Track & Field

March Mania: Striving For More

After a run to indoor nationals last season, senior Shelby Gunnells wants more this March.

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Photo By Richard Svaleson

In the grand scheme of things, there are more important things than throwing to Shelby Gunnells. The senior is a geology major and hopes to one day become a professor at the university level. Upon returning from North Dakota State’s meet in Nashville, Tennessee, Gunnells immediately hopped on a flight to San Diego, California. Why? To attend an academic conference. Safe to say, the Solon, Iowa, native is poised for success in life outside of throwing.


But throwing is still at the forefront of her mind despite what may lie in her professional future.

Gunnells competed on the national stage last season, placing ninth in the shot put at the national meet. Following a redshirt season during the outdoor slate, Gunnells set her sights on a return trip to nationals. However, it was not her form that needed improving, it was her mental approach to throwing.

“I’ve seen my biggest improvements in my mindset while competing. There have obviously been some technical cues that have improved as well as my overall strength,” Gunnells said. “I would say being able to compete and reach my peak level in a meet setting has been really important for me.”

It also helps that Gunnells is surrounded by equally talented teammates. While Gunnells is currently in the top ten in the country in the shot put, teammate Akealy Moton is in the top five. Gunnells, who also competes in the weight throw, is one of the best in the Summit League along with fellow senior Maddy Nilles and junior Amy Herrington.

“We take a lot of pride in our throwing program since it has been at a top-level for a few years now. We just want to keep that tradition going and when you have teammates that are also performing really well, it’s just more motivation as an individual,” Gunnells said. “Keeping up with them means there is an improvement in one way or another. ”

That pride of the throws program shines through on the women’s side. The women’s half of the throws program has seen tremendous success over the past decade. With a litany of Bison throwers performing on the national level, Gunnells defers all credit to coach Justin St. Clair. 

“I’d have to give all the credit to our coach, Justin St. Clair. He does a tremendous job of preparing us and when to peak at the correct time. It’s about people buying into the system too,” Gunnells said. “That is really important, just to do the little things correctly and now that we’ve had people perform at that level, it’s easier for the younger people to know what that looks like and how to emulate that.”

Gunnells has competed in all but one of NDSU’s indoor meets this season. She did not finish outside the top three in the shot put once. In the weight throw, she has also finished third or higher in each of NDSU’s six regular-season meets.

Good finishes are important when building for the postseason. However, it is success in March that every track & field student-athlete strives for the most. Gunnells is no different.

“Last year, the goal going into nationals was to make the finals. I was able to do that which was really exciting. However, I had not thought about being the one person that made the finals that did not make the podium. So that has been a lot of motivation for me this season,” Gunnells said about her goals for this year. “You always want the season to go as long as possible so hitting good marks is important too just so I have the opportunity to throw at the Olympic Trials or something like that too.”

Now a senior leader for fellow throwers, Gunnells is also one to guide the next generation of Bison throwers. In her mind, much of that is making sure everyone is doing the little things properly, especially in March.

“Especially during this time of the year where we’re trying to peak, that’s when all the little things start to come into play. Not just practice and lifting, but eating well, getting rest and things like that,” she said. “In terms of helping others, it’s all about communicating those sorts of things as well as being an example for others as well.”

2020 will be a bit different for Shelby Gunnells. She will compete in both the indoor and outdoor seasons this year. Last year’s redshirt season altered the way she trains and sets goals. Now, she is excited about the prospect of competing all year for NDSU.

“That is going to be something new for me this year because I redshirted outdoor last season. So, I was working under the mindset of just peaking during this one meet and then I have a whole season to prepare for,” she said. “This year is a little different and the focus is on indoor nationals. After that, it will be about taking a few days to step away from throwing to reset the mind and set new goals. Then, I’ll start going after those.”

For now, though, Shelby Gunnells has her eyes set on indoor nationals in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Still motivated by missing the podium last season, Gunnells is determined to be standing on it this year for North Dakota State. Based on the evidence, there is no denying her a spot on that podium this season.

NDSU Women’s Track & Field In March

– 16 North Central Conference Championships
– 12 Summit League Championships
– 11 individual national champions (nine student-athletes)

March Mania: Striving For More
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