Nutley’s Montgomery named Observer Female Co-Athlete of the Year

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Grace Montgomery never thought she was doing anything special. The recent Nutley High School graduate just gravitated from soccer in the fall to basketball in the winter and outdoor track, particularly the javelin, in the spring. Just one after another. No big thing.

“During that season, whatever the sport was, I put my whole heart and soul into that sport,” Montgomery said. “In the summer, we would have captains’ practice for soccer, then I’d go play basketball in the summer league and then do running and workouts for track. Sure, it was difficult, but I had fun. I loved all three sports I played. It wasn’t that big of a deal because I had been doing them all my whole life. I couldn’t imagine just doing one of them.”

Soccer was the first sport in Montgomery’s life. Along with twin sister Meghan, the two formed a terrific twosome playing defense from a very young age, like from kindergarten on.

“They called them the ‘Twin Towers,’” said their father, William. “They were so tall and strong back there.”

“I think I was pretty good in soccer right away,” Grace Montgomery said.

Basketball then followed a year later.

“I guess I was pretty good in basketball as well,” Grace Montgomery said. “My parents were both good athletes, so that helped.”

William Montgomery played baseball and track and field at Bayonne High School, while mom Ellen played basketball at Secaucus High School and later was part of the swim team at St. Peter’s College.

“It helped that they were both into sports and got us into sports,” Montgomery said.

The javelin was the last of the Montgomery trifecta.

“I didn’t start throwing the javelin until the end of my sophomore year,” Montgomery said. “My uncle sort of mentioned that if I became good in the javelin, it would help me get into college.”

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The results were staggering. Montgomery was a standout defender on the Nutley girls’ soccer team that went undefeated in league play and won the Super Essex Conference- -Liberty Division title. She also averaged 13 points per game for the Nutley girls’ basketball team that posted a 10-2 SEC Liberty Division mark, good for second in the league.

But the cherry on the sundae was the latest. Montgomery came from way back in the pack to unleash a monstrous throw of 136 feet, two inches to become the overall state champion at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions last month. Montgomery entered the last day of competition as the 10th  seed in the entire state, saving her career best throw for last, capturing the gold. A week later, Montgomery went to the United States Track and Field High School Nationals in Charlotte, N.C., and Montgomery finished 14th out of 60 competitors nationwide.

For her efforts, Montgomery has been selected as the 2013-2014 Observer Female Co- Athlete of the Year, becoming only the second Nutley girl to receive the honor.

Former softball standout Kelly Rauco was the only other former Maroon Raider great to receive the award, getting the nod in 2006.

Montgomery is one of two recipients for the award given to the top local female high school athlete. The other Female Co-Athlete of the Year will be revealed in next week’s editions of The Observer.

“It’s incredible,” Montgomery said. “I’m pretty impressed. It’s a pretty huge deal. It’s all still pretty crazy to me. I worked so hard to get there.”

Her coaches all knew that Montgomery was someone special.

“She was a lock down defender for a team that won 18 games and won a league title,” said Nutley girls’ soccer coach Mike DiPiano. “We also reached the top 20 in the state for the first time. She never shied away from a tackle and always played a physical game. She was the stopper her sophomore year and we moved her to outside back and she never once complained about the move.”

DiPiano was asked what he would always remember about Montgomery.

“I think it’s her toughness,” DiPiano said. “She was banged up most of the time and yet, she was a three-sport athlete. I don’t know how many true three-sport athletes there are anymore. It’s a dying breed. She’s one of the last true three-sport athletes.”

Nutley girls’ basketball coach Larry Mitschow agreed.

“Grace was an unbelievable leader for us, both on and off the court,” Mitschow said. “She did a whole bunch of things for us.

She brought the ball up the floor. She was our second leading scorer. She was our top defender and she played injured for most of the season. She managed to work her way through it. She would defensively play the top player on the other team. She really was an important player for us.” Mitschow was asked what he would remember about Montgomery.

“Her personality,” Mitschow said. “She was just a joy to coach. I loved talking to her, being able to speak to her as an adult, speaking freely about anything and everything. There were no barriers between us. We jelled well right away. She was easy to talk to.”

Track coach Robert O’Dell raved about Montgomery’s accomplishments.

“She had an outstanding career,” O’Dell said. “She’s the first Meet of Champions winner we’ve had in 39 years and just the second in school history. It was a perfect ending to a great career, with the drama of the last throw. She had an outstanding season that won’t be replicated for a long while.”

O’Dell was also asked what he would remember.

“Her ability to compete,” O’Dell said. “She competed and competed and was able to pull out that clutch throw.”

Montgomery will now take her immense talents to Rowan University, where she will solely compete in the javelin. Her soccer and basketball careers seem to be over.

“It’s going to be pretty different, competing in just one sport,” Montgomery said. “But I know that if I concentrated the whole year on one sport, I could be really good. It was always about three sports, but now, I’m excited to focus on just the javelin the whole time.”

Montgomery is still undecided about a major at Rowan, but one thing is for sure: She left Nutley High School with a legacy of greatness, of determination, of playing through pain and never giving up. That’s the reason she has been selected as the area’s top female athlete – or at the very least, a share of the top billing.

We’ll learn about the other Female Athlete of the Year next week.

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