The Final Paige: Mills completes Owl cross country career on Saturday
KEENE, N.H. 11/18/11 - Flats or spikes? Like a high school senior debating over what pair of shoes to wear to the prom, Paige Mills took a few moments to decide which pair of running shoes would be the most practical to wear for her final NCAA Division III Championship cross country race on Saturday.
In the end the decision was simple. While the rolling hills at the Lake Breeze Golf Club in Winneconne, Wis., the site of this year’s nationals, might be more conducive to spikes, the Keene State senior favored flats. “The two times I’ve worn spikes in college, I didn’t run well,” she said. “I don’t want to tempt fate.”
Last weekend at the New England Regional race was the second time Mills laced up her spikes and while her 12th place finish was good enough to qualify her for the NCAA championship; it wasn’t what she had in mind.
Shoes weren’t the only things on Mills’ mind last week leading up to the big race at Bowdoin. In addition to helping the Owls earn one of the five team berths to the NCAA championship, Mills was playing mind games, weighing her chances of finishing first and trying to make amends for falling yards from the finish line at last year’s regional race.
“The hype and the expectations made me a nervous wreck,” said Paige. “I’m glad that’s all behind me and I can go out to the nationals with a clear head.”
After a hectic week, Mills is ready to turn the page and get ready for the NCAA championship. “I put last week behind me and now I’m ready to go,” said the usually effervescent and positive Mills. “I need to focus on what I need to do become an All-American, and for me that means being relaxed and feeling confident.”
KSC Coach Peter Thomas concurs with his senior standout. “When Paige is right mentally and physically, she’s a little dynamo,” he said.
Despite being hampered by an assortment or injuries and the pressure to live up to expectations, Mills, a Keene native, has been more that satisfied with her college career that has whisked by just as quickly as she passes runners on the trail. “I’m really happy with all the success I’ve had,” she said. “It was more than I ever expected it to be.”
The two-time Little East Runner of the Year put herself in elite company when she became the eighth women’s cross country runner to earn All-American honors with her fifth place finish at last year’s national meet. Not bad for someone who wasn’t even planning to run in college.
Paige Mills was always fast. As a fifth grader at the Jonathan Daniels School, she remembers racing Marlene Matatics, a transfer student, for school bragging rights. Mills won the race. Ironically, the two became friends and went on to run in college.
Although she played several team sports, Mills decided to follow in the footsteps of her older sister Julie, a former New England 4x800 relay champion at Keene High, and take up running. “I was her project,” said Mills. “She took me out my freshman year, trained with me, and I just love it.”
Motivated by a strong personal desire to succeed, not to mention the burden of filling a successful sister’s shoes, Mills took off on a scholastic running career that was filled with records and awards. As a sophomore at Keene High, she earned All-State cross country honors with her sixth-place finish at the Meet of Champions. As a senior, Mills was a member of a Class L champion Blackbird cross country team that finished second at the Meet of Champions and fifth in New England her senior season.
Mills’ college career temporarily got derailed when she suffered knee and foot injuries just prior to her freshman season at Keene State. However, her perseverance and love for running got her back on the trails. “I knew a healthy Page Mills would help us immensely,” said Thomas at the time.
And he was right. Mills showed her promise the first time she ran for the Owls, winning the UMass-Dartmouth JV race in a time that was better than any runner on the KSC varsity. It would be the first and last time she’d run a JV race at Keene State.
A passionate runner who savors every step, Mills is the first Keene Stat runner to earn three consecutive at-large berths to the NCAA championships since Mary Proulx. As a junior, she set a course record on the way to winning the LEC championships and finished second at the New England Regional race.
For all the hills she’s climbed, Mills has also experienced her share of valleys. While earning her first NCAA berth as a sophomore, Mills tore her hamstring and wasn’t at full strength for the nationals. The following year, she fell yards from the finish line at the regional championship, an emotional event that stayed with her throughout this season. “Looking back, I think those experiences made me a better and tougher runner,” said Mills.
This season, Mills was not only the teams’ top runner, but the team captain – a role she cherished. “I love leading by example, being a good role model and helping other runners on the team achieve their goals,” she said.
With Mills leading the way, the Owls captured their record 12th consecutive LEC title this fall. While Mills was disappointed she couldn’t take the team to the NCAA championships, she is looking forward to her last trip to the national race. “I’m fired up and determined now,” said Mills. “I’m going to challenge all of my energy into the race and go out with a bang.”