WEST CHESTER, Ohio — The nation’s top up-and-coming triathlon stars showcased their talent Saturday at the USA Triathlon Youth & Junior National Championships, held at Voice of America Park in West Chester for the eighth consecutive year.
Gillian Cridge (Indianapolis, Ind.) won the women’s junior elite race for the second straight year, while Davis Bove (Franklin, Tenn.) captured his first junior elite title. Clara James-Heer (Grand Rapids, Mich.) made a statement with a national title in her first year as a youth elite competitor, while Bryson Gates (Canton, Ga.) won the boys’ youth elite race.
The junior elite races featured a 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike and 5-kilometer run. In the girls’ race, Leah Drengenberg (Dixon, Ill.) was first out of the water, followed closely by Olivia Jenks (Ames, Iowa), Kira Stanley (Acworth, Ga.) and Liberty Ricca (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Those four formed a lead pack on the bike, building a gap of about 30 seconds on the chase group early in the race. The foursome stayed out front for the entire ride, but the chasers — pulled by Cridge, Maryhelen “Parker” Albright (Roanoke, Va.) and Paige Horner (Grimes, Iowa) — slowly chipped away at the gap over the final 10k.
By the time they hit the second transition, the chasers were only about 20 seconds behind, with some stellar runners ready to contend for the podium.
It only took a mile for Cridge to move into the top-three, as she cruised at nearly a 6-minute pace. She only picked up speed from there, grabbing the lead with a half-mile to go and ultimately running a 17 minute, 37 second 5k. She broke the tape with a total time of 1:02:17. Stanley held onto the runner-up spot in 1:02:35, and Ricca rounded out the podium in 1:02:46.
“It feels amazing. I wasn’t quite sure how it would go when I got out of the water, but I knew I still had a chance being in the chase pack,” Cridge said. “I’m just so proud to be able to work with these girls and get up there again. I just have to thank my friends and the girls in the bike pack, and my coach Ian O’Brien and my team, Origin Performance. I wouldn’t be able to do it without any of them.”
Cridge and Ricca both qualified earlier this year to represent the U.S. at the ITU Junior World Championships, set for Aug. 30 in Lausanne, Switzerland. It will be Cridge’s second year at the event, while Ricca makes her world championship debut.
In the boys’ race, it was Drew Shellenberger (Indianapolis, Ind.) out of the water first. He led a group of seven onto the bike, forming a strong lead pack that also included Luis Ortiz (Orlando, Fla.), Cavan Wilson (Coral Gables, Fla.), Sam Tullis (South Bend, Ind.), Jack DeWeerdt (Hoffman Estates, Ill.), Drew Kroeker (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and Bove.
That pack proved to be unstoppable, starting the bike with a 20-second lead and building the gap to nearly a minute-and-a-half by the second transition. The podiums would come down to the run, and that was where Bove — who will run NCAA Division I cross country at Louisiana State University starting this fall — made his move.
By the halfway mark of the run, Bove was pushing ahead of the pack with a grin on his face. He wouldn’t give up the lead, dropping a 15:08 5k en route to his first national title in 55:14. Shellenberger repeated his runner-up performance from 2018, crossing the line in 55:29. Wilson would take the third spot on the podium in 55:49.
“You’ve always got to lie to yourself a little bit and say you’re feeling better than everyone else,” Bove said. “Obviously, I was hurting. But I just asked myself, ‘What is pain? Does it hurt so bad that I can’t push for just seven more minutes?’ I put a smile on, and I loved every second of it. It’s almost not even real. It’s been so long since a race has come together this well for me, so I’m just extremely grateful for everyone who’s supported me.”
Ortiz and Shellenberger qualified earlier this year to represent the U.S. at the ITU Junior World Championships later this month.
The youth elite division featured a 375m swim, 10k bike and 2.5k run. In the girls’ race, Emma Flickinger (McLean, Va.) and Naomi Ruff (West Chicago, Ill.) had the early lead after the swim. By the halfway mark of the bike, James-Heer and 2018 runner-up Faith Dasso (New Braunfels, Texas) had surged off the front — and at the second transition, they had 38 seconds on the rest of the field.
James-Heer had the run speed to hold onto the lead, crossing the line in 33:03 for the win. The 13-year-old is in her first year as a youth elite. She is a longtime Youth & Junior Nationals standout though, earning three previous national titles in her age group.
“I’m most proud of the overall, how everything went to plan,” James-Heer said. “Faith (Dasso) and Gabby Martin are really good athletes. Going into this, I was wanting to work with them on the bike and see how everything played out. I’d like to still be good in my next two years of youth elite, and after that see how junior goes, and maybe one year go to the Olympics.”
Dasso was 16 seconds behind James-Heer, earning the runner-up spot for the second consecutive year in 33:19. Gabby Martin (Fircrest, Wa.) was third across the line in 33:38. Martin, who is from Australia, is not eligible for the national championships podium, as she is not a U.S. citizen or U.S. national. Therefore, Mia Wentzy (Sioux Falls, S.D.) — who had the fastest run of the race — rounded out the nationals podium in 33:55.
In the boys’ youth elite race, Braxton Bokos (Oak Brook, Ill.) and Lawson McLeod (Lutz, Fla.) were the top-two out of the water. Bokos and McLeod stayed ahead of the field for most of the 20k ride, but Gates caught them heading into the second transition. Meanwhile, a group of five chasers were 25 seconds behind.
Gates dropped the hammer on the run, recording an 8:12 split for the 2.5k. He crossed the finish line for the win in 30:33. McLeod was next across the line in 30:51, improving upon his third-place finish from 2018. Completing the boys’ youth elite podium was Steven Cartwright (Jacksonville, Fla.), who had a race-leading 8:05 run split en route to a total finish time of 30:56.
Gates and his sister Makena, a junior elite athlete, train with the Multisport Explosion club team based in Alpharetta, Georgia. The team sends a large group of athletes annually to Youth & Junior Nationals.
“It’s kind of like a family of misfits,” Gates said. “They’re very rambunctious, especially the boys. They’re all really motivational. I’d like to thank coach Lisa (Marshall) for being very supportive.”
The racing action continues Sunday, with the fast-paced Mixed Relay National Championships kicking things off at 7:30 a.m. ET. The spectator-friendly mixed relay format will debut as a medal event at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Approximately 60 relay teams are scheduled to compete.
Then, starting at 10:40 a.m. ET, more than 600 athletes from across the country will race in the Youth Age Group National Championships. This event does not require qualification, and races are not draft-legal. Athletes ages 7-10 will complete a 100m swim, 5k bike and 1k run course, while athletes ages 11-15 will race a 200m swim, 10k bike and 2krun. Competitors in the paratriathlon open division will cover the same course as the 11-to 15-year-olds.
Nearly 1,000 young athletes are competing over two days at Voice of America Park. Visit usatriathlon.org/jr2019 for more information on the USA Triathlon Youth & Junior National Championships.
2019 USA Triathlon Youth & Junior National Championships
Junior Elites: 750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run
Youth Elites: 375m swim, 10k bike, 2.5k run
Junior Elite Girls — Complete Results
1. Gillian Cridge (Indianapolis, Ind.), 1:02:17
2. Kira Stanley (Acworth, Ga.), 1:02:35
3. Liberty Ricca