David Montgomery’s goal for Highland Cross Country every season is clear: make the state meet.
He doesn’t want runners to get afraid or too hyped up regarding goals. Instead, he preaches consistency as the hallmark of his program.
Before living in Arizona, Montgomery lived in Eugene, home to the University of Oregon and one of the top collegiate track and field programs in the country. He learned from some of the Ducks’ coaches and applies elements of their experience into the Hawks today.
According to Montgomery, Highland is not a high-mileage team in practice, with summer runs and a smaller winter track program for distance runners. Yet their success on the course is evident.
The Girls squad finished second in the AIA Cross Country Championships last season with two top five finishers. The Boys team finished third with two runners in the top 10.
“Consistency is what’s really held us,” Montgomery said. “It’s not magic. I’ve learned over the years what to do. Our culture is really incredible and the kids buy in and they become like a family. My goal is that they leave the program and they had a good experience and they were successful at some point.”
Part of this philosophy involves Montgomery not worrying about winning meets including state. It is that he wants to make sure the team can do the best it can. And it works.
The Hawks, currently composed of 110 runners, run at 5:00 a.m. Every single runner showed up, according to Montgomery. This had developed a unique bond within the program.
According to senior Wyatt Williams, setting an example for the team starts with the upperclassmen. Williams and his teammates make it a priority to speak with runners, especially the incoming freshmen, about the right mindset to run with, which helps create a positive atmosphere.
Williams, who placed 23rd overall in the Cross Country Championships with a time of 16:26.2, feels like the training in place has the Hawks poised for a strong 2021 season.
“We get the distance runs, we get the workouts and we do a lot of stretching and just really work on ourselves,” Williams said. “I’ve seen it personally with me and a bunch of other teammates. It’s really helped a lot of people improve and it’s led us to a lot of success.”
This family-like atmosphere has played a key role in training. On the track, runners are cheering on people finishing their reps and if one is running, they will likely hear their teammates encouraging them. These bonds extend to off the track and course as well. Runners meet for breakfast after practice and hold movie nights.
For junior Emma Baugh, she is not only a leader in races — she finished fifth in the state championship with a time of 18:04.8. She is a captain who feels mentorship is an instrumental responsibility. Teammates pick “little brothers” and “little sisters” to help them acclimate to Highland Cross Country and generate their inclusion into the team.
“We also make sure they know how we act,” Baugh said. “I definitely feel that responsibility, but I like it.”
The Hawks have promising talent in both upperclassmen — junior Kayla Case placed third in states with a time of 18:01.9 — and underclassmen — sophomore Crewe Resendez finished 20th with a time of 16:17.5.
With a time trial approaching in a few weeks, Montgomery will get a gauge on where the Boys and Girls teams are ahead of the upcoming season. But if one thing’s clear, it’s that his squads are ready to run.
“They’re really fired up,” Montgomery said. “They’re just excited to get going and see what they can do.”
Gilbert teams ready for 2021 season
The Knights’ Boys Golf team appeared in the AIA State Championships in Tucson, the conclusion of a season highlighted by a second-place finish in a September matchup against three high schools at Las Colinas Golf Course. In 2019, Higley won the AIA Division II State Championship — its first title in school history. Under Ted Horn, the Knights are looking to carry the momentum of the last two seasons.
Perry’s dynasty in badminton carried over once again to the new season in 2020, as the Pumas captured their fourth straight title. Out of Perry’s top three players from last year – Kate Macpherson, Nikhita Jayaraj and Ashley Rodarte – only Jayaraj will return. However, as has been the case in recent years, the Pumas are poised to reload and chase yet another Division I title.
The Black Hawks’ Volleyball team struggled in 2020, winning just four games and suffering a six-game losing streak to start the season. After its 4-11 campaign, Williams Field is readying for a 2021 season with much of its roster intact. Senior setter Jordan Ebner and outside hitter Tallia Benson are two members to watch as the Black Hawks look to right their performance following last season.
In 2020, Camp Verde’s Cross Country teams flourished at the 2020 AIA State Championships. The Boys placed third, while the Girls placed sixth. Three runners earned medals including Clara Jones, who set the school record for a 5k in 18:09. Last year’s success gives head coach Josh Applebach a strong foundation for the 2021 season.
The Tigers’ Volleyball program was the No. 1 seed in its region in 2020, going 8-0 and finishing No. 9 overall in Division 5A with an 11-3 record. Despite losing to Arcadia in states in four sets, Gilbert has a foundation for the 2021 season. Outside hitter Kayden Long and setter Sutton Dana return to the Tigers, who also went undefeated in their region in 2019.
The Wildcats flourished in badminton in 2020, going 8-1 in its region — good enough for a No. 2 seed — and earning a 10-1 overall record. Despite a loss to Prescott in the second round of states, Mesquite won 10 straight games and returns key pieces like rising seniors Kimiye Westover and Isabella Gonzales for the 2021 season.
American Leadership Academy – Gilbert North
In the 2020 AIA Division III State Championship, Gilbert North’s top finisher was Sam Shirley in 37th place with a time of 17:45. The next Patriot finished in 106th place. Coming in 17th out of 18th place, Gilbert North’s Cross Country program will likely use the 2021 season as a building block towards eventual contention for a title.
Despite competing in only three meets last year, Gilbert Christian’s Boys Swim returns talent including senior James Grone and sophomore Owen Kempiak. The Girls squad also competed in three meets, with every member of the team returning for the 2021 season. It is led by three rising seniors including Tatum Brown.
San Tan Charter
Finishing No. 15 in Division 2A, San Tan Charter School’s Volleyball team found success in its region, winning 10 games for a No. 3 seed. Its overall record was 13-5. Losing in the play-in to St. Augustine in five sets, the Roadrunners return talent including junior setter Alie Oswald and senior outside hitter Arianna Widders.
The Chargers’ Boys Cross Country team appeared in the AIA Division IV State Meet following its fourth-place showing at sectionals. Led by Wes Lannuier, who finished third, Arete Prep is looking to carry over their success to 2021. Meanwhile, the Girls Cross Country team, which failed to qualify any individuals and the team for States, are looking to make it back to the premier postseason competition this year.
Leading Edge Academy – Gilbert
In Division 1A, the Spartans finished 8-7 and lost in the second round of states in three sets to Anthem Prep. Leading Edge previously lost in the play-in game in 2019, so 2021 may be a season in which the Spartans look to go further in the postseason. To do so, performing well outside their division will be key.