An unlikely friendship has fueled three Lady Demons javelin throwers to the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

NSU SID/Doug Ireland

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In her first fall at Northwestern State, Jessica Talley thought she saw a familiar head of blonde hair heading in the opposite direction as she headed to class.

So she texted her high school javelin nemesis, Ashley Aldredge, who she thought was at Texas A&M.

Talley’s “Did I just see you at NSU?” message not only prompted an invitation for a home-cooked meal, but launched an improbable, unplanned collegiate sports career. Talley, who by that school year’s end went from walk-on to All-American, joins Aldredge and another Lady Demon freshman phenom, Oberlin’s Kelsey Frank, Thursday in the 48-woman javelin field on the first day of the NCAA East Preliminary Round Track and Field Championships.

NSU, along with national powers LSU and A&M, are the only schools in the country, East or West region, with at least three regional qualifiers in the women’s javelin. It’s the first event (11 a.m. CST) of the meet on a day when six of NSU’s 13 entries will be aiming to finish in the top 12 of their events to advance to the NCAA Outdoor Championships June 10-13 in Eugene, Ore.

Senior Keona Jackson throws in the women’s shot put field at 2:30. Demons’ freshman Amir James runs in the 100 meter dash first round at 5:55, hoping to advance to the East final Friday evening. NSU’s 2014 indoor All-American Emmanuel Williams competes in his specialty, the long jump, Thursday at 6. The meet wraps up Saturday night with the 4x400 relay involving the Demons.

Talley hadn’t considered competing at NSU until dinner at the Aldredges’ with her friend and her dad, former prep All-America javelin ace Corwyn Aldredge.
“In high school, Ashley was way better than everybody. I never thought I would throw in college,” said Talley. “She and her dad, they talked me into going out there and I just went to practice. It’s crazy to think that was so long ago. We’ve been competing against each other for nine years.”

They both like competing as teammates. Both have overcome surgeries, and have earned undergraduate degrees. Aldredge is a semester into graduate school with a senior season athletically remaining in 2016. Talley missed her commencement earlier this month since the javelin competition at the Southland Outdoors was the same day, choosing the chance to chase a third conference title and score points for NSU over donning cap and gown.

“I saw (NSU president) Dr. (Jim) Henderson (recently) and said, ‘Hey, can I shake your hand? I didn’t get to, at graduation.’ He said we should have called him to come to Hammond, and he would have, like he did for the baseball team.

“But I made the right call. I didn’t get first, like I was hoping to, but I was still on the podium. It wouldn’t have been right for me to miss the meet.”

Talley, the defending champ, was second to Aldredge, with Frank in fourth, at the conference meet May 8. This year, Talley has the best throw, a career-best 159-3 that ranks 17th regionally, while Aldredge is 24th at 156-5, almost 10 feet behind her personal record (166-0 in 2012), and Frank is 28th at 155-0, almost 30 feet past her best last spring when she won the Class A state title.

Commencement wasn’t a given for Talley. Even without her surgery, she would have missed the 2012 season due to a dip in grades. She again lost, then regained eligibility just in time to capture the 2014 Southland crown to go with her 2011 title.

“You can do anything you set your mind to. A lot of people back home don’t go to college and get degrees, or be a college athlete,” she said. “It was a back-and-forth thing, and this year I took more responsibility. It’s been a good opportunity and I’m glad to have made the most of it so far.”

She, Aldredge and Frank each want to win the regional meet, or at least finish in the top 12 and advance to the national meet.

“I want it so bad, I want to end on a good note, not at regionals,” said Talley, ninth at the 2011 NCAA Championships after a 158-6 throw for fourth at the East regional. “I had a couple good throws at practice Tuesday, so I hope they come out tomorrow.

“I want any of us to end up on top. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it’s one of our girls. Competing against each other in practice and then in the meets gives us that little extra push.”

Aldredge, a prep star and USA Junior Olympic champion at Ruston’s Cedar Creek High whose athletically-accomplished family since relocated to Natchitoches, also savors the intrasquad competition and benefits from it.

“I like it. You’re technically throwing against the competition, but in almost every meet this spring, we finished 1-2-3 and so it’s pretty much like practice. The competition helps me to want to throw better. You root for your teammates anyway so that’s really fun,” said the Academic All-America nominee, who graduated last December with a 3.5 grade point average.

Aldredge returned to competition in 2014 not at full gear and finished eighth with a 137-2 mark in the conference meet, but this spring has come closer to regaining her best form while notching another Southland title to go with her 2012 crown.

“I feel like I’m stuck and I can’t break through. I have another year and I’m real glad. I have a lot more work that I need to do, but right now I just want to get to the next meet with a good day Thursday,” she said.

Aldredge and Talley each think their freshman teammate has greatness ahead.

“Kelsey’s picked it up so fast, and when everything clicks, they better watch out. It’s been fun training with her,” said Aldredge.

“They’re great people, great throwers. I always watch them and analyze what I can do better,” said Frank, who like Talley did in her freshman year, has bettered her personal record by more than 30 feet and qualified for NCAA competition.

“When coach (Mike Heimerman) started recruiting me, he said he would get me at least 30 feet past, but I never thought I could do it. I’m pretty excited about it,” said Frank. “My goal is to, of course, win, but at least make the top 12. Even if I don’t, I’d like to end the season with a PR.”

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