Lindsey Montana hardly stands out in a crowd.

And it's not simply because of the Potomac Falls High School sophomore's 5-foot-1, 102-pound frame; she also is quiet and humble--growing up, she was more inclined to look up to others.

"That's just the way it's always been, ever since the first day I walked into the gym," said Montana, who was just 2 when her mother, Joanne, hoisted her onto the trampoline at the Gymini Gymnastics facility in Herndon, holding her hand as she bounced. "That's when I got hooked. I was just amazed with what my body was capable of doing in the air."

Thirteen years later, younger girls are starting to look up to her. Thirteen years later, the Panthers' success lies in the hands of Montana, who last season became the first gymnast in school history to compete in the state finals, where she finished 16th in the floor exercise with a score of 9.25.

"The consistency Lindsey brings to our team by being able to get a top score on every event in every meet makes her the best gymnast we've ever had," said Potomac Falls Coach Tracie Hawes, who returns seven from a team that finished second in the Liberty District and fourth at the Northern Regional last year. "She's our best gymnast."

It's a good thing Hawes said that, because Montana never would. No matter the compliment, Montana refuses to talk about herself.

"You would never know she's as good as she is," Hawes said. "She doesn't boast about what she does, but she's always the loudest one on the side cheering everyone else on, even if they are doing simple skills that she has been doing for years."

To Montana, gymnastics is as much a team sport as it is an individual one.

"Gymnastics is all about finding out what your body can do," said Montana, who also has a 4.0 GPA. "That's why I cheer for everyone--from the person who is trying to do a difficult move to the person that is walking across the balance beam for the first time. Because for that person, what they are doing is difficult."

This season, Potomac Falls has dropped down from AAA to AA, meaning there are no regionals for the team to compete in to qualify for the state team championship. But there will be an individual AA meet, where gymnasts can qualify for the state meet.

"I know Lindsey is going to make it to state, and she'll probably make it in more than one event," said Broad Run junior Kira Kulotti, Montana's friend and roommate at last year's individual state meet and who finished two places ahead of Montana in the floor exercise. "Lindsey's awesome. When I saw what she could do on the floor exercise, I was like, wow, this girl is amazing. She's got to be one of the favorites to win the event this year."

TOP STORIES IN THE AREA

It's All Relative

For the second straight season, Loudoun Valley Coach Marty Cooper will be assisted by her 23-year-old daughter, Jennifer, a former Vikings' All-Met.

Though both coaches discuss lineups and strategy, Jennifer's ability to do routines--not just to tell gymnasts how to do them--gives the team an advantage.

At Valley, Jennifer was All-Met from 1992 to '94 before competing in college at Southern Connecticut her freshman year. She transferred for her final three years to Westchester (Pa.) College, where she holds the school record on vault with a 9.6.

Battered Broad Run

If the 1998-99 AAA Liberty District champion is going to continue its success in AA, junior Kira Culotti and sophomore Page Dickson must make complete recoveries from their injuries.

Culotti sprained her right ankle during summer camp. Though the injury has gotten better, Coach Jenny Aubel isn't taking any chances. Culotti, who has the ability to compete in all four events, is being limited to one or two events a meet until the injury fully heals.

Dickson, who competes in the floor exercise, balance beam and vault, is coming off an elbow injury last season. Aubel said Dickson is one of the team's most promising nonseniors and will keep her action limited until she is recovered fully.

Assisting in a Big Way

Coach Carolann Krische takes over this year at Park View for her friend Misti Booker, who is on maternity leave to be with her daughter, Natalie, born in October.

An assistant to Booker last season, Krische has kept the team competitive so far this season with wins over Annandale, Thomas Jefferson and W.T. Woodson in its opener earlier this week.

Booker said she doesn't know whether she will return to the Patriots next season, saying it will be a "family decision."

AREA TEAMS AT A GLANCE

Broad Run Spartans

* Coach: Jenny Aubel, 16th season.

* Gymnasts to watch: Jamie Calderwood, Sr.; Sam Kidd, Sr.; Christy Eroe, Sr.; Kira Culotti, Jr.

Broad Run has won three straight district titles--in the Liberty--and now wants one in the Northwestern. Culotti could be a key: She scored a 9.3 to place 14th on the floor at the state championships and tied for sixth on the floor at the Northern Region championships with a 9.4.

Potomac Falls Panthers

* Coach: Tracie Hawes, third season.

* Gymnasts to watch: Lindsey Montana, Soph.; Elisa Padilla, Jr.; Christina Padilla, Fr.; Brandi Johnson, Sr.; Nicole Miller, Soph.

Though the Panthers have just one senior, they are the favorite to win the district title this season. Seven gymnasts return from a team that is coming off the best season in school history, as it finished second behind Broad Run in the district race before placing fourth at the Northern Regional.

Loudoun Valley Vikings

* Coach: Marty Cooper, second season.

* Gymnasts to watch: Devon Bartok, Jr.; Emily Lewis, Fr.; Melissa Mannon, Sr.; Stacy Reffner, Jr.

The Vikings begin life without All-Met honorable mention Colleen Mentzer. After being the lone team in the Northwestern District last season, Loudoun Valley looks forward to having company this year. Beating Broad Run in its season opener bodes well considering the team has district title aspirations.

Park View Patriots

* Coach: Carolann Krische, first year.

* Gymnasts to watch: Kaitlyn Butynski, Jr.; Maggie McCombs, Jr.; Sara Costanza, Soph.; Rachel La Mora, Soph. (vault, uneven bars, balance beam).

Costanza--one of the few Patriots who had experience before she came to Park View--is the key to the district's youngest team, which features just one senior and six newcomers. Her strong suit may be the floor exercise, and the good news is she will be around for three more years.

CAPTION: The first gymnast in school history to compete in state finals, sophomore Lindsey Montana is called "best gymnast we've ever had" by Potomac Falls Coach Tracie Hawes, whose team dropped from AAA level to AA.