McKenna Miller returns from injury to play out senior season

McKenna Miller sports her knee brace during afternoon practice. (Madison Everett)

A group of friends gathered together for a game night in typical Provo fashion. McKenna Miller attended to get to know one specific person — Alex Ah Sue. In fact, the whole game night was orchestrated by Miller and her teammate Kennedy Eschenberg to give them a chance to meet. 

Miller had seen Ah Sue around, and her interest was piqued when she heard he was single. She talked to Kennedy, who talked to her then-boyfriend Zach Eschenberg, and he reached out to Ah Sue. The spark was immediate for Miller, but it took a little longer for Ah Sue to realize he felt the same way. 

It wasn’t until Miller attended an indoor beach tournament Ah Sue was playing in that he began seeing her as more than a friend. Once the tournament ended, the two spent the rest of the day together with friends. Their story soon had a plot twist. 

McKenna Miller and Alex Ah Sue goof off during their engagement photos. (McKenna Miller)

They began dating in April 2018 and got engaged in November of the same year, a week before Miller landed wrong during a game and tore her ACL. The injury forced her to sit out the rest of the 2018 season. 

Miller said she experienced all of the stages of grief within minutes of the injury. She was devastated but took the time to help others feel good when they reached out to her. 

“She is such a happy person, so it was really sad to see her going through that injury because for the first couple of days, she was in so much pain and kind of gloomy,” Ah Sue said. “After she got over that initial pain, she still found ways to make others happy.”

Fast forward to the 2019-20 season, and there is no sign of Miller’s injury except for the brace strapped to her leg. The volleyball player attributed her quick recovery to her fear of missing out. She said sitting out for everything was harder than powering through the injury.

“I think I was kind of stubborn,” Miller said. “I knew I didn’t want to redshirt. I wanted to play my senior year with this team. I hated sitting out. It was just a FOMO kind of thing. I hated having to shag at practice and watch everyone get better while I was learning how to walk again. That kind of motivated me. I was just tired of sitting out and not being included.”

Miller tried to stay strong around her friends during practice, but she said she sometimes had to break down and express her frustrations to Ah Sue who understood how mentally and physically draining volleyball can be through his own experiences on the BYU men’s volleyball team. Miller said Ah Sue became her emotional punching bag and that she couldn’t imagine going through the recovery process without his help.

McKenna Miller and Alex Ah Sue stand with family in front of the Los Angeles California Temple on their wedding day in May 2019. (McKenna Miller)

The couple got married in May 2019, and McKenna made her return to the court on Aug. 30. Her teammates, including libero Mary Lake, were happy to welcome Miller back. Miller and Lake are both seniors this year. They started together and had hopes of finishing their BYU volleyball careers together. 

“I’m just happy to be out there again with McKenna,” Lake said. “She’s an amazing volleyball player and it feels natural to be playing with her again.”

Now that Miller is traveling with the team again, the couple faces a new set of challenges. The BYU men’s volleyball team schedule is the opposite of the women’s. When Miller is done traveling, Ah Sue begins.

Their daily schedules are the opposite too. The men’s team practices from noon to 3 p.m., and the women’s team practice starts immediately after and runs until 6 p.m. Between their two schedules, they say it is hard to find time to spend together.

Although volleyball creates challenges, their shared love of the sport also bonds them. Miller said it’s nice to have someone who understands when she talks about practices and specific sets they run. They also try to support each other when their teams are in season.

From left to right, Zach and Kennedy Eschenberg, McKenna Miller and Alex Ah Sue continue their tradition of wearing their pink shirts to BYU women’s volleyball games. (McKenna Miller)

“Emotionally, you know how hard it is sometimes in the season with everything, so it’s nice when I’m in season because he’s super supportive and helpful, and I hope when he’s in season, I’m as helpful as he is,” Miller said.

Miller and Ah Sue make an effort to attend every home game the other has. Miller said she bought a jersey with Ah Sue’s number on it to wear. She said she has always enjoyed the men’s volleyball games, but they are more stressful now. Ah Sue sports the same shirt every “pink” game. Miller noticed it before they began dating.

“I remember the first time he wore it. It says, ‘I make cute babies,’ and I was like, ‘He would make cute babies,’ and now we’ll see,” Miller said. 

This season is Miller’s last at BYU. She is considering going pro, if possible, with Ah Sue still in school for two more years. Her backup plan is to become a dental hygienist with her exercise and wellness major. She said she is trying to keep her options open, but for now, she is going to give her last season at BYU everything she’s got.

As of Nov. 11, Miller has 1,372 kills in her BYU career with 323 from the 2019 season. This season she has also has 80 digs, 43 blocks and 11 assists.

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