When Arika Smith set the girls 200-yard freestyle record for Colony High swimming and diving team in 1994, it was more than a decade before Merica Miller was even born.
After falling just short of breaking the longstanding record as a freshman last year, Miller came back as sophomore with that goal in mind. On Sept. 17, at the Bartlett Invitational, she achieved it.
“It was really exciting,” Miller said. “I was trying to break it last year but I was a second off.”
The previous record was 1:59.35 and the 15-year-old Miller was able to shave off the fraction of time needed to rewrite the record books with a mark of 1:58.29.
“Merica just went at it and it was awesome to see her working so hard for it,” Colony swim coach Kaitlin Dault said. “She has been talking about it and working at it for a while now.”
While this marked Miller’s first time breaking a record by herself, it wasn’t her first time making program history. As a freshman, she was on a 400-yard relay team that set a new school record, and Dault says she is “in the hunt” to break two more that have stood since 2001 — the 50- and 100-yard freestyle.
Miller was so hyped up from the crowd response she was fairly certain the record was hers.
“Everyone was screaming so loud,” she said. “I didn’t even see my time but I knew I broke the record because everyone was screaming so loud.”
The cheers from her teammates and friends motivated her but she admitted that breaking the individual record was nowhere near the same experience compared to setting a new record as a part of a relay team.
“It felt totally different doing it by myself honestly,” Miller said. “It was a lot scarier.”
Miller told her coach that she was going to get a jump-start on her studies during the summer so that she could be ahead and devote more time to the high school swim season.
“That was really cool to see that she was really prepared for the high school season and wanted to make sure she was getting ahead of the game,” Dault said.
Dault believes that Miller has a shot at contending for state titles in several different events.
“Looking at the times across the board, she has great times in the 200, 50, 100 and 500 free(style),” Dault said. “She is currently second or third in the state in all those events.”
Miller has only been swimming competitively since she was 11 years old as a member of the Northern Lights Swim Club, where she competes when the high school season isn’t going on. She knows that becoming a champion will require more hard work and performances like the one she had to break a record that stood for nearly three decades.
“That would be pretty awesome,” Miller said. “I’d have to drop a lot of times.”
Unconventional student, exceptional leader
Miller, who is home-schooled, leads by example with her tenacious work ethic, according to Dault.
“Merica is one of those kids that is a really hard worker in and out of the pool,” Dault said. “She’s always working hard at dry land. She’s always the first one in the water swimming at practice, and always does what is expected of her.”
Dault says Miller is already one of the core leaders on the entire team, not just the sophomore class. She is the designated representative, the equivalent of captain for her class.
“She is a really good teammate, is always cheering on everybody, and giving everybody really good feedback,” Dault said. “She makes sure everyone on the team feels included and is working hard.”
Miller is close with her teammates despite not being in-person classmates. She said every time they convene for practice and meets, “it’s almost like a family reunion.”