Geneva's Montgomery savors
2 sports worth of titles, teammates
By Dave Owen
Try to find a player with a busier schedule and more multi-sport accolades than Katie Montgomery.
It may be easier to sneak a 60-yard shot past the Geneva all-state goalkeeper.
Having won one IHSA Class 4A state basketball championship with the Vikings and three Illinois State Cup titles for Campton United Soccer Club of St. Charles, Montgomery had an award-winning run through high school that was matched by strong academics.
But ask Montgomery, and those great accomplishments spring from great coaches, teammates and role models.
”Both Geneva soccer and Geneva basketball are families,” Montgomery said. “When you join into that, you have people that care about you and will support you and want the best out of you. It’s the best thing to be a part of. I’m so grateful that I’ve had the chance to play two sports at Geneva that have been incredible.”
Incredible certainly sums up Montgomery’s varsity soccer experiences at Geneva, both on the field and off.
”It’s a program like no other,” Montgomery said. “We want to win, compete and play hard, but at the end of the day coach (Megan) Owens really cares about the kind of people that come through the program and how we turn out. She’s always staying connected with us, and really cares about how we’re doing.”
That extra connection really came into play this spring, as the COVID-19 virus first suspended the season in mid-March.
”With everything that’s been going on, coach did a great job supplying workouts for us to do to stay active,” Montgomery said. “We were doing team bonding for an hour a day, keeping the girls close and just waiting to come back for the call when we could be on the field again.”
Unfortunately, that call never came. In late April, the IHSA officially cancelled the season.
”I’ve been itching to play right now and get some training in,” Montgomery said. “And there were a lot of girls (12) in the senior class this year that are going to go on and play college soccer at different levels. A lot of them are very motivated to step back on the field.”
Montgomery will be taking that next step at a high level. She hopes to get back on the pitch for Division I soccer this fall at Missouri State, where she will major in pre-med.
But as bright as that future is, the road there was filled with an incredible history of success.
Most successful of all was her time between the pipes for Campton United.
”I was a part of the Illinois state (club) champ three times in a row,” Montgomery said. “Last year we won and got the bid into (the 2020) regionals, but unfortunately regionals won’t be happening this summer (due to COVID-19).
”Two of the state-title teams (for Campton) went on to take third at nationals, which was a crazy experience as well,” Montgomery added. “That was a very talented group of girls who are playing at some pretty high-level schools now. They’re absolutely tearing it up in college.”
But while Campton United was building an Illinois club soccer dynasty, Montgomery was part of a similar title tradition in Geneva basketball.
In her sophomore season, she was a top reserve on the Vikings’ squad that defeated Montini 28-26 in the Class 4A state finals for the program’s second-straight state title.
”It was a crazy experience, unforgettable,” Montgomery said. “That team had some great leaders. The senior class was outstanding on the court and outstanding off the court.
You learned so much from playing under (2018 seniors): Margaret Whitley, Madison Mallory, Maddy Yelle, Brie Borkowicz, Stephanie Hart; those were some girls that made everyone better around them. And they would always push us every day.
”I remember, being on that team as a sophomore, that coming into practice, you were going to work hard every day. But they also knew when to have fun with it. So it was a great experience.”
The 5-foot-7 Montgomery followed the 2018 championship experience with strong junior and senior years as a starting guard.
Her senior season on the court culminated with a huge performance in the Vikings’ regional final win over Batavia (14 points in the first quarter to spark Geneva to a decisive early 26-6 lead) and 10 points in the sectional final loss to eventual Class 4A state semifinalist Lake Park.
And just as Owens’ coaching enhanced Montgomery’s enjoyment of Geneva soccer, she had huge gratitude also for basketball coach Sarah Meadows.
”Honestly I believe that only because I went to Geneva, I was able to play high school basketball and still play club soccer,” she said.
”Coach Meadows was insanely understanding about being a two-sport athlete. She never once made me choose or said to me, ‘You have to be here and miss soccer for it.’
”She said she understood where my priorities are, that you’re a two-sport athlete,” Montgomery added. “We knew if I missed I would have to give a little, and there would be consequences sometimes, but she was more than understanding and always really happy for me and very excited for what I was doing in soccer if I ever had to leave the basketball court for a trip.
”She was very understanding, cooperative and willing. If I wouldn’t have gone to Geneva, I don’t think I would have been able to do both sports. I’m very lucky.”
Montgomery also considered herself fortunate to be surrounded by great role models. First and perhaps foremost, her older brother Nate.
”My brother played college baseball, and he was a great athlete (at Geneva) and a competitor,” she said. “He strived to be the best that he can be, and he was fantastic. He ended up getting a pro contract and playing pro ball for about a year.
”My freshman year I remember seeing all the success that he had, and I knew I wanted to strive to have the greatness that he had.”
Beyond the family connection, she tried to emulate Nate’s knack for vocal leadership.
”He really pushed me to be vocal in the back, like make sure you’re communicating,” Montgomery said. “He played baseball; ahe was a catcher. So we both kind of played (vocal) positions in our sports and kind of understood each other in that sense.
