Keith School has seven players on the court at all times, though only six can be seen. The Cougars say Kaitlyn Miller, their lost teammate, is with them always.

Keith School has seven players on the court at all times, though only six can be seen. The Cougars say Kaitlyn Miller, their lost teammate, is with them always.


“Everybody feels her,” said Keith senior setter Kylee Miller, Kaitlyn’s twin sister. “I feel her with me all the time.”


Kaitlyn Miller would have been a starting outside hitter on this year’s team, which became Keith’s first state qualifier in any sport when it won Monday’s Class 1A Supersectional. But she died in a skiing accident Feb. 17. She was 16.


After their emotional 25-21, 22-25, 28-26 win Monday over Elmhurst Immaculate Conception, the Cougars said their record-breaking season is especially memorable because it came after the tragedy.


“At times like this, I know she’s looking down on us and helping us,” senior middle blocker Jordan Haverly said.


Kaitlyn was a bright redhead who excelled in the classroom and was heavily involved in extracurriculars. Keith’s volleyball players looked to her when they needed a laugh, and she was one of the more positive girls on the court. She was a key contributor on last year’s team that won the school’s first regional title.


Kaitlyn died from head injuries on a weekend family vacation at Tyrol Basin near Madison, Wis. The Cougars leaned on each other to get through it, and they did everything they could to especially support Kylee.


“I think it did bring them together and still does,” Keith coach Tammi Haverly said. “They’ve figured out how to do things for each other, and it shows on the court.”


Keith, a private school with 110 students, honored Kaitlyn with the dedication of a scoreboard in the school gymnasium in September. Kylee remembers her by wearing an arm band on her wrist during regular-season games. IHSA rules prohibit her from wearing it during the tournament.


But Kylee and the rest of the Cougars will remember Kaitlyn in their hearts Friday and Saturday when they play in their first IHSA State Tournament.


“It’s more in our hearts and minds, because we don’t bring it up very often,” Jordan Haverly said. “It’s been tough, but we know she’s always watching over us.”


The Cougars play Albion Edwards County in Friday’s Class 1A semifinal at 10:30 a.m. at Redbird Arena in Normal. A win would send Keith to Saturday’s 10:30 a.m. championship, while a loss would have them playing for third place at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.


Staff reporter Emily Tropp can be reached at 815-987-1385 or etropp@rrstar.com.