For those who thought Nicole Montgomery was pretty fast after her 4A state-meet record in the 400 meters in May, check out the Lewis-Palmer runner's mindset heading into her junior year.

"I've gotten really serious when it comes to track now," Montgomery said. "It's not that I wasn't before, but I'm an upperclassman now, and I have to be a leader. I'm taking weightlifting classes to help me get my times down. I can't slack off anymore."

No one would have doubted Montgomery's training May 18 at the 4A state meet in Lakewood, when she crossed the finish line in a blazing 54.23 seconds, the fastest 400 ever at the 4A state championships.

While she reveled in victory, the afterglow didn't last long. Mere minutes later, 5A Regis senior Ana Holland put the Jeffco Stadium crowd on its ear with a Colorado prep state-record time of 52.49.

Soon, Montgomery thinks she can do better, possibly standing alone in state history.

"I honestly didn't know there was such a thing as a meet record at state, so when it happened, I thought it was pretty cool," Montgomery said. "Ana is such a great competitor, and I knew her time would be fast. I do think about what she did. Maybe I'll be able to do that."

Montgomery, an outside hitter on the volleyball team who helped the Rangers win the 4A state title in November, also placed third in the 200 meters and ran the anchor on the record-setting 800 sprint relay.

New Rangers coach Nancy Pellow, who got to know Montgomery when she was coaching volleyball at Rampart, can hardly wait to see what the next two track seasons will bring.

"Anybody who's a fan of track and field would love the way she runs," Pellow said. "To have done that as a sophomore, that's incredible. She's just getting better and better as we work with her technique and she develops and gets even stronger."

More incredible might be the fact that Montgomery didn't start running competitively until she was an eighth-grader at Discovery Canyon, having started volleyball four years earlier.

"I ran for 400 for fun," Montgomery said. "It just happened, I guess."

While Montgomery admits she still enjoys running, there's a fair bit of pressure that goes with entering a season as the reigning champion.

"I am a little nervous this year," Montgomery said. "I'll be the target now, and I never realized I could feel this much pressure. Since I won the 400 last year, now I have to win it again, right?

"Honestly, I'm not going to be mad at myself if I lose, as long as I give everything I have."