Missouri transfer adds top-ranked speed to key track event
For athletes coming out of high school, the decision to commit to a university’s athletic program is already stressful enough. But athletes who transfer from other colleges have the additional trouble of earning their way onto an entirely new squad.
Junior sprinter Kahmari Montgomery’s decision to transfer from the University of Missouri has proved mutually beneficial for himself and the UH track & field team. Head coach Leroy Burrell now has one of the top 400m sprinters in the country, while Montgomery was able to leave an unfavorable situation in Missouri.
“It just didn’t fit for me at all,” Montgomery said. “I wasn’t comfortable in the position I was in. I did have a great first season thanks to my coaches. But other than that, I couldn’t see myself graduating from there or succeeding further in my career as far as running the 400.”
As a freshman at Missouri, Montgomery was a two-time second team All-American in the 400m. He was the SEC Champion in the indoor and outdoor 400m, breaking the Missouri school records in the process (45.78s and 45.13s).
Those numbers showed Montgomery had a strong future ahead with the Tigers, but as a sophomore, those impressive figures did not repeat. He failed to make the finals of any race at the SEC Championships, failing to qualify for the NCAAs in the process.
Why did Montgomery struggle? The Tigers were asking him to do too much. Between the indoor and outdoor seasons, Montgomery was running in ten events, regularly running in multiple at every meet. Now that he is with the Cougars, Montgomery focuses on and excels at running the 400m.
“It’s really a bit of a bonus for him,” Burrell said. “He comes here and he only has to worry about so much. Yet he gets some of the benefit of being on a team that’s really seeking high level championships.”
Burrell and the coaching staff first got wind of Montgomery when they were making the roster for the USA Team at the World University Games in August 2017. Members of the UH track & field program made up a majority of the team with Burrell as head coach, but a few spots were open to athletes from other universities.
Montgomery was outspoken about his desire to represent all of the United States on the collegiate-level team, and in the process of joining it, Burrell learned that he wanted to transfer. While practicing in the weeks leading up the Taiwan games, Montgomery was impressed by his UH teammates and decided to transfer.
“Taipei was amazing,” Montgomery said. “It was my second time being out of the country, running for another USA team. I was glad we were able to be representative as a school to represent the United States. We did our thing, we had some fun, came home with silver, and it was just great.”
A new element
Last year, the Cougars were a non-presence in the NCAA 400m races. But now the title is up for grabs: Last year’s NCAA champion Fed Kerley of Texas A&M and runner up Michael Cherry of LSU graduated.
UH’s program is already feeling his presence, which gives the team a dimension it lacked last year and more credibility in the 400. In his first 400m race as a Cougar, Montgomery ran the fourth-fastest time in program history (46.83s) in Nebraska.
In addition, he ran the anchor leg for the men’s 4x400m relay at a last-minute Texas Tech invitational which broke the school record with a time of three minutes, 7.01s. That time, from a relatively unimportant track event, now ranks No. 5 in the country. That day Montgomery ran a 45.1s leg, his best this season but a time he has not replicated in an individual race.
“I think it was real easy,” senior sprinter Elijah Hall said. “He has more, I know he has more. He gave us a really easy race just to get through it. He didn’t even tap any of his potential (at Texas Tech). But for him to go out there and run an easy 46 like that, that was impressive.”
Montgomery’s 400m time is currently No. 22 in the country, six spots outside the qualifying mark for the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Burrell and the coaching staff decided to rest Montgomery at UH’s most recent track meet, the Houston Invitational, with hopes that he can run an NCAA-leading time this weekend at the Charlie Thomas Invitational at Texas A&M.
Either way, Montgomery’s presence could prove crucial as the men’s team looks to finally win a national championship.