Alex Walton’s four years swimming for the University of Missouri haven’t gone as he expected.
The former Muscatine standout and five-time state champion didn’t lose a race in his last two years of high school swimming. That all changed when he arrived in Columbia, MO.
Walton called his first couple of years at Missouri and in the Southeastern Conference “an eye-opener.”
“You realize really quickly you aren’t the man,” Walton said. “You realize ‘holy crap, everyone here is just as good as me or better.
“You have to work harder than you ever have to have a chance.”
Four years later, as a senior waiting patiently to see if he will qualify for the NCAA Championships, Walton proved he belongs.
The Missouri senior earned a pair of top ten finishes at the SEC Meet in February, the first time he’s done so in his career. He placed sixth in the 400 individual medley in 3:47.29 and seventh in the 200 individual medley in 1:44.36. He also placed 15th in the 200 backstroke in 1:43.78.
As a team, Missouri placed second behind Florida and became only the third team ever to score more than 1,100 points in the meet. Walton remains confident he will have a good enough time in at least one event to qualify for the NCAA Championships, something he missed out on by one spot last season.
“If my career ended today I would be satisfied with where I am,” Walton said.
The Wilton graduate who swam for Muscatine was a three-time All-American in high school. He played a major role in two state titles for the Muskies from 2011-14. Muscatine swimming coach Judd Anderson said Walton, who is listed at 6-foot-5, has always been able to use his height to get a lot of leverage.
In high school that height was a major advantage. In college, it’s the norm. But work ethic is always what set Walton apart from the pack.
“He’s a farm kid who has benefited from building muscle from that hard work,” Anderson said. “I saw a kid who’s a hardworking, not give up kind of guy.”
After an eye-opening freshman campaign, Walton’s sophomore season was off to a good start. In fact, he was right where he wanted to be at that point in his career. After winter training he even had the best time in a dual meet, which “never happens" according to Walton. Then, his season was derailed when he came down with the mumps.
“We were coming home and my jaw started hurting,” Walton said. “There was a mumps outbreak on campus and I was joking with my teammates ‘oh, I probably have the mumps now.' I wake up the next morning and I actually had the mumps.
“I could hardly eat for a week. I had to quarantine myself in my room so I didn’t get my other teammates sick. I couldn’t do anything and lost a bunch of weight.”
The journey back from the illness proved difficult but eventually rewarding for Walton. His first breakthrough was at the Mizzou Invite in November of 2017 where he set the school record in the 400 individual medley relay as a junior only to have it broken by a teammate later that season.
Walton thought he was heading toward a trip to the NCAA’s that season. However, he missed the cut by one spot in what was a disappointing end to his season.
“That was a bummer,” Walton said. “I knew I was good enough to make it and if I just kept working hard enough good things would happen.”
Walton says the success at the previous Mizzou Invite gave him confidence heading into his senior season and it showed with his times in the pool. Now, the Missouri standout feels he’s in a “pretty good spot,” to qualify for the NCAA’s.
He will learn of his fate later this week.
Regardless, his former high school coach is thrilled with the way Walton's collegiate career has played out. In addition to a pair of top 10 finishes at SEC’s, Walton ranks second in school history in the 200 individual medley (1:43.83), second in the 400 individual medley (3:44.03) and fifth in the 200 backstroke (1:42.56).
“I’m amazed at the improvement he’s made and some of the times he’s swimming,” Anderson said. “I was hoping he’d have a good career and he’s certainly done that.”