Most track and field athletes set their sights on a goal and celebrate reaching it.
Not Payden Montana.
She kept moving the bar higher for herself.
That’s how the Berwick star became a three-time District 2 champion, a two-time PIAA champion, and finally, the national shot put champion on her way to earning her second straight Times Leader Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year award.
“I don’t think, as an athlete, I’ll ever be content,” Montana said.
Still, she had to be pleased with a senior 2018 season that made her the most decorated athlete in Berwick history and sent her to Pennsylvania track and field’s version of the triple crown.
She won the high school girls shot put competition at the prestigious Penn Relays.
She won the PIAA Class 3A girls shot put championship.
And finally, the 18-year-old daughter of Gray and Beth Montana of Berwick won the girls shot put at the New Balance National Championships, cementing her as the best in the nation.
“Those kids come around once in a lifetime,” Berwick coach Bob Calarco said. “If that.”
There were no ifs, ands or buts about who was the most dominant thrower in Northeastern Pennsylvania and state history.
Montana won in all seven of her regular season meets — easily — while throwing the shot put, discus and javelin for the Bulldogs. With little competition from the opposition, Montana used herself as a measuring stick and set school records in all three throwing events, over and over and over again.
But she was at her best on the biggest stages.
Montana, who will throw for Penn State next season, won the Penn Relays with a shot put throw of 50-7.
She won her third District 2 Class 3A shot put championship and broke the record she set as a junior with a throw of 50-4 and captured the district discus gold medal that eluded her throughout her career by setting a District 2 record for all levels in that event with a throw of 154-8.
She not only defended her state shot put championship while becoming Berwick’s first two-time gold medal track and field winner, but shattered the PIAA Championships record with a distance of 51 feet. Then Montana made it two gold medals in two days by matching her district distance of 154-8 to win the state discus championship.
And at the New Balance National Championships, she unleashed a throw of 49-11.75 to beat the best high school girls from around the country.
“I want to do everything to the best it can be done,” Montana said. “I am driven.”
It’s what made her the best.
But it hardly made her act like she had an edge on anyone.
Calarco points to this year’s state championships, where Montana roomed with another competitor from the Wyoming Valley Conference and the two girls got talking about their state seedings.
“The girls asked Payden where she was seeded, and Payden said, ‘I’m seeded first,’ “ Calarco said. “The other girl said, ‘Oh, you must be pretty good.’ And Payden said, ‘Yeah, I’m alright.’
”Payden’s the most humble, unassuming big-time performer you’re ever going to meet,” Calarco said. “That’s how she is and that’s how she’s always been. The other girl later reaalized who she was and said, ‘Wait, you’re that girl they’re always talking about.’ “
Montana put together a whole season of must-watch performances, but it didn’t happen by accident — or without sacrifice.
A softball player when she was younger, Montana turned to track and field in 7th grade while looking to participate in something new. A standout on Berwick’s basketball team as a sophomore, Montana gave up that sport to concentrate on throwing during the winter indoor season.
She began training at Garage Strength in the Reading area two years ago and spent countless hours at Berwick’s track, throwing on her own and with nobody around, almost daily during the last two offseasons.
“She’s the most dedicated, hardest-working athlete I’ve ever seen in all my years of coaching,” said Calarco, who has worked with athletes in multiple sports for the past three decades.
That competitive fire isn’t limited to sporting events.
Montana maintained a straight-A average throughout her high school years and was Berwick’s senior class president.
“I’ve kind of always had that personality,” Montana said. “Even before sports, my family tells stories about that personality always being there. Every competition I was in since middle school, I’ve had the same mindset.”
Now, her mind is set on making the USA Olympic team as a thrower — either during her college career at Penn State or after.
“As soon as I can get there,” Montana said. “I’m hoping to have a pretty successful college career and on to the Olympics.”
After a high school career that put her on top of the nation, nothing seems out of her reach.
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski