Season Analysis: 6A Boys Individual Regional Winners

Caden Leonard (L), Benjamin Montgomery (LC), Matthew Montgomery RC), Hudson Haley (R)

Each year the entire state of Texas focuses its collective mind on a few days in October that make up the UIL Regional Championships. These few days are fraught with adversity, triumph, and heartbreak as many teams and individuals fight for the right to be denoted a state qualifier. This title means a lot, especially in a state as competitive as Texas where runners who train and fight valiantly often come up just short. The competition is gritty and cruel however, for those who make it it's a feeling like no other.

However, qualifying for the state meet is one thing, but winning a regional meet as an individual is another. So much of our collective attention around this time of year is often aimed at which teams can win and qualify, however, it often feels as though we tend to forget about the individuals who take home the victory themselves.

So with that being said, let's take a look at the seasons of our four 6A individual winners and see how they got to this point and what expectations we have of them going forward.

Southlake Carroll sophomore Caden Leonard won Region 1-6A

Region I: Caden Leonard

Being on what's historically been one of the best teams and dynasties the state has ever seen is one thing, however, having the task of leading that team every week is an entirely different beast. Whether it be the pressure to perform week after week or the weight of knowing even your spot is never guaranteed, not everyone is built to be in this position. However, for Southlake Carroll's Caden Leonard, taking up this task as just a sophomore has looked as easy as one could hope it to be.

Leonard came into the season after one of the best freshman seasons we've seen in a long time. Both on the grass and the track, Leonard impressed as he walked off the course at Old Settlers Park last November with a sixth-place finish in his first year. However, he wasn't done yet as his track season was arguably more impressive than his cross-country season. In the spring, Leonard came away with personal bests of 4:15 over 1600m, 9:06 over 3200m, and 14:33 over 5000m. It's safe to say these times were incredible however, we all expected Leonard to have a great season this fall and he's more than delivered.

Leonard started the year off at his home meet, the Southlake #1 XC Invite which saw many of the state's top teams travel to the DFW area to compete over a fast three-mile course. The race was fast and tight and Leonard ultimately came out second in a personal best of 14:32. However, he wasn't done over the three-mile distance as several weeks later at the 42nd Annual Woodbridge Cross Country Classic, he again dropped a personal best, this time by a huge margin finishing with a time of 14:16 which placed him just outside the top twenty.

While Leonard started the year well over three miles, we had to wait to see what he could do over a true 5000m course. But the wait was worth it as he debuted over 5000m at the Nike South Invitational where he ran away with the victory over a very talented field in a time of 15:06, smashing his previous personal best. Next, he ran away with another competitive meet as he dipped under the fifteen-minute mark for the first time on the grass by way of a 14:56 set at the UIL 6A-District 4 championship.

Most recently, Leonard won the UIL 1A-6A Region 1 Championship in a time of 15:12, helping Southlake Carroll secure yet another regional title. Given his incredible season, it wouldn't be crazy to think that Leonard is likely the favorite to win the individual state title here in just under two weeks. He's been nothing short of outstanding so far this year and look for him to continue this throughout the rest of his young career.

Bridgeland junior Benjamin Montgomery leads the Region 2-6A race

Region II: Benjamin Montgomery

Moving from one place to another is never easy for anyone, however, when moving forces you to come into a new program at such a pivotal time in your running career, that's more than difficult. However, for Bridgeland's Benjamin Montgomery, this surely must not have been on his mind as Montgomery has taken his move to Bridgeland in stride over the last year, quickly asserting himself along with his newfound team as one of the best young performers the state has to offer.

Montgomery came into this season in his second year with a Bridgeland program that's seen increasing levels of prominence in success over the last few years, partly thanks to his arrival. Bridgeland had already been a state qualifying program however Montgomery has helped elevate them to the upper echelon within the state.

Montgomery came into his sophomore season last year with impressive personal bests for anyone let alone a freshman, in the forms of 4:28 over 1600m and 9:38 over 3200m. However, Montgomery saw drastic improvement upon his arrival at Bridgeland last fall as he finished his first cross country season with the Bears with a personal best of 15:22 and a top twenty-five finish at the state meet to go along with it. These were no doubt impressive times given his age, however, the most impressive markers of Montgomery's improvement came on the track as he finished the spring with massive personal bests of 4:16 over 1600m and 9:00 over 3200m, the ladder of which places him as the top returner in the state.

Given these impressive improvements, Montgomery naturally had big expectations heading into this fall and it's safe to say he's met them to this point. He started his season off at arguably the most difficult course in Texas at the Hillacious Invite where he ran 15:56 in a dominant twenty-eight-second win. Montgomery then followed this up with another early season victory, this time at the Texas A&M High School Invitational where he ran 15:29 for another dominant win.

