Pair of frosh lead cross country team into state meet
By Sisco Molina
WORLAND – Make a list of
athletes you know that competed at the varsity level as a
freshman. Pretty small list, right?
Now, of those you listed make another list of athletes that were the team’s most successful asset as freshmen. It just got smaller, didn’t it?
It’s atypical to see freshmen lead a team because more often than not, they aren’t mature enough both physically and mentally.
Most team sports – like football, volleyball and basketball – have three levels so kids have time to develop within the program.
But in cross country, it’s not rare to see a freshman compete as a member of the varsity team. What’s not expected, though, is to have a freshman leading your team.
Well in Worland’s case… they have two.
Kelliana Montanez and Jadon Swalstad have been leading their respective girls and boys squads all season long.
Both earned All-Conference honors last week at the Absaroka Conference Meet and both are expected to finish top 10 and with All-State honors this weekend as well.
Not typical of your everyday freshmen. But as Montanez and Swalstad have shown all year long, they’re far from typical.
Ben Sandy coached both Montanez and Swalstad when they were in middle school last year, so when he was called upon to head the high school team this year he knew what he was getting with the two talented freshmen coming in.
“I coached middle school track and had Jadon and Kelliana last year,” said the first year coach. “I didn’t really know who the high school runners were (coming into this year) so I knew those two would definitely be in the top seven – I just didn’t know where.”
Serving as a pleasant surprise, the two quickly surfaced as the cream of the crop for the Warriors.
“I know for a fact Kelliana trained over the summer and came into the season fit. I’m not sure how much Jadon trained in the summer and he’s certainly gotten more fit as the season’s gone on,” said Sandy. “That’s what I’m pleased with is how well they’ve progressed throughout the season.
“The proof is in how much commitment you have in the offseason. As a coach you can tell who’s put in the work and this season it’s showing.”
Coming in at 14 or 15 years old, the pressure of competing against much older, experienced opponents can be intimidating.
Upperclassmen have the advantage of knowing the course – knowing how long to hold off and when to make their break. They’ve seen places a time or two before while the freshmen are just getting their feet wet, so to speak.
The pressure may seem insurmountable to some, but not Swalstad.
“I’ve never gotten nervous before a race,” he said. “I just go put all of my heart out there on the course.”
Montanez – on the other hand – feels it every time in the moments leading up to a race.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” she said when asked if she ever gets nervous. “It’s scary just knowing they’re so much more experienced than you and they’ve done all these courses and ran them before. I get really nervous before all the races.”
But something they both agree on is the fact neither expected to be competing as well as they are in only their first year.
“I was the top runner for middle school so I figured I’d come in strong for high school, too,” Swalstad said. “I didn’t really expect to be as far up as I am now – but I’ve worked hard for it.”
Montanez added, “I never thought I’d be this successful in my first year of high school. It’s been fun but I never really expected this.”
Sandy is very critical of Swalstad and Montanez. He knows they’re the two best runners on the team; but, he also knows the ceiling of what each of them can accomplish is high and one neither is even close to reaching.
They still have a lot of room to grow as runners, but they have to want to get there.
“They’re the top runners on the team but they’re freshmen and they need to work as they go up,” said Sandy. “As sophomores, juniors and seniors I’m hoping they’ll mature and develop even better than they are now.”
Both Montanez and Swalstad mentioned they want to move up on the leaderboards throughout their respective careers at Worland High School.
When asked about a state championship, Montanez responded with a smile, “That would be nice.”
It’s certainly not out of the question this year for both freshmen. At the very least, they’ll be putting the rest of the competition on notice as if to say, “Watch out 3A world, you’ll be seeing us for the next three years.”
Continued in today's issue of the DAILY NEWS. Subscribe here