Water polo probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Harvard University.
But the Ivy League school in Cambridge, Mass. that’s renowned for producing top lawyers and future business and political leaders is where Coquitlam’s Jaiden Miller is fulfilling her goal of playing her sport for an NCAA Div. 1 school and continuing her development towards representing Canada in the pool at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
Miller’s quest for the latter recently received a boost when she was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Fuelling Athletes and Coaching Excellence (FACE) program administered by the Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee and Petro-Canada. The money — half goes to her, the other half to her coach, Nikola Maric — will help pay for training, equipment and travel expenses.
Miller, 18, said water polo’s low profile in Canada often makes it difficult for her and some teammates on her club and national teams to scrape together the money for travel to tournaments where top international competitors push them to improve their own game.
Miller, who grew up in the New Horizons and Ranch Park neighbourhoods, first dipped her toe in the water polo pool because her brother, Graham Miller, played and she had to tag along when her parents took him to practices and games. When she was finally old enough, she joined the Coquitlam Sharks.
Miller said the club’s close-knit, family atmosphere, and the dedication of its coaches made it fun.
“The majority of the coaches are former players that returned to give back to the programs by coaching and being a role model,” she said.
To take her abilities to the next level, Miller connected with the Pacific Storm Water Polo Club that has been a cauldron for developing athletes for college and even national team programs.
Through the club’s high performance and NCAA identification camps, Miller met the head coach of Harvard’s water polo team, Ted Minnis. She liked what he had to say about the school, including its separate campus for athletes and its encouragement for extracurricular activities.
While Harvard doesn’t provide athletic scholarships, that wasn’t a barrier for Miller, a four-time Honour Role with Distinction student at Dr. Charles Best secondary.
And the fact Miller’s academic achievements came even as she juggled training and travel with Canada’s youth and women’s national teams to competitions in places like Yugoslavia and Brazil have given her a toolset for success in Harvard’s pool and her studies in environmental science and public policy.
With the NCAA season set to begin this month, Miller said her training schedule through the fall focussed on strength and conditioning, both in the water and in the gym. But she’s eager to start making waves with her new teammates.
“I’m expecting high-intensity water polo,” she said.