As the season continued, Montgomery began to face stiffer competition but this in no way affected him as he continued to produce podium places and wins. He finished third at the HOKA McNeil Invitational in 15:21, second at the Nike South Invitational in 15:22, and first at the UIL 6A-District 16 championships in 15:34.

Most recently, Montgomery won the UIL 2A-6A Region 2 Championship in a time of 15:20, a personal best over what is a deceivingly difficult course. Montgomery's path to this point has been nothing short of impressive and look for him to contend for the podium and possibly the win in Round Rock.

Katy Seven Lakes senior Matthew Montgomery (R) won Region 3-6A

Region III: Matthew Montgomery

The second regional winner with the last name Montgomery, Matthew Montgomery is an example of how consistently trusting the process and putting in the daily work can lead to great things. Montgomery has consistently improved throughout his career at Seven Lakes and his commitment was ultimately rewarded with taking home the victory on Monday, but to understand his victory, we have to understand how he got to be the runner he is today.

Currently a senior, Montgomery entered the Seven Lakes program as a freshman back in 2020, where due to obvious circumstances he was only able to run two races, finishing with a personal best of 17:04. Moving into his sophomore year, Montgomery got his first real taste of Texas cross country where he showed considerable improvement from  his freshman year, running a new personal best of 16:18 as well as breaking into the 4:20s and 9:40s on the track in the forms of 4:27 and 9:43 personal bests.

While these are all more than respectable times, Montgomery would really burst onto the scene in his junior season where he was able to run 15:37 in the fall, another big personal best. However, in the spring, Montgomery gave himself the momentum we've seen this season as he dropped huge personal bests of 4:22 over 1600m and 9:19 over 3200m, both of which gave him huge momentum and moved him into the upper echelon of Texas running that we see him in today.

Montgomery started his season over 5000m at his home race, the Seven Lakes Showcase where he fought hard for the victory in an extremely close race with a time of 15:26, a personal best. Next, he traveled to McKinney and placed seventh in one of the most stacked meets of the year, this time in 15:17 for another personal best. Then, Montgomery competed in the very competitive Nike South Invitational where he placed just outside the top ten but still in an impressive time of 15:34.

While it'd be safe to say that Montgomery had an impressive season up to this point, he turned it on even more when the championship season started as he opened up with a big victory at the UIL 6A-District 19 championships in a time of 15:13, yet another personal best. However, his best and most notable performance to date came at the UIL 2A-6A Region 3 Championship where he came away with the win in another personal best of 15:11.

Montgomery's story of improvement is truly inspiring for many runners around the state and goes to show that just because you don't start your career at the front, doesn't mean you can't finish it there. Look for Montgomery to fight for the podium at the state meet and continue improving as he'll take his talent to the University of North Texas next fall.

Austin Vandegrift junior Haley Hudson won Region 4-6A

Region IV: Hudson Haley

In the way that taking over the best team in the state is a daunting task, the same can be said for taking over for a two-time state champion as well as the second-best team in the state. Having shoes that big to fill isn't an enviable position for anyone to have, especially in our sport where success can be hard to come by. However, similar to Caden Leonard, this has been a pretty easy task all things considered for Vandegrift junior Hudson Haley.

Haley came into the season as a known commodity as he'd come off what was by far his best track season to date. Throughout the spring, we saw Haley run personal bests over four different distances where he showcased his incredible range. This range included a 1:59 800m, 4:16 1600m, 9:18 3200m, and a 14:52 5000m to top it off. Given these impressive times and the pressure of taking over for a state champion, many had high expectations for Haley coming into the fall and it's safe to say he's met and exceeded those expectations throughout the season.

Haley started the year off at the Southlake #1 XC Invite like many other of the state's top teams where he ran 14:34 over a three-mile course which was good enough for fifth. Next, he competed at the 21st Annual Patriots CC Invitational where he ran 14:35 over three miles and came away with his first victory of the season. After this, Haley traveled to California and competed in the 42nd Annual Woodbridge Cross Country Classic where he clocked a massive personal best of 14:08 over three miles for the victory.

It took until mid-September for Haley to compete over a true 5000m course, however, it was worth the wait as he fought valiantly for second place at the HOKA McNeil Invitational in a time of 15:18. Next, he ran only his second 5000m of the season at the UIL 6A-District 25 championship where he dropped a massive personal best of 15:06 to add another victory to his season's resume.

Most recently, Haley won the UIL 2A-6A Region 4 Championship by a pretty comfortable margin in a time of 15:22 while also helping Vandegrift to the team title. He's looked fresh and relaxed throughout his races over 5000m this year and don't be surprised to see him contending for the win at the state meet.