Maggie Montoya wanted a crowd. Instead she’ll be all alone.

Either way, the Baylor junior knows she has a job to do.

Montoya will represent the Bears at the NCAA Cross Country Championships Saturday in Lexington, Ky. Baylor’s season-long goal was to reach that NCAA stage as a team for a second straight year, but the Bears missed out with a fourth-place finish at regionals.

However, Montoya punched her own individual ticket with a second-place showing at that regional meet in College Station.

“I think it will be different. I’m kind of sad that they won’t be there,” Montoya said. “But, I’m excited to go still do well for Baylor and do Baylor’s name proud. Cali (Rice’s Cali Roper) actually reached out to me and asked if I wanted to warm up with her. And she was also going to reach out to Karis (Texas A&M’s Karis Jochen). Interesting fact, five years ago, Cali, Karis and I all qualified for Nike Nationals as individuals together. So, we’re back there again. That’s kind of cool.”

Montoya has assembled a string of strong races this season. Taking over as Baylor’s No. 1 runner after the graduation of All-American Rachel Johnson, she finished 11th at the prestigious Wisconsin Adidas Invitational, took fifth at the Big 12 Championships and then powered to second at regionals behind Arkansas standout Dominique Scott.

Could she contend for an individual national championship? She’s got the talent, Baylor coach Todd Harbour said, but it takes more than just ability. So much of winning such a race is believing you can.

“Physically, she’s not far off,” Harbour said. “But mentally, I’m not sure she’s there yet, to where she looks at herself like, ‘Hey, I could win this thing.’ And maybe by next year as a senior, she will. But right now, her training is no different than what Rachel was doing. Rachel just believed. Rachel had an incredible, confident attitude going up there of, ‘Hey, I’ve got a shot.’ Maggie’s moving to that place, little by little, and I think she’ll be there.”

Montoya is targeting an All-America showing as her primary objective. At the NCAA Division I meet, the top 40 runners are awarded that designation.

Last year Montoya finished 44th.

“I was actually in an All-American spot until the last quarter-mile, and I let a few girls pass me,” she said. “After last year, my goal going into the race is All-American. If I’m All-American, I’ll be happy. Anything more than that is just the cherry on top of it.”

The women’s 6,000-meter race will begin at 11 a.m. at Lexington’s Tom Sawyer Park. Harbour called the course “flat as a pancake,” which could produce some blistering times.

“It gets out pretty quick and narrows down pretty quick,” Harbour said. “So, getting a good start is very critical, and we’ve talked about that. She needs to get out. But she’s got all the leg speed she needs to get out and get with those top girls early.”

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