Heidi Rottinghaus Miller made the state final four as a volleyball player at Columbus East and the NCAA Final Four three times as a player at Penn State, but never won a championship.
Last month she finally won a title — as a coach.
Rottinghaus Miller led North Allegheny High School to the Class 4A (large school) state championship in Pennsylvania. Her two daughters were starters on the team that finished 24-0.
“It made it all extra special to have those memories with them,” Rottinghaus Miller said. “You wear your coaching hat most of the time. I had to keep that mom hat off, but as soon as that last point was scored, being able to celebrate with them as a mom was really special.”
Rottinghaus Miller led the Olympians to the state final four as a senior in the fall of 1992. She helped Penn State to NCAA runner-up finishes in 1993 and 1996 and a Final Four appearance in 1994.
While she was at Penn State, Rottinghaus Miller worked volleyball camps that the team put on for kids in the summers. That experience gave her the coaching bug.
“I loved that,” Rottinghaus Miller said. “I always appreciated all the coaches that I had in my career. That’s something that’s special and important, and it’s great to see kids get better. I love connecting with kids in that way and helping them get better. From the time I started coaching kids in those camps, I knew that was something I’d like to do.”
At Penn State, she met Brian Miller, who played for the Nittany Lions men’s team. They married and returned to Wexford, a suburb of Pittsburgh where Brian had played for his father Bob at North Allegheny.
Bob Miller coached North Allegheny girls to state titles in 1992 and 1993. This year’s championship was the first since then.
Brian and Heidi coach travel volleyball together. Brian was a teacher and now is in administration, while Heidi is an art teacher.
Heidi originally wanted to major in graphic design at Penn State, but was told she wouldn’t have enough time to do graphic design and keep playing volleyball.
“My mom and dad were joking that I was going to be a starving artist,” she said.
Heidi spent 14 years as an assistant at North Allegheny and just finished her sixth as head coach. The past three years, they had finished second in the WPIAL (Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League) and lost in the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
This year, North Allegheny won the WPIAL and breezed through the first two rounds of the state tournament. In the semifinals, it faced a two-sets-to-none deficit against Garnet Valley, but rallied to win the next two before pulling out a 20-18 thriller in the fifth set.
“Our third-round win was one of the most amazing matches I’ve ever been a part of,” Heidi said. “I think that gave our kids the confidence that if they could pull that one out, they would win anything.”
It certainly did. North Allegheny beat Bishop Shanahan from suburban Philadelphia 25-20, 25-12, 25-16 in the title game in Johnstown.
Both of her daughters played a major role. Abby was a sophomore setter and earned first-team All-WPIAL and All-State honors. Paige was a freshman outside hitter and was second-team All-WPIAL.
Heidi said Abby and Paige were talented and dedicated enough that she didn’t have to worry about other parents or players accuse her of favoring her daughters.
“They’re really good kids,” Heidi said. “They make life easy for me. They’re very coachable. They’re self motivated. People that coach their kids say it’s hard, but they really made it easy because they were two of the hardest workers, highest performers on the team. They showed that they were kids who deserved to be out there competing.”
North Allegheny loses eight seniors from this year’s team. But with Abby and Paige coming back, Heidi is looking forward to at least the next two or three years.
“We said it took 20 years to win a state title again, and we said it may take 20 years to win another title,” Heidi said. “But when you get a taste of that, that continues to be the goal. You try to do it again.”
Name: Heidi Rottinghaus Miller
High school: Columbus East
College: Penn State
Occupation: Art teacher and volleyball coach at North Allegheny High School in suburban Pittsburgh
Family: Husband Brian, daughters Abby and Paige