A record field of 96 student-athletes are set to compete Sunday at the fourth annual Women’s Collegiate Triathlon National Championships in Tempe, Arizona. Athletes from all three NCAA divisions will race for individual and team titles on a multi-lap, draft-legal course centered at Tempe Town Lake.
We caught up with the Leah Drengenberg of the University of South Dakota (DI), Amber Custodi of Daemen College (DII), and Naomi Hill and Grace Miller of North Central College (DIII) to share some pre-race thoughts.
Leah Drengenberg, University of South Dakota, Sophomore
On USD’s debut as a team this season and challenging defending DI national champions Arizona State University:
“We knew ASU was the one on top, so with such a small team this year we just wanted to put ourselves out there and get people to know that we’re a team now. We were really happy with our finish (at the West Regional Qualifier in Longmont, Colorado). Getting second to ASU was exciting, and being able to break them up (in the individual standings) a little bit.”
On goals as an individual:
“My goal at the beginning of the year was a top-five finish at Nationals. After getting fourth in Colorado, I’m hoping I’ll come through.”
On coming up through USA Triathlon’s junior elite circuit, and why she chose to pursue NCAA triathlon at USD:
“I was deciding between swimming and triathlon, and I was really looking to do swimming for a long time because there just weren’t as many options for triathlon. So then South Dakota came along and I started talking to Kyle (Joplin), the coach. It looked like a really good plan for me, so I decided to go for it.”
On being part of a growing movement in women’s NCAA triathlon:
“It’s really exciting, especially being on a brand-new team this year. I think a lot of people are really not knowing what to expect over the next 10 years. It’s going to be really fun for me to watch that grow throughout my college career and beyond when I’m out of college. I’m sure I’ll want to come back and watch and see how much it’s grown by then.”
Amber Custodi, Daemen College, Redshirt Sophomore
On goals as a team:
“Coming into this weekend we had three of us who were supposed to be here, but unfortunately one of the people on our team got sick. With just two of us, our goal is pretty much to finish off the season strong, focus on going into the off-season on a good note and working toward the spring season."
On individual goals:
“This is my second time at Nationals and last year didn’t really go as planned, so I’m hoping to build off that. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger in the swim, so hopefully that will allow me to come out and be able to draft with some of the better athletes.”
On a strong performance at the Central Regional Qualifier in Watauga, Tennessee, in which the course was shortened due to inclement weather:
“We went to the race in Tennessee where the weather was interesting and the course was cut short — but I ended up placing second individually for DII, so I was happy with that. We learned a lot in Tennessee with the weather, being able to adapt and deal with adversity the morning of the race and having to make decisions on the fly. Everyone is learning. The coaches are learning, the athletes are learning, so it’s fun.”
On how she got into triathlon and why she chose Daemen:
“I was a big runner in high school, and that’s how I got into triathlon. I just kind of heard about it and thought, ‘Oh, why not?’, and tried it out. That’s how I met the coach at Daemen, Jon Metz. The physical therapy program was really the first reason why I started looking at Daemen, and then coincidentally Jon was like, ‘Oh yeah, there’s a triathlon team, we’re one of the first schools to start a triathlon program.' So all of the pieces kind of fell into place, and I’m glad that it happened this way.”
Naomi Hill, North Central College, Sophomore
On expectations as a team and individually:
“Our team goal is obviously to win again, another title. Individually it’s to have a strong swim and carry my momentum throughout the race, and work with my teammates throughout the race. We’ve been training since August together, so I think we’re all definitely ready to compete at this final race and show how hard we’ve trained.”
On having races separated by division for the first time (DIII and club teams at 8:45 a.m. MST, DI and II teams at 10:30 a.m. MST):
"We get to have our own race tomorrow, which is really cool. It’s a smaller field, so we’ll probably be more spread out. We’ll have to push ourselves more, and hopefully we can come out of the water together and work on the bike together. It’ll definitely be more of a team race trying to keep together.”
Grace Miller, North Central College, Junior
On preparing for Nationals as the defending DIII team champions:
“I know as a team we’re going to do well. I think our goal is to defend our championship and work hard together. We train pretty hard — on the bike we work as a team, on the run we work as a team. I think we’re very prepared for this race based on our training throughout the year.”
On the course at Tempe Town Lake:
“I think the course (in Tempe) is really cool. The bike is challenging, but it’s also a good in-between where there are some straightaways and some hills. The run is pretty cool for spectators too, because you can see the whole thing. You can see everyone in front of you, so I really like it.”
On seeing the women’s collegiate triathlon field grow each year:
“It’s expanded so much. It’s so cool to see all the new teams join. Especially for DIIIs, being able to have our own race is really cool. I think it’ll be a little bit tougher (being in our own wave). Those DI and DII girls really push us to work harder, I think.”
NCAA Division III and club teams race in the first wave at 8:45 a.m. MST, followed by DI and DII programs at 10:30 a.m. MST. Click here for the complete race preview, and follow @USATLive on Twitter for live updates on race day.