ILLINOIS WOMEN’S OPEN: Miller could become first high school champion

In its 17 previous stagings the Illinois Women’s Open has never had a high school champion. That could change today when Stevenson’s Stephanie Miller enters the final round as the co-leader.

Miller, 17, also has a great pairing for the shootout at Mistwood, in Romeoville. She’ll play with the other co-leader, Chicago amateur Nora Lucas. Lucas, who just graduated from Illinois, helped recruit Miller to Champaign. She verbally committed to the Illini three weeks ago and said Lucas was a big reason for her quick decision.

“I met her on my visit, and she was so nice,’’ said Miller, a senior-to-be at Stevenson who is playing in the IWO for the first time. The Illinois prep champion as a sophomore, she has sought tougher competition this year and recently qualified for next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur in Cleveland by shooting par golf over 36 holes at Blackberry Oaks, in Bristol.

Two professionals – Brittany Johnston and Colleen Cashman-McSween – are one stroke behind the IWO co-leaders. Johnston plays on the LPGA’s Symetra (formerly Futures) Tour and Cashman-McSween is assistant coach at Michigan. Miller has no fears about competing against older, more experienced players.

“I get to pick their brains and see what I can do to follow in their footsteps,’’ said Miller, whose father will be her caddie. A commercial pilot, he flew in from Paris on Wednesday to be on her bag.

Lucas won the Illinois Women’s Amateur in 2011 and highlighted her collegiate career by going a school-record 11-under-par en route to winning Wisconsin’s tournament as a senior. The IWO will conclude her summer season, and she will enter law school rather than turn pro.

`I’ll just play for fun. I’m excited to move ahead, just like (Miller) is excited (to look ahead to college),’’ said Lucas. “She should be. I had a great time at Illinois.’’

Miller had a chip-in in each of the first two rounds. She holed out from 61 yards for eagle at No. 10 on Wednesday and chipped for birdie at No. 7 on Thursday, when she carded a 73. Lucas highlighted her second round 72 with birdies at Nos. 12 (a 30-foot putt) and 15. Those two are the only players under par for 36 holes. Both are at 1-under 143 on the recently-renovated course.

Forty-one of the 91 starters survived the 36-hole cut. They’ll begin play at 7 a.m. today with the leaders going off at 10 a.m.