“There is no I in team,” but for Montclair State University men’s diver Alex Pallen, that saying doesn’t apply. Currently a junior, Pallen is the only member of the men’s diving team for the 2021-2022 season.
While being the only member of the team can be lonely, even difficult at times, Pallen has overcome these obstacles and is looking to etch his name in the Montclair State Athletics history books at the end of this season.
So far, Pallen has dominated on the diving board, with a personal record in the 1-meter dive (11 dives) with a score of 268.43 which is among the highest scores in recent Montclair State diving history. And to think, Pallen only started his diving career as a freshman.
“I had absolutely no experience diving,” Pallen said. “I’d say the most background I had that related to diving was gymnastics that I did from ages five to 12. So really no experience at all, and I just kind of went for it to learn everything from scratch, but I think that made it fun.”
During his freshman year, Pallen’s roommate, former Montclair State swimmer Samuel Golovin, told him that there were no members on the diving team. Pallen had a background in sports and wanted to keep busy. He approached the coaches and inquired about a spot.
After a quick practice run to see if he could grasp the sport, diving coach Jennifer Ullman put him on the team and they immediately went to work. In just one year, he made major improvements in his technique. By his sophomore season, he was getting a hold of the sport.
According to Ullman, while some of his dives took time to develop, he was a quick learner and made a smooth transition into the sport.
Now a junior and much more familiar with it, Pallen has greater hopes for what he can accomplish individually and for the team. Since Pallen is the only diver, he is the lone scorer contribution for the combined swim and diving team score.
The top two place winners at each meet are awarded the team points. This in turn puts a massive amount of pressure on Pallen. As Montclair State’s lone diver, he has to at least take one of these top spots in order to secure some points for the team. Most impressively, this is something he has managed to do in all of the swimming & diving meets this season.
Pallen understands the importance of his role and he embraces the pressure that comes with it.
“The diving portion is just on me, there’s no one else if I don’t get first or second,” Pallen said. “I don’t have a teammate that can help me get those points up which is challenging. So it makes me nervous knowing I want to place the highest to get the most points for my team cause it really is all up to me.”
While not having anyone on the board alongside him, the swim team has played a huge part in supporting Pallen. Fortunately, four female divers are practicing alongside Pallen and have been supporting him throughout his training.
“This year especially the whole team has been really supportive. I think this year it really showed how much the swimmers supported the rest of the divers,” Pallen said. “Being by myself is intimidating, it’s nerve-racking being up on that board and it’s just dead silence during a meet and everyone is just watching you. I don’t want to mess up. That’s the only thing going through my head. Do not mess up and perform well. The swimmers realize this and they have really been there to support me.”
Pallen started by himself and will likely end his career as the lone male diver. He was for a short time joined by one teammate, Montclair State’s former three-sport athlete Ian Johnson, who joined a month after Pallen first got into diving.
Johnson has played with many teammates, winning titles and championships alongside some exceptional athletes. However, Johnson notes that there is something uniquely special about Pallen compared to his other sports teammates.
“Alex is such a great asset to the men’s swimming and diving team,” Johnson said. “He came in when there was a need for male divers and has worked every single day improving on his dive difficulty and execution. I can guarantee his name will be up on the wall with a couple of records under his belt by the time he takes his last dive for [Montclair State].”
Pallen attributes his success so far to his consistency in the standards he holds himself to each time he competes.
“My biggest expectation and goal is to do my best and really just get the highest possible score for myself,” Pallen said.
The second half of the season is just getting started which will soon come to an end at the Metropolitan Championships in New Brunswick. The talented diver will be alone in the air but he will have a huge team and support system by his side.