never had experienced in high school, where he only swam 50's and 100's. Notre Dame builds up cardiovascular strength in its swimmers with distance swims throughout the season, so in order for Miller to reach a peak level of cardio fitness, he swam the pool long course and did every distance practice during the summer months.
Miller was named one of the team's most improved swimmers at the 2012-2013 season-ending banquet after breaking the school record with the 200 medley relay team that was the BIG EAST champion with a time of 1:26.33. Miller also finished third last year in the 200 breast at the BIG EAST Championships with a time of 1:56.24, the second fastest time in school history. He credits his achievements to the hard work he put in heading into last year to become a top performer, as well as the encouragement of his peers.
"There were a ton of us in that class (of 2015) and all of us have a ton of talent," Miller said. "We've all been really dedicated and kept each other on track. We make sure we're giving one hundred percent and encouraging each other every meet. It's amazing to see how far we've come together. We've all moved forward and progressed as a unit."
Miller is a prime example of what he said is the typical roller coaster of a four-year swimming career. Swimmers sometimes improve following their freshman season with a breakout sophomore year, then take a step down junior year and finish strong in their final season on campus. Miller is looking to go against the grain by staying on top of the mountain and preventing that dreaded step back. Miller already has recorded the second-best times in the 100 and 200 breast in the 2013-14 season with times of 55.71 and 2:03.28 in the Purdue vs. Notre Dame dual meet and the matchup against Wisconsin on Nov. 16.
Swimmers are often forced to play mind games in the pool due to the individual nature of the sport. A swimmer is his own regulator and his own motivator in the pool, so it is essential to stay focused on the end result of the swim.
"It's such a mental sport," Miller said. "Little things can get in your head like the number of strokes taken and you can get distracted from the race as a whole. In the end, one little thing in your technique can throw off the whole race. It's such a psychological game."
One of the ways Miller stays motivated during the week is by focusing on the next meet ahead. Notre Dame is 4-4 on the season heading into the crucial Hawkeye Invitational, which will close the first semester of racing on Dec. 6-8. The training period up to that meet is vital in order to perform well when it really counts. Miller follows the old adage that practice truly makes perfect.
"The key to training is not giving up when it really hurts," Miller said. "If I just stopped trying in practice, there's no way the coaches would know if I wasn't giving one hundred percent, but we have a meet at Iowa on Dec. 6 and I want to do well, so I'm trying to push myself really hard so I can be ready for that."
Miller does enjoy the two-week, annual trip to Puerto Rico in January for the Copa Coqui Meet, which allows the swimmers to spend time with one another and build the camaraderie that every sports team needs to win as a group.
"The freshmen and upperclassmen really get to mesh," Miller said. "Most of the year, we only get to spend time together at meets, practice, and in the pool. We can't talk to each other with our faces in the pool. It's kind of a lonely sport. When we're in Puerto Rico, we get to do a lot of fun things together. We get on the beach and dive down and collect sand dollars, ride waves, it's just a lot of fun. Notre Dame provides us with that opportunity."
Miller is a science-business major who must work as hard in the classroom as he does as a swimmer in order to meet the challenges of a Notre Dame education. Even though he says it is really difficult to balance academics and athletics, Miller feels he has the proper support system to achieve his goals as a student.
"Everyone that has come through here and done pre-med has had trouble managing practice schedules, and the coaches get upset sometimes when we have to miss because we have tests all the time," Miller said. "I remember one year I had seven finals because of lab finals. That was just awful. The week before we were training really hard. It's hard to stay in the pool and manage all the school work. I manage to do it with the help of my friends. We keep each other on track. We go to class even when we're tired to make sure we don't miss anything."
Miller's status as an upperclassman has allowed him to take a step back and review his past few years as an Irish swimmer. As the Irish transition into the ACC this year, the goals of the team have changed slightly and become more difficult. However, Miller is confident the team is better than just a few years ago, which is the same feeling he has of himself.
"Two years ago, the biggest goal was to become BIG EAST champions, but things have completely changed," Miller said. "Now, ACC champions is on our mind, and our team is so much better than it was my freshman year."