”He was such a role model for me throughout high school, to try to achieve some of the things that he did.”
Her eventually long list of achievements began with making Geneva’s varsity soccer team as a freshman. And in that spring of 2017, Montgomery found another inspiration in starting goalkeeper Emma Harkleroad (now playing at South Dakota).
”Emma was great to play with and play under,” Montgomery said. “She had a lot of aspects of her game that I was able to watch and take into my game.
”She was overall a great teammate: she pushed me every day to be the best that I could be, and I made sure that I was pushing her to be ready to go on to college the next year.”
While Montgomery won the starting job in her sophomore season, she was further blessed to have fellow future college goalkeeper Paige MacRitchie as a teammate.
MacRitchie plans to play at Division II Nova Southeastern in south Florida this fall.
”Geneva has had a very good tradition with goalkeepers being willing to push each other to be the best we can be,” Montgomery said, “continuing to fight for those minutes and fighting for that spot.
”Paige is probably one of the best goalie partners I’ve had. Every day at practice she’d be like ‘You’re good; shake it off’ if something happened.
”She was always wanting to push me to be the best I can be,” Montgomery added, “and I’d be pushing her right back.”
With top-level club competition and talented goalkeeper teammates throughout high school, Montgomery was a fast learner in the nets.
”I felt from my freshman year to senior year, I definitely commanded inside my 6-yard box a lot better,” she said. “I would make sure I was vocal.
“I’m not the tallest keeper, and I know that, but I always tried to make up for my height. I wanted to be able to cover balls in the air as best I could, and in my junior season I saw a real improvement on services in the air and being able to control that air spot a lot better, which was great.
”And also playing off my line,” Montgomery added, “staying connected to the back line, and being able to play with my feet and connect with (teammates) to help keep the ball out of areas, I saw my game improving.”
Quality coaching helped fuel that improvement.
”My club coaches put me in situations where I would succeed, but it wouldn’t be handed to me,” Montgomery said. “I would have to work and struggle and have to figure out speed of play decisions, be a lot faster with decision making, and playing with my feet. The tactical side of my game grew a ton.
”And being on varsity as a freshman with coach Owens, I saw a lot of that same aspect with a lot of technical and tactical decision-making, which was very important. When you’re a freshman on varsity you might be 14 and a lot of the girls are 18. You have to be able to still make the smart, fast decision with little time, because speed of play picks up a lot in high school.”
Going back to her earliest days playing soccer, Montgomery saw some time at defender and even occasionally forward. But guarding the net soon became her home.
“I always felt very at home and natural within the 18. I took that (goalkeeper) position when I was younger and just grew into it and loved everything about that position. When I played it, I felt like that was the spot for me.
”And I’m naturally a louder person, so communication came a little bit easier to me. I remember at a young age I already started telling girls ‘Man on your right, man on your left,’ and I’ve always been taught by goalkeeper coaches to be loud back there and be yelling.
“It might not always be the right thing,” she added. “but you have to be able to say anything to help your teammates, because you’re the one who sees the whole field and has the best vantage to help everybody.”
The big-time success and Division I future that followed were the fruits of Montgomery’s efforts. But as much as she often frustrated opposing scorers, one striker in particular left a major impression.
“I would say a forward I always remember playing against was (St. Charles North graduate) Gia Wahlberg,” Montgomery said. “She was a competitor.
”I played against her a few times in camps, when she was on an older team (for Campton United), and she always made people around her better and pushed you to be the best you could be. Then playing her in high school, she was one of the best of the best.
”If you wanted to be good, you have to play against girls like her,” Montgomery added. “I think she was one of the best soccer players that have come through this area.”
The same could be said for Montgomery, whose wealth of great experiences in two sports at Geneva include some unique moments in soccer.
”I remember all of our Tri-Cities Night games,” she said. “All of those were really special because the whole community was there and everyone was gathered around one cause.
”And then one game I remember is when we took a trip down to St. Louis last year. Our last game before we came home we played in like a hurricane condition. It was freezing, there was snow and rain coming from every direction, and to this day we’ll still talk about that game.
”We came back to Illinois and played in some bad weather,” she added, “but we played through a snowstorm: we can play through anything. That game was one of the craziest weather-wise I’ve ever been in, we played well in that game, and we ended up coming out with a 1-1 draw.”
Montgomery and her teammates probably would have walked through a blizzard to play again this spring. But while world events denied that chance, the lost season has only added to her motivation for the future.
”I’m excited to get back on that field,” she said, “watch the speed of play pick up and to be pushing myself to play faster, play smarter and play against some of the best girls out there.”
And facing elite competition at Geneva and in club has her ready for the challenge.
”You had to play hard every game at the club and high school level,” she said. “No one was going to give you a game. You have to work for it.
“Going into college I’m excited to know that nothing is ever handed to you, you have to work hard for it. I’m excited to work, and help my team get wins any way I can.”