6A Preseason Preview: Benjamin Montgomery

Benjamin Montgomery leads a the lead pack of runners at the 2023 Region 2-6A meet

With summer training programs now in full swing for the state's top teams, it's time for us to continue our deep dive into who the true contenders are for this year's state title. Last week, we discussed the continued evolution of defending state champion Caden Leonard and the tall task the many contenders for this year's crown have ahead of them. That being said, this contender is the only other runner who also holds claim to a state title over the last year.

Bridgeland's Benjamin Montgomery has proven to be an impressive force on the distance running scene throughout his entire career. He's one of those rare guys who comes into high school as a freshman and immediately impresses and gets people talking.

Montgomery was able to run 4:28.98 over 1600m and 9:38.64 in his first year of high school competition at San Antonio Northside Holmes, however, Montgomery's subsequent improvement would make these times seem like a split in a cross-country race rather than personal bests.

Montgomery's Journey At Bridgeland

Montgomery moved to Houston after the conclusion of his freshman year and settled on Bridgeland as his program of choice rather than what some would consider to be more proven options like The Woodlands or Katy Tompkins. At the start of the 2022-2023 season, Bridgeland had only made one appearance at the state meet but they had proven themselves in producing great individual talent. Furthermore, Bridgeland's emerging young core coupled with coach Kevin Waters' outstanding track record made the Bears an attractive option for Montgomery.

Heading into his sophomore campaign, it would be fair to say that expectations for Montgomery were high from an internal perspective. However, to say this was entirely reflected from an outside perspective wouldn't have been entirely accurate. Despite the high expectations and the pressure of settling into a new program, Montgomery quickly proved himself as the team's top runner as he consistently placed inside the top ten at big meets and scored big points for the team.

The best performance of his sophomore season came at the Nike South Invitational where he was able to run a huge personal best of 15:22.80 which got him ninth in a race that always sees the state's best. Montgomery would go on to finish 22nd at the 2022 state meet which wasn't what he was looking for, however, going from not qualifying to placing that high and running in the 15:20s created a lot of excitement for the coming spring.

Heading into the spring, there was a lot of anticipation surrounding Montgomery's season as his results up to this point had shown that the track was where he shined. Couple his previous performances with his sizable improvement in the fall and it looked like we could see the emergence of a new elite talent. Well, that's exactly what we got as Montgomery knocked it out of the park and fully announced his arrival onto the state's elite running scene.

He started the season off hot, dropping his 3200m personal best by 26 seconds from 9:38.64 to 9:12.00 in his debut race and going on to double that day, lowering his 1600m personal best from 4:28.98 to 4:23.80. Continually lowering his personal bests would quickly become a trend for Montgomery as week after week his performances continually improved.

In addition to showcasing his impressive abilities over the traditional 1600m and 3200m distances, Montgomery also broke the 15:00 barrier for the first time at Texas Distance Festival where he ran 14:53.41 on the track.

Montgomery Emerges As One of Texas' Best

While there's no question that Montgomery's performances were impressive, it remained to be seen what he could do when championship season rolled around. He easily qualified for regionals in both the 1600m and 3200m but decided to go all in on the 3200m, despite running 4:16.97 at the area meet. While only getting to see him contest one race was disappointing, Montgomery's gamble paid off as he went on to win the 3200m in a time of 9:18.99, closing the final 400m in 59 seconds.

The 2023 state meet was the first time we got to see Montgomery go head-to-head with the state's best on the track and he didn't disappoint. While he surely would've liked to end up on the podium, running 9:00.71 for 5th place as a sophomore was incredibly impressive and set him up as the state's top returner for the 2024 meet.

Heading into the 2023 cross-country season, Montgomery had fully cemented himself as one of the top contenders for the state title. He'd gone from a surprise improvement to one of the favorites in just over a year, making his season an intriguing one to watch. He quickly carried his momentum from the spring into the fall as he won the incredibly difficult Hillacious meet and the Texas A&M High School Invitational easily. He then went on to place third at the McNeil Invitational and second at Nike South behind Caden Leonard.

While we hadn't gotten to see Montgomery run super fast up to this point in the season, that was intentional. Bridgeland's training and meet schedule is based almost entirely on course difficulty and championship preparation rather than running fast times. Everything is geared towards putting the Bears in the best possible shape for when it matters and if that compromises their results on paper early in the season, that's fine.

As the championship season rolled around Montgomery had tallied four wins to his name against stellar competition. We knew he was ready to run fast and that's exactly what he did as he won the Region 2 championship easily and looked to be in prime condition heading into the state meet.

Benjamin Montgomery runs to the finish line at the 2023 Region 2-6A meet

Montgomery put up a valiant effort in Round Rock, running in the top two for most of the race and even leading at one stage but he ultimately came home third. While this was a disappointment for him as he expected to win, his performance was still impressive and marked yet another sizable improvement.

He then went on to compete at the NXR South Regional where he set a new cross-country personal best in the form of a 15:00.20, qualifying him for Nike Cross Nationals in fifth place. He placed 36th at NXN, running 15:44.70 which positions him to be one of the top fifteen returners should he qualify for NXN again this year.

Massive improvements, a podium at the state meet, and an NXN birth were all things to be proud of for Benjamin Montgomery. But it's no secret that heading into the spring, winning a state title was the goal. He opened up his season in February with a 4:17.17 and 9:07.83 double at the Sam Mosley Relays and continued to build on this as the season went on.

The theme of Montgomery's season was consistency as he ran all seven 3200m races under 9:10 and all six 1600m races under 4:18. As the state meet rolled around Montgomery had won 80% of his races and looked to be in prime shape when he arrived in Austin. This year's 3200m race proved to be the closest we've seen in years as the top two were only separated by .07 seconds, but it was Montgomery who ultimately came out with the victory over cross-country state champion Caden Leonard.

What Does 2024 Cross Season Have In Store For Montgomery

Coming into the fall this year, Montgomery holds a unique distinction as the second of two state champions that will be in the field at this year's state meet. His improvement over the last two years has been stark and signals the continued evolution of someone who loves everything hard about our sport.

Montgomery's main strength is his ability to run smart, he's one of the smartest racers I've seen in a while as his moves are always perfectly timed and set him up for victory. Another strength of Montgomery's is his ability to control the pace at the front and still leave a sub-60-second finish over the last quarter mile at the end if it's needed. He's proven that he has the ability to run fast while also racing smart and that's what makes him such a dangerous contender for the state title this year.

In terms of training, Bridgeland isn't the heaviest mileage program in comparison to some of the state's other top teams. The Bears have always focused more on a gradual build-up that allows for maximized individual performance that aids team success when it matters. Put simply, everything is training until the meets that matter in November.

The interesting thing regarding Montgomery and his training will be how much mileage they want him to run given the fact that they traditionally aren't a high mileage program. He'll likely run higher mileage than the rest of the team but I wouldn't expect him to see a drastic increase in his training load as it's evident that what he's been doing over the last two years at Bridgeland has worked just fine.

The goal for Montgomery will undoubtedly be to win the state title and to compete at NXN again. He's already proven himself as a state champion, and he looks to have one of the best chances to do so again this fall.