Of all the eye-popping achievements Berwick thrower Payden Montana produced during a record-breaking season, there’s one she’ll always hold dear.
“I would say my proudest moment was winning the state title,” Montana said.
It’s what she dreamed about.
It’s what she worked for.
It’s why she gave up girls basketball.
And it’s a big reason for Montana’s selection as the 2017 Times Leader girls track and field athlete of the year.
And while her throw of 47-feet, 3 inches didn’t set any state records in the shot put, it solidified Montana’s decision to focus exclusively on her first love — track and field.
Making that choice wasn’t easy for her.
Montana was not only a starter, but a main cog for a Berwick girls basketball team that was primed for a big season this winter. But as the Bulldogs advanced to the District 2 Class 4A championship basketball game, won a state tournament opener and made it to the second round of states for the first time in more than a decade, they did it without Montana.
She was busy competing in the indoor track season, where Montana finished second in the state in shot put.
That near-miss only inspired her to an outdoor track season for the ages this spring.
But the feeling she found at the top of the state podium after winning the PIAA Class 3A shot put made it well-worth it.
“I’d say it was,” Montana, a 17-year-old junior, said. “Track and field has always been my favorite sport. I would say I could not have done both. My indoor season conflicted a lot with basketball season. I tried to do it last year, but basketball was a big problem. I had a lot of (indoor track) meets I couldn’t go to, because of basketball games or practice.”
It turns out, practicing her throws all winter made for an almost-perfect season for Montana.
Already the school record-holder in the shot put entering this season, Montana re-set that record twice during the year and also set Berwick records in discus and javelin throws.
The daughter of Gray and Beth Montana of Berwick won her second straight District 2 Class 3A gold medal in shot put by breaking the 14-year-old district mark with a throw of 44-9 to win the competition by more than 10 feet. Then she won the state title, after making the PIAA medal stand in both shot put and discus in 2016, before going on to make the national shot put finals — where Montana finished seventh in the country.
And those personal championship moments came after a season in which Montana was a mainstay for a Berwick team that shared the WVC Division 2 title for Lake-Lehman.
“Many times I was telling the girls about how we were going to get points,” Berwick coach Bob Calarco said, “A number of them said, ‘We can count on Payden for her 15.’ The great thing about Payden, she doesn’t see that as pressure. Her first experience at states gave her a taste of what it was like to be a champion at that level, and gave her a drive to excel and maybe go beyond that.”
It wasn’t simply a matter of strength, either.
Although Montana explained weightlifting is a big part of her throwing success, she was quick to point out that technique and form play a much larger part in attaining higher marks in the field.
“I think there’s a lot more to it. She’s perfected her technique,” said Calarco, who is also Berwick’s assistant girls basketball coach and has been involved in coaching for more than 30 years. “If you look at Payden, I don’t think she’s the stereotypical thrower. She shocks a lot of people. The thing that makes her stand out is her dedication to perfecting her technique. She videotapes herself and studies that technique. She’s throwing 12, 15 feet farther than she was as a freshman.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody with that amount of self-discipline and that amount of desire.”