Player of the year isn't a new occurrence for Cibola runner Bernie Montoya, but that doesn't mean it still isn't special.
This is Montoya's third-straight Yuma Sun/Yuma Rotary Club Cross Country Player of the Year, and he said each award makes him more humble than the last.
“It's definitely a huge honor, I'm really happy to have it. It was awesome sophomore year, junior year and it's still even special to me now. It's been really fun to represent Cibola, the city of Yuma and even the state. You're representing something big, and people see that and respect that.”
The regular season saw Montoya reach several goals, including breaking 15 minutes in a 5K race for the first time. He'd come close before, as close as a 15:02, but shattered it by 33 seconds this year running a 14:27.25 at the Division I Section 1 race in Glendale.
“That was a big improvement for me. I had a great time with the team, the teammates were great. A lot of fun memories, the out-of-town trips, it's been fun to represent and definitely got our name out there.”
Even after going undefeated during the season and defending his state title successfully, the Nike Cross Regionals still loomed large for Montoya and his teammates.
“It's mostly just keeping our mileage up, aerobically still getting our engines going,” Montoya said. “Pretty soon we'll be cutting down the miles and getting into fast, quicker stuff. It's just the basics, it's nothing too different, we're just running the miles.”
Cibola head coach Kris Norton was relieved to see that Montoya accomplished all he had done, even with all of the distractions that have come his way. Between the phone calls, recruiting trips and media requests, Montoya had a full plate.
“We've had over 10 coaches fly in to Yuma to visit with him and his mom and dad,” Norton said. “And he had to pick five of those to go make trips to. It gets so challenging but he handles it so well.”
Montoya won the Nike Regionals Southwest 5K with a time of 14:48.50 and qualified for Nike Nationals.
“I've been real pleased with how he's kept that underdog mind-set,” Norton said. “People are going to be shooting for him but still running scared because of that.”
On Dec. 1 Montoya ran in the Nike Cross Nationals 5K in Portland, Ore. He ran a 17:44.00, which landed him in 22nd overall.
Now that cross country season is officially over, Montoya will take it easy, but not for too long.
“It's about a two-month gap,” Montoya said about the offseason between cross country and track. “We take our two weeks off, it's a lot less stressful. We slowly get into running, just for fun, get out the door and run for about an hour. Just kind of getting ready for track season, just build our engine for track season. We'll see how it goes.”
That laid-back, go-with-the-flow attitude seems to mask the incredible work ethic behind Yuma's fastest, a crown that won't soon be awarded again.
Matt Carstens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 539-6880. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSMattCarstens.