It's not hard to look at Alexandria's Ty Granning and see a throws coach for the Cardinals track and field team who must have had a lot of success himself in the throws as an athlete.
Granning has a strong build that fits the part, but he smiles at the assumption.
"That's what everyone thinks," he said. "I grew up in Montana and was a long jumper, triple jumper, 110-hurdler and 300-hurdler."
Granning won the state meet in the triple jump and 110 hurdles his sophomore and junior years of high school before a knee injury kept him from competing as a senior.
It wasn't until he moved to Minnesota in 2000 that the idea of coaching throws was ever on the radar. Longtime Alexandria head coach Jerry Amundson needed a new coach there, and approached him about the position.
"I think they were desperate," Granning said with a laugh.
It was the right decision. Alexandria has one of the top track and field programs in the state, and its throwing program is a model of consistency that has been a big part of that.
Since 2010, the Alexandria boys have sent at least one athlete to the state meet in either the shot put or discus five times, including two throwers in 2010 and 2015. The girls have qualified McKenzie Duwenhoegger and Mya Lesnar in each of the last two years and sent at least one athlete to state five times since 2010, as well.
"He's hard on you sometimes when he needs to be," Duwenhoegger said of Granning's coaching. "He'll harp on you with what to do with technique and everything, but once we get into this part of the season where we're kind of laying off, he's like, 'You can come to me if you need to, but otherwise go out there, have fun, be athletic and do what you need to do.'"
Technique trumps size
Rarely do the Alexandria throwers match their opponents in terms of pure size.
Their success is much more a product of proper technique, something Granning has learned how to teach throughout his career after diving head first into learning the craft.
"The culture in Minnesota for throws is way different than it was in Montana," he said. "There is an excitement about being a thrower, and our conference has some really good coaches who took me under their wing."
Granning soaked up information from more experienced coaches along the way. Access to material online was not as easily accessible early in his career, so he read books, ordered videos and went to every clinic he could.
"His IQ of the sport in general is outstanding," Alexandria graduate and current South Dakota State University freshman thrower Bryce Ludwig said. "He knows the times when he needs to tell you about correcting certain things in your form, and he knows the times when he just needs to make you laugh a little bit to get you out of your head and clear your mind."
Ludwig saw exactly how important having the right technique can add considerable distance. He qualified for the state meet in the discus as a junior in 2017, but a disappointing finish in the shot put at the Section 8AA meet that same year led to a change in his form.
"I had always thought about the idea of spinning. It's kind of uncommon for high schoolers, especially from here, but we just kind of came to each other," Ludwig said. "After having a tough section meet my junior year, he came back the next day and said, 'We're going to spin next year.' It was a lot of work the whole summer and toward the beginning of the season, but he was a tremendous help."
Ludwig had one throw of 55 feet in the shot put his junior season. His senior year, Ludwig found himself rarely throwing less than 55 feet at a meet. He holds the Alexandria records in both the shot put (59-05) and the discus (172-00).
"There were bumps, but he was always pushing me and helping me through that," Ludwig said.
Lesnar finished second at the Class AA state meet in the shot put last season and third in 2017. She too uses the rotation technique in the shot as a way to help maximize her quickness and athleticism to generate more distance.
"I think (Granning) just really tries to make it simple for me because it is such a hard technique to get down," Lesnar said. "Being so young, it's hard to comprehend, so I think he's really good at breaking things down. Then when you throw, it's just be competitive, be the athlete you are."
Every athlete matters
Granning is the first to say that a technique like rotating in the shot put is not for everyone.
Each athlete is different, and it's his job to figure out how to maximize everyone's potential. It has led to consistent results up and down the lineup.
"I tell my kids that when we start out throwing those first couple days, 'You're now an Alex thrower. Understand that means something,'" Granning said. "I want when we go to a track meet that other teams have the attitude that we're not fighting for first, second and third because that's Alexandria's. We're going for fourth, fifth and sixth. We try to create that attitude."
Duwenhoegger, Lesnar, Christina Palmer, Summer Gerhardt and Hailey Gill finished first through fifth in the discus at Alexandria's home triangular on Tuesday. Lesnar, Duwenhoegger, Gill and Palmer were 1-4 in the shot put.
Senior Jaymeson Wolkow is another example of technique trumping pure power. He came from an endurance sport in swimming during the winter season, and is not the biggest guy throwing at meets. Wolkow is still finding ways to win, including in both the discus (145-08) and the shot put (49-01) on Tuesday.
Those wins have become the norm in the program, but coaches throughout the boys and girls teams stress the importance of individual successes. Personal records are celebrated as much as those overall victories.
"There was a girl tonight who threw 26 feet for the first time," Granning said on Tuesday. "I looked at her and saw how she felt about the fact she just made a two foot improvement. No one's going to pay attention, but she saw me smiling at her, and there was pride there. Isaac Siegel broke 40 feet today for the first time. That smile-that's the best."
Granning credits the kids for earning those improvements through hard work. After an unconventional start to coaching this craft, he's grown to love being a part of it.
"I say a lot of times that a blind man could coach these kids," Granning said. "That's the type of talent we have. We have athletic kids over here throwing. I'm just a small part of this. The kids' work ethic and the culture of the program and the seniors who came before got us a lot of the success we have right now."