Photos By Nolan P. Schmidt
We will look back one day and continue to be puzzled at how Alex Talley was overlooked by Division I track & field programs. To this day, it does not make too much sense when you break it down. He won multiple state championships in both shot put and discus in high school. His career at West Fargo High School is as decorated as they come.
He only proved that when he arrived at North Dakota State. Currently, Talley is a two-time Summit League champion as well as a two-time NCAA qualifier. He was the only thrower in the country qualify to for both throwing events at last year’s NCAA Indoor Championships.
And yet, throughout his high school career and over the course of his recruitment, he had gone overlooked. To the point that he had settled on attending one of only three schools all within the Summit League. One of those schools was North Dakota State and obviously, Talley eventually decided to stay close to home in Fargo.
“I looked at a couple of different schools in the area. I looked at UND, SDSU and NDSU. I was actually kind of torn between whether I wanted to play football or track. Alex Renner ended up doing the Packer Power training camp for my high school in the summers,” Talley said of his recruiting journey. Renner is still one of NDSU’s most decorated throwers to date. “I kind of got known through that and I began to look up to the guy and Alex became a big mentor for me. I took my visit there and he was there. Then I met everybody else on the team and they all acted as he did. I was like, I got to be here. I knew Renner was the real deal, so I knew the program was too.”
Knowing Renner was the biggest reason why Talley committed to North Dakota State. However, that did not mean he did not have to work to get there in the first place. In many instances, Talley said he had to get his film in the hands of coaches, considering some coaches were not seeking him out. “I was really trying to seek out some coaches. I wasn’t really familiar with the recruiting process. I did have my mom make a little bit of a highlight tape for my throws and I would just send it to some coaches,” Talley said of his self-advertising approach. “Obviously, I went to a couple of camps. I was really looking for that coach to take a chance. Luckily, coach [Justin] St. Clair kept in touch with me after camps and would talk to me after meets and stuff.”
Growing up mere miles away from NDSU’s campus, Talley was relatively unaware of the track & field program’s success over the years. When he would have discussions with throws coach Justin St. Clair, he had little knowledge of just how qualified and impressive St. Clair’s résumé was.
“Oddly enough, when I was in high school, I didn’t realize how good the team was. I knew they were good because I’ve been to their meets and I knew they did very well. I didn’t realize the scale of it though,” Talley said. “At the time, I didn’t really look at coaching accolades because I went more off of what the team was like and whether I was going to have fun with those guys. Obviously, I fit in here and that’s really what drove me to NDSU. I fit in with the team well and I can tell they’re all genuinely good people. That’s when I knew I was going to have a good time here.”
While Talley knew he would fit in with the program, that did not come without its growing pains. He had to learn a new form of throwing, which proved to be a challenge early on. “I learned to spin because I glided when I was in high school. Coming here, I learned an entirely new form. On top of that, I wasn’t used to the different styles of throwing, I had never realized those,” he said. “I realized that I’m kind of a shorter, stockier dude and I may not be able to keep up with someone like Max Otterdahl, who’s 6-foot-10. Learning how to fit into my own body and throw in a way that fits my body type.”
Luckily for Talley, that shift in form more than paid off given his success. However, once he conquered the spin, Talley wanted to continue to improve. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Talley said it was a challenge not being able to lift on a consistent basis. He used the downtime to work on the technical side of his throwing.
“I really took that time to focus on some of the things I wasn’t so good at. I couldn’t really get in the gym because of shutdowns and whatnot, but the fields were open. You can always go work on footwork,” Talley said. “I remember doing form in a CVS parking lot. I think there were definitely some opportunities to get better. I’m still always working towards a better form and always building strength.”
While he continued to work on the physical side of his throwing, Alex Talley also faced a mental hump as well. He had just been the only man in the country to qualify for both throwing events at last year’s NCAA Indoor Championships. That event was canceled while Talley was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to compete in that meet. Obviously, this was followed up by the entire outdoor season being canceled. Those mental gymnastics became Talley’s biggest struggle throughout the pandemic.
“When you have that long of a break between competition, it’s easy to skip
a day or take some time off. That’s one thing that my teammates stepped up in, I think,” he said. “Every couple of weeks to get a message about what they did that day was really encouraging and helped build our team up a lot. It was not even coaches doing the reaching out, it was teammates or friends keeping you mentally sharp.”
One of Talley’s goals beyond winning a national title is to do his due diligence as an upperclassman. He feels it’s his place to bring the younger throwers up to speed, most notably in the weight room. One thing Talley notes as a challenge for him was getting adjusted to thrower- specific lifting. “One of the hardest things coming into college was getting adjusted to the weight room, and how to lift hard, how to eat properly. People like Steffan Stroh and Alex Renner really stepped up in that aspect for me. I needed that when I was a younger kid,” he said. “I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to grow and be so successful is to learn that right away. Being able to pass that on to the younger kids is really my goal. I want to get them good physically that way coach St. Clair can do what he does best.”
Since returning to the track, Talley has captured meet wins at the Dakota Duel, Bison Cup Classic, the UND Open, Dakota Quad, the Iowa State Classic and the Jim Emmerich Invitational. Currently, Talley is fifth in the country in the shot put, smashing a career record of 20.54m at the UND Open. Not just that, Talley is potentially the best overall thrower in the country. At the time of printing, he holds the second-best NCAA weight throw mark at 22.90m. He’ll likely be in similar distinction come outdoor season where he will throw shot put and compete in the hammer throw.
For Talley, it just feels good being able to compete again. “Just to feel that electric feeling in the air is indescribable. I really just feel excited and ready to be going again. It’s also awesome to see your friends do well. We’re having the time of our lives,” Talley said.
Talley takes a different approach to goals. He obviously wants to be a conference champion again and a national champion too. However, he is more focused on the steps needed to attain those accolades. If he takes those steps, Talley will be where he wants at season’s end even if it means taking a day off here and there.
I fit in here and that’s really what drove me to NDSU. I fit in with the team well and I can tell they’re all genuinely good people. That’s when I knew I was going to have a good time here.
“I want to keep practicing hard, lifting hard and get to sleep every night. That’s another big one is I have to sleep every night. One thing I kind of struggle with is I have a hard time resting,” he said. “I have a hard time taking the days off to recover because I want to just keep going. Just because you are throwing more does not mean they will go farther. In reality, that’s not always how it works.”
Whether he is taking a rest day or competing, Alex Talley always seems to be “on.” The copious amount of victories in his Bison career are evidence enough of that fact. Which raises this conundrum: how did he slip through the cracks? How was he overlooked this greatly?
In reality, the answer does not matter much because NDSU did not let Alex Talley slip through the cracks. Now, they’re both reaping the benefits with Talley being one of the country’s best overall throwers.