Area colleges: Belmont runner regains form after change of heart

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 11:24pm

Jeff Langdon saw the potential in Matt Miller more than two years ago when he recruited Miller out of LaPorte High School in Indiana.

The Belmont cross country coach just had to wait a little longer than he would have liked. Not that Langdon’s complaining — he is glad to have Miller in a Bruins uniform. After two seasons at South Alabama, Miller transferred last winter to Belmont, which was one of his top five choices coming out of high school.

“I thought he was coming [then],” Langdon said. “Luckily, he decided to come back. He is an awesome kid.”

Miller, a junior, has made a grand entrance in his first two meets with the Bruins.

He led Belmont with an eighth-place finish at the Commodore Classic last weekend at Percy Warner Park. It was his second top-10 finish in as many meets. He placed fifth at the Belmont Opener on Sept. 2, also at Percy Warner Park.

“Matt Miller has really stepped up for us this year,” Langdon said. “He is doing an incredible job not only running but just leadership-wise in the locker room and when we are doing workouts. He is running smart, which is a big difference I think for him. Over the past couple years I don’t know how smart he was running or training, I am not sure.

“He has really stepped in here and adjusted to our training philosophy and trusting the coaching. He is just being a great leader and really excelling.”

Miller went to South Alabama with several friends from Indiana excited about the future of the program. Instead, it was an injury plagued stay that ended shortly after his head coach left last fall.

“It was pretty frustrating times down there,” Miller said. “I’m glad where I’m at now. I wish I would have made the decision earlier obviously.”

Miller believes he is beginning to get back to where he was in high school — when he placed eighth as a senior at the state meet. But a back injury in 2009 sidelined him for a couple months. When he returned he admitted he trained too hard, which might have slowed down his progress.

“Last year, even during track [at Belmont], I was sort of heavy,” Miller said. “Now, I think just the whole summer of good training and good miles. ... I’m getting in the groove again I guess. I feel my running is just getting going again.”

Miller’s success has carried over to the rest of the team.

The Bruins finished second to only Tennessee at the Belmont opener. Last weekend, they were fourth — the top area team in a meet that featured Middle Tennessee State, Lipscomb and Vanderbilt.

Belmont will run at Percy Warner once more this season — at the Atlantic Sun Conference Championships on Oct. 29.

If the trend continues, expect Miller to be in front — on and off the course. In fact, Miller said the opportunity to jump into a leadership role played a big part in his decision to end his career at Belmont.

“It is not really a hard job for me to step up and be a leader,” Miller said. “I have always had high expectations for myself. Even [Saturday] I realize it was a good finish, but there are some other things I know I am more capable of. I think I have a long road ahead of me. ... My main goal is the team right now, to win the conference. Then I’ll worry about the individual stuff as it goes.”

• Streak at stake: Earlier this month, Lipscomb's volleyball team finally faltered at Allen Arena when a loss to Arkansas State ended a 29-match home winning streak.

Now, an even more impressive streak is on the line when the Bisons travel to Mercer, Ga., to open up Atlantic Sun Conference play this weekend. They’ll play Mercer on Friday and then at Kennesaw State on Saturday.

Lipscomb holds the nation’s longest conference winning streak, having won 35 straight A-Sun matches dating back to 2008. The Bisons went undefeated in league play in 2009 and 2010 en route to conference regular-season and tournament championships and have reached the NCAA Tournament three of the last four years.

This season, however, they have sputtered to a 5-6 start. Lipscomb graduated five seniors from last year’s team, including Alex Kelly and Jake Pease, who collected the league’s last three player of the year awards. This year’s squad is young with five freshmen and four sophomores. But it has shown improvement after a 2-6 start, winning their last three matches.

• Tigers thumped: The Tennessee State football team had a front-row seat for a record-breaking performance on Saturday.

The Tigers were torched by Murray State quarterback Casey Brockman, who finished with 600 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception on 45-of-67 passing in the Racers’ 58-27 victory. Brockman broke his own Ohio Valley Conference record for passing yards (570) and tied the league mark for touchdowns, which he already shared. His 45 completions were also an OVC best.

Tennessee State (1-2) gave up 707 yards, and the 58 points were the second-most allowed in school history. The Tigers gave up 63 points to Tennessee Tech in 2001. TSU will try to snap a two-game losing streak when it plays at non-conference foe Air Force Academy at 2 p.m. Saturday.