Oct. 29, 2003, 2:42PM

Montgomery has Tigers in cool pool
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

It will be a homecoming of sorts this weekend when Steve Montgomery brings the Conroe swim team south to the Oak Ridge/Woodlands Invitational on Saturday for a meet at The Woodlands Athletic Center.

That's familiar territory for Montgomery, a longtime swim coach at Oak Ridge High School before retiring more than a year ago.

"That'll be a huge meet," Montgomery said of the competition and numbers at Saturday's event.

Like Michael Jordan, Evander Holyfield and others before him, retirement didn't last long for Montgomery, who was persuaded to come back by Conroe first-year head football coach Roger Holtkamp, who also spent many years at Oak Ridge.

"Over the summer he called me and said that they just needed a little expertise for swimming," Montgomery said. "They had a good coach (Susan Willis), but they needed somebody that had just a little more experience. So he asked me if I'd come over and help him out."

Montgomery said he believes that Holtkamp will build for Conroe the same quality program he engineered at Oak Ridge, a team that won the 2002 region championship and played in the state semifinals.

"Roger's got a good thing going over there," Montgomery said. "He built a new staff for football and there are going to be some great things happening over there. So I was glad to be part of it."

Conroe offered somewhat of a comfort zone for Montgomery with former Oak Ridge coaches John Whitehead and Joe Moore also on the Tiger football staff.

Montgomery said he is glad to be back poolside.

"It's fun," he said. "I've got a group of kids that are excited about having a team concept. They're really going places. They're working hard. I think we're going to do real good this year."

The biggest difference with coaching at Conroe now is that Montgomery doesn't have to teach a class.

"That really relieves the pressure," he said. "When you're coaching and teaching it's hard.

"This way I can go and do things. I can go fishing or play golf or work around the house and it relieves a lot of pressure."

Montgomery said he has already made lofty goals for the Conroe program in his first year there.

"Of course our goals are to go to district and region," he said. "They've not had anybody at state for quite some time now at Conroe. It's time for Conroe to have some state qualifiers.

"Of course I'm one of the most positive people in the world, but I really think that we'll have one relay for each boys and girls that will make it to state and two or three individuals. We'd like to be in the top 10 at state."

So what does the team think about Montgomery's expectations?

"They're eating it up," he said.

Obviously a lot of hard work and dedication are necessary to accomplish such a feat.

"But they're already showing that, so I'm excited," he said. "I think we have a lot of good new freshmen girls. We have some boys that are ready to go."

In their first meet of the season, the Tigers swam well with District 15-5A foes Spring and Westfield.

"We came out real good," Montgomery said. "We were 3-0 in girls' and 2-1 in boys'. The boys lost to Westfield. But we will do better at district, I'm very sure."

Last weekend Montgomery went with five Tigers who qualified to train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"To do that they had to have achieved U.S. qualifying times of triple-A long course or 4A short course," Montgomery noted. "Those are very difficult times. We have five swimmers that have those times and two others that had aged up or they would have had the times. So we're doing good."

Junior Trenton Hooker, sophomore Sean Leneave and freshmen girls Jessie Sartin, Sara Ghazi and Helen Husbands all made the Colorado journey. Sartin's trip, because she is junior national qualified, is funded along with Montgomery's as well, he said.

"They had two full days of hands-on training," Montgomery said. "They had lectures on diet and nutrition. They have psychologists and psychiatrists to help. It's really a tremendous opportunity for our swimmers."

Montgomery said he feels like the reason those five are so special is because they swim year round with either CATS (Conroe Area Team Swimming) or TWST (The Woodlands Swim Team). It is also the same five that Montgomery is hoping will lead the team towards elite status.