Arizona State again dominated the USA Triathlon women’s collegiate national championship Sunday, sweeping the first five places in the Division I/II race at Tempe Town Lake.
Sophomore Hannah Henry repeated as individual champion, edging teammate Charlotte Ahrens, also the runner-up in 2017, by five seconds. Henry’s winning time was 1 hour, 1 minute, 53 seconds.
Katie Gorczyca, out for 2017 nationals due to a wrist injury, took third followed by Kyla Roy (third in 2017) and Audrey Ernst. South Dakota’s Leah Drengenberg was the top non-ASU finisher in sixth. ASU’s Kira Stanley and Rebecca Naughton were eighth and ninth.
The race (750-meter swim, 20K bike and 5K run) was held in Tempe for a second straight year with 26 teams participating, up from 18 in 2017. North Central College of Naperville, Ill., won the Division III title.
Triathlon is an NCAA emerging sport that will be eligible for full NCAA status when 40 schools have varsity teams, a level expected to be reached with 2-3 years.
For now, the competition to be on the podium at nationals is between ASU teammates, with Henry, from Victoria, Canada, twice finding a way to come out on top.
“I had a pretty good start,” Henry said. “The swim I found a really fast pace, and I felt like I was losing the feet in front of me so I was working really hard to stay with them. Coming out of the water, I had to have a quick transition and quick start on the bike to get in with them.
“On the bike, it was nice I had three of my teammates in the pack with me. We were working well together and increasing the gap from the next girl. Coming off the bike, I worked hard to catch up to Charlotte. We ran together for most of the second lap then I just gave it all I’ve got for the finish.”
Ahrens, a junior from Germany, said she was unable to run for the past two weeks because of a sore hip. “That’s not an excuse,” she said. “You never know, every race is different. It could have (mattered), but sometimes if you do a little bit less before the race, it’s even better. I gave 100 percent today and I think I was on the top level.”
For Gorczyca, ASU’s only senior, being back at nationals was an important way to end her college career. She was second at 2016 nationals then saw her 2017 season end early due to a broken wrist suffered in an October bike crash.
“Last year it was really hard for me to watch and not be on the start,” Gorczyca said. “This year we’ve been training really hard and I’ve gotten so fit thanks to my teammates. I wouldn’t be able to finish the way I did if it weren’t for them. So I’m really grateful.”
ASU coach Cliff English knows it won’t always be easy to win nationals once other power 5 conference teams get involved but remains committed to growing the sport.
USA Triathlon recently announced that Hampton University will launch a varsity triathlon team in 2019, becoming the first historically black college to do so. Hampton is benefiting from a $225,000 grant from the USA Triathlon Foundation designed to increase diversity in collegiate triathlon.
“We knew we were strong, but I knew there were other strong girls out there,” English said. “You could tell in the last few days, people got a little more serious and were super focused. Everyone is going to have their own little mission. They were working with each other but obviously also competing against each other. That’s the environment with this team. They respect each other but push each other so hard. They surprised me. It’s pretty incredible.”