Keene State College didn’t have to look far to find its new coach for the cross country and track and field teams.

Paige Mills, a standout athlete for the Owls who graduated in 2012, was named coach by Phil Racicot, director of athletics and recreation.

Mills, a three-time All-American during her career at KSC, returns to campus after serving as an assistant coach for the cross country and track and field programs at Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, Calif. During her tenure with the Lions, she served as the lead track and field coach, training all sprinters, jumpers, and relay teams. She also was Soka’s lead recruiting coordinator.

“It is a dream come true to return home to Keene and coach at my alma mater, a program I am forever grateful to for shaping the direction of my life. I must first thank Athletic Director Phil Racicot for this incredible opportunity, one that is near my heart,” said Mills. “My vision for the program is to foster a culture of excellence while succeeding on the national stage and in the Little East Conference. I am a passionate recruiter and can’t wait to show prospective student athletes what we have to offer at KSC in a gem of a community that in my opinion holds the best trail systems in the region.”

Racicot said there was no shortage of qualified candidates, and he cited Mills’ experience and knowledge of the program.

“We are very excited to welcome Paige Mills back to Keene State College as the new head cross country and track/field coach,” he said in a statement. “There was a very strong pool of candidates to choose from but Paige’s passion to coach and recruit student athletes at her alma mater was clearly obvious.”

She replaces Tom Pickering, who in September announced he was leaving the program, effective Friday, Dec. 20. Pickering was named interim coach in 2014, and was given the job permanently a year later. He led Keene State to three women’s Little East Conference cross country championships (2015, 2016, 2018), while the men’s team captured the LEC championship in 2015 and were second in both 2016 and 2017. In November, Lauren Perkowski cruised to her second consecutive Little East Conference individual championship, and the Owls finished second as a team.

Before joining Soka, Mills was an assistant coach at Cal State University San Marcos, where she coached the distance and middle distance athletes under the direction of head coach and three-time Olympian Steve Scott. Mills also worked as the Cougars’ recruiting coordinator and assisted with home meet management. Previously, Mills worked at the University of Redlands, working with distance, middle distance, and horizontal jumps, and recruited the biggest cross country class in program history.

“She has built an impressive coaching background in a variety of roles in the sport and brings the positive energy we need to grow and build the program,” Racicot said. “As one of the more accomplished competitors in program history, Paige is uniquely positioned to lead the program and is incredibly dedicated to the student-athlete experience.”

A decorated athlete at Keene State, Mills earned All-America honors in cross country in 2010 and 2011, finishing fifth in the nation at the NCAA Cross Country Championships as a junior in 2010. Mills was also part of the distance medley relay that finished third at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in 2011.

Regionally, she was a three-time All-New England honoree in cross country, while at the conference level, Mills was LEC Runner of the Year three times (2009, 2010, 2011) and a three-time All-Conference honoree (2009, 2010, 2011). She was the LEC individual champion in cross country twice in 2010 and 2011, and the LEC champion in the outdoor 5,000 meters in 2010 and 2012. Keene State won the LEC cross country championship in each of her four seasons.

“From Mount Monadnock just minutes away, to the endless miles of shady rail trails for tempos and quality long runs, our distance runners will be very happy,” Mills said. “With a lot of momentum behind the track and field program right now and rich grounds to become a winning cross country program again, it is an extremely exciting time to rejoin the Owl family and continue our history of success.”

Mills received a bachelor’s degree in health science from Keene State in 2012, and a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Redlands in 2014.