Miller told the Eagles they should be relaxed, have fun and enjoy their experience in the NAIA Championships, which start Tuesday. But he also reminded them that they are capable of great things when they work for each other.
Miller hasn't shied away this season from talk that No. 3-ranked OC (18-3) could leave the NAIA in style and capture what would be the program's second national title, following the one OC won in 2003. He's certain the Eagles are on a very short list of teams capable of holding the traditional red championship banner at the end of the week.
"There's a prohibitive favorite and there are five or six teams that could break through," Miller said, including OC in the latter group. "It gets pretty tough from the quarterfinals on."
OC is one of eight teams to receive a first-round bye, meaning the Eagles won't play their first tournament match until Wednesday. The Eagles will face either Bethany (Kan.) or Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) in the second round. If the seeds hold, OC would face No. 6 Vanguard (Calif.) in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Bethany (21-3) is seeded higher, but Olivet Nazarene (15-4) has two players in the top 40 of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's NAIA rankings. Since the NAIA event went to a team format in 2000, OC has not played either Bethany or Olivet Nazarene in the national tournament.
Miller said No. 1 Fresno Pacific (Calif.), which has won two of the last three NAIA titles and was the runner-up the third year, is the obvious favorite. No. 2 Embry-Riddle (Fla.) - which edged OC 5-4 on March 21 in Daytona Beach, Fla. - and No. 4 Azusa Pacific (Calif.) are strong contenders for the title as well, along with No. 5 Auburn-Montgomery (Ala.), Vanguard and No. 7 Xavier (La.).
OC reached the semifinals last season before falling 5-2 to Fresno Pacific.
This year, OC has five players ranked in the top 50 in singles - No. 1 Bruno Tiberti, No. 10 Martin Poboril, No. 14 Jaime Sanchez-Canamares, No. 28 Pier Pieracciani and No. 42 Renardy Guelfi. In doubles, Tiberti and Poboril are ranked sixth and Pieracciani and Nicolas Auruccio are ranked 14th. Guelfi and Paulo Roessle are ranked 21st, although in recent weeks Guelfi has been paired in doubles with Sanchez-Canamares.
Even though Tiberti is ranked No. 1 nationally, Miller said Tiberti will continue to play at the No. 2 singles position for the Eagles in the national tournament. Miller switched Tiberti and Poboril in the lineup for the Eagles' final two regular-season matches and kept them in that order for two wins in an NAIA regional tournament.
"Bruno is obviously an outstanding player, but his size, in possibly four consecutive matches against bigger, stronger people, can wear him down," Miller said. "We saw that on our spring break trip. He recognized it. He can beat some of those guys who can overpower him, but he doesn't feel comfortable. Playing at two helps him stay in rhythm. It gives him a better chance to play his game.
"Martin has got the power to play with most of the No. 1s in the tournament and went undefeated at No. 1 this year. It gives our team the best depth and best skill sets against different types of players."
Sanchez-Canamares, a member of Fresno Pacific's title team in 2011, gives OC a high-level No. 3 player. Pieracciani will play at No. 4, Julio Pulido at No. 5 and Guelfi - a three-time All-America pick - at No. 6.
The Eagles have won nine straight dual matches since the loss at Embry-Riddle, including a 9-0 romp over then-No. 24 Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) in the regional title match in Oklahoma City.