Out of the shadows: Phyllicia Barnes played behind her sister last year at pitcher. This year, the mound is all hers.
Still, that won't deter Miller from gunning for the West Region title, which eluded her squad in the final two games of 2004. As Camp Verde approaches its last season in 3A, winning the title will come down to the play of the sophomore and junior class.
"Our goal is to be competitive, and of course, get back to state. We'd like to win the conference before we drop down to 2A. As a coach, I'd really like that," Miller said. "We're really young, but it's exciting. I definitely feel we have the talent to do it."
In high school softball, so much of the game depends on the pitcher. Miller has been spoiled the past two seasons with Penny Barnes, the West MVP and one of the best in the state. Last year, she had a double threat with Phyllicia Barnes also on the hill.
With Penny gone, Phyllicia will get her shot at starting full time.
Barnes, a junior, tossed two no-hitters during the '04 campaign. Her fast ball is devastating, but she's also added a changeup to her arsenal.
"Last year was an example of having your cake and eating it too. I was very luck to have Phyllicia and Penny. It was nice to have both for a double header just to mix things up," Miller said. "We won't have that this year, but I think we'll be OK."
Sarah Gladstone, a senior, will also see some time on the mound. She provides a different look to batters should they figure out Barnes during a game.
Kim Reddell, a second-team all-region pick, returns for her junior year. She took over at catcher halfway through last season, but this year she'll move to first. According to Miller, Reddell will bat in the leadoff spot because of her ability to make contact and swipe bases.
Last year she batted .360 against region teams and was 9-for-9 in the stolen base department.
Kellie Miller, also a junior, is back at short. She has good range, a strong arm and can hit.
Brenda Miller, a senior, manned the hot corner. She'll be back at third, but may see some time at first, as well. Her main contribution, however, will be at the plate as a power hitter and run producer.
Rochelle Williams, arguably the fastest player in the West Region, moves from right field to center. Expect the sophomore to drop a bunt or two per game. Tiffany Ford, a senior, was on the junior varsity squad last year. She'll contribute in the outfield.
Barnes, the Miller sisters, Williams and Reddell round out the list of returnees. The rest of the team is comprised of JV standouts and one freshman.
In the infield, Morgan Ostert, Morgan Boler, Kristen Rise and Nicole Betz are fighting for positions. Ostert, a junior, missed most of last season, but is looking good early on. She could also see some time in the outfield.
Breanna Watson, a freshman, and junior Heather Travis will see most of their playing time behind the plate.
Sierra Parsons and Austin Murphy, both sophomores, are battling for starting spots in the outfield.
According to coach Miller, nothing is set in stone, except for the pitcher.
"We have a lot of different options, basically two players at every base. It's frustrating, but it's also kind of nice. In the past we've only had one shortstop or second baseman, and if they got hurt we didn't know what to do," Miller said. "Right now, everyone is getting work at every bases. As far as who's starting? I don't know yet."
Miller pretty much knows what to expect from the returning cast, but in order for her team to be successful, the younger girls must rise to the challenge. They'll get the chance during the first two weeks of the season at the Maricopa and Winslow tournaments. There, Miller plans on getting everyone plenty of playing time.
"We'll see exactly where we are as a team. We'll try all different types of combinations," Miller said. "After that, I'll have an idea on where we need to go, and I'll focus on that."
Miller's hoping to see a team poised to win the region crown. For that to happen, Camp Verde must solve Wickenburg, and more importantly, Sarah Killer.
Last year's championship came down to a doubleheader at Wickenburg. Camp Verde needed just one win to clinch the region title. Instead, it lost both games, finishing the season in second with a 12-3 record.
Killer, a junior, kept the Cowboys' sticks guessing the entire series.
"She's been on my mind. Of all the team's I'm worried about, as far as pitching goes, it's Wickenburg. Killer's a good little pitcher. Looking back at last year, I think it comes down to us and Wickenburg again," Miller said.
Hitting was just one of the problems toward the end of last year. While the pitching took care of itself, the defense struggled, in some cases tallying eight errors in a game.
"Defense has definitely been a focus for us. That all we've been doing in practice. We haven't even gotten into hitting yet," Miller said. "We've been taking a 100 or more grounders a day — really pounding it at them. You know 90 percent of the game is catching and throwing. If you can't do that you won't go anywhere."
Camp Verde opens the season with a three-day tournament at Maricopa March 10. Region play begins with a road trip to Sedona March 15. Like last year, the team will end the regular season with a doubleheader against Wickenburg, which could determine the region.