By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
After winning the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III championship in the javelin two weeks ago, followed up by a third place finish at the overall Group III championship a week later, Nutley senior Grace Montgomery went to last week’s NJSIAA Meet of Champions with no glories of grandeur.
“I wanted to get a medal, but I didn’t think it would happen,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery was seeded 12th in the deeply talented pack and only the top eight bring home medals.
“I was hoping to get into the finals, but I didn’t think I’d make it,” Montgomery said. “I was pretty nervous.” Montgomery’s nerves started to get the best of her, when she was selected to go first.
“It was a mix of pressure and nerves,” Montgomery said.
Her first throw at the Meet of Champions at Frank Jost Field in South Plainfield was good for 125 feet, just below Montgomery’s personal best, but certainly not enough to contend for a metal.
The next four of Montgomery’s attempts were less than awe inspiring. She threw 120 feet, then fouled, then reached 120 feet two more times.
“I figured out I was in ninth place there,” Montgomery said. “I figured I wasn’t even going to get a medal.”
Montgomery didn’t even hold the school record anymore. That distinction belonged to teammate Leah Negra, who threw 129 feet to top Montgomery’s personal best throw of 128 at the North 2, Group III state sectionals.
Now, even more disaster struck.
“The javelin that I had become accustomed to, the one I had been using all year, had snapped in half during practice,” Montgomery said. “I was kind of upset.”
Nutley veteran head coach Bob O’Dell knew that Montgomery had the talent to become an elite javelin thrower.
“She has been working with assistant coach Chris Bradley (who went to the M of C during his senior year at Nutley in 2008, before going on to compete at a high level at Rutgers),” O’Dell said. “We’ve had a tradition of good javelin throwers here. It was just a question of whether Grace had one in her to put her over the top.”
On her final high school throw, Montgomery gave it all she had and unfurled a throw of a lifetime.
“When she let it go, we both looked at each other and said, `Where did that come from?’” O’Dell said.
“I let it go and I was at first disappointed,” Montgomery said. “I thought it was at the 120 (foot) line. But then I ran out and I noticed it was much further, like the 140 (foot) line. I was so shocked. I couldn’t believe it.”
Montgomery’s final throw traveled 136 feet, which catapulted her to the lead. Montgomery had the best throw in the entire state.
But her day wasn’t over. Five other girls still had attempts remaining.
“I was a little worried,” Montgomery said. “I thought there were girls who could throw it further. It was a little nerve wracking. I was watching them so closely. I didn’t want them to have a good throw. I still couldn’t believe it. I was in ninth place before that throw and now I’m in first.”
Montgomery really didn’t have much time to prepare for the Meet of Champs. You see, she’s been battling shoulder tendinitis and has been competing all bandaged up on the right shoulder – with no practice during the week.
“I’ve been going to a chiropractor three times a week just to get ready to compete,” Montgomery said. “I haven’t been taking any throws except in meets for weeks.”
But here she was, standing on the thresholds of pulling off the miracle.
“Shocked isn’t the right word,” Montgomery said. “I think happy and surprised is a better word. But I wasn’t shocked. I knew the talent was there. I knew she had it in her. She had the ability. She’s a very good athlete.”
Montgomery’s final throw stood up. She was indeed the Meet of Champions gold medal winner in the javelin. She became the first Nutley track and field athlete to earn a gold medal at the Meet of Champions since Carol Conlon won the two-mile run in 1975.
“I just didn’t believe it,” Montgomery said. “I never would have believed it.”
For her efforts, Montgomery has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week, the final honoree for the 2013-14 scholastic sports year. The Observer will present the Male and Female Athletes of the Year in the weeks to come.
Montgomery is just a superb athlete. She’s an All-SEC defender for the Nutley girls’ soccer team and was one of the leading scorers for the Nutley girls’ basketball team. She competes on teams with her twin sister Meghan.
In fact, after she won the gold medal at the M of C, Montgomery went home to Nutley and received the school’s Most Outstanding Female Athlete. Sabino Gabriele earned the boys’ nod.
Montgomery will continue her track career at Rowan University in the fall. Her sister will join her at Rowan and also compete in track and field there.
Montgomery also ran in the 800-meter run and the 400-meter hurdles this season, but throwing the javelin is her bread and butter.
“It’s been a great year,” Montgomery said. “I’m still kind of in a state of shock. It’s the best feeling in the world. I have been working solid all season. I’m glad it paid off.”
“You couldn’t write a better script,” O’Dell said. “It’s like batting in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the World Series and hitting a game-winning home run. It’s that kind of thing. She always had a little flair for the dramatic.” O’Dell knows that Montgomery has now permanently raised the bar for his track and field program.
“It’s a tough standard for others to follow,” O’Dell said. “But it’s a good record.”
Oh, by the way, Montgomery regained her old school record with her state-winning throw. She’ll take that mark to the high school nationals next week in Greensboro, North Carolina.