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Miller’s MAAC dynasty
Paula Miller takes after former coach Mike Quitko in continuing the winning culture
College sports has seen some dynasties over the years, including the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team of the past 20 years, North Carolina’s women’s soccer team for 33 years and the University of Southern California baseball team for 20 years, to name a few.
Quinnipiac has a dynasty of its own, one that isn’t as well known around campus. The women’s tennis team has gone undefeated since joining the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) in 2013 and that is in large part due to head coach and director of tennis Paula Miller.
Miller is the definition of a winner, both as a player and a coach. As a player she won 83 matches for the Bobcats from 1992-96 and helped lead them to three Northeast-10 championships. Now she’s been undefeated in conference play since taking over for former head coach Mike Quitko who had to retire due to illness in 2014-15.
“Starting out, we were only Division II, so I’ve seen the growth of the school, the program,” Miller said. “[Quitko], I was his first recruit, so I kind of was taken under his wing. He was like a second dad to me. I have the same mentality as him, we go out and fight to win on court. These kids, I’m kind of like their mom away from home, so we have a close knit family and that’s what [Quitko] always had.”
It’s that tight-knit family environment that’s part of what brought assistant coach Christine Abundo back to Hamden from Orange County, California.
Abundo played for the Bobcats all four years she was at Quinnipiac before graduating in 2000. She played under Quitko while he was head coach and Miller while she was assistant coach.
“It was kind of a running joke-not joke with Paula, ever since she was the assistant,” Abundo said. “I had always told her when she becomes the head coach ‘I want to be your assistant coach’ and I talked to her frequently and one day she just called and I said ‘Are you serious?’ and it was really the only thing that could ever get me to come back.”
Just because Abundo moved back to the east coast doesn’t mean that her work in California was over. She was instrumental in recruiting sophomore Layla Rodriguez to the team. By the end of her freshman year, Rodriguez had 43 wins and was named to the First-Team All-MAAC in singles and doubles.
But it seems that there’s a common theme in this story so far; the theme that everything traces back to Miller.
“I got along with her really well before I took my official [school visit],” Rodriguez said. “Then when I actually came on my official and got to meet Paula and spend time with Paula and Christine and the girls on the team, honestly I fell in love with Paula. I love her she’s like mom and honestly I’m so glad that I made the decision to come here because of that.”
Maintaining dominance isn’t easy. Take the New York Yankees, from 1996-2003, that dynasty captured four World Series titles, including three in a row from 1998-2000. What happened after that? They lost the next two they were in.
The cause for this success and failure can come from many areas, but arguably the area that is most important is that of recruiting. When recruiting, it goes without saying that you’re going to be looking to bolster your roster with talent, but there’s more to recruiting a player than their performance on the court, according to Abundo.
“We look for talent, but we also look for those that fit within our family and have kind of the same thoughts and morals and everything,” Abundo said. “We look for ones that mesh well with the other players and our coaches in general. I think in general Paula has done such a wonderful job of building the family and having those types of players keep coming.”
Miller can trace a lot of her influence back to Quitko, but despite having retired, it’s as though he’s living on vicariously through both Miller and Abundo, according to Rodriguez, who met Quitko on her official.
“I know the impact that he has on my coaches,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like he still holds an impact on me because I feel like I’m the last year that actually got to know who he was. I’d say that because of the impact on Paula and Christine, I feel like there’s the impact that he has on me as well.”
Quitko established a culture of winning for the Bobcats having amassed over 500 wins and 18 conference championships. He was even inducted into the Quinnipiac Hall of Fame, an honor that he, Abundo and Miller eventually got to share.
This winning tradition and legacy is something that Miller wants to carry on, even though she never expected to get the head coaching gig.
“I always thought I was going to be under [Quitko’s] wing and be his sidekick, until he got sick,” Miller said. “The program that he left, I didn’t want to have it in anyone’s hands and kind of live his legacy going forward.”
Miller is without a doubt doing Quitko’s legacy justice and moving this Bobcats dynasty in the right direction. The team is headed back to the MAAC Tournament with high hopes of another crack at the NCAA tournament and a win.
“We have a target on our back,” Miller said. “My hopes and goals at some point is to win a round in the NCAAs, at some point that will happen and I look forward to that.”
While doing so much to honor Quitko’s legacy as a Bobcat, it looks like Miller has, perhaps inadvertently, gone and started her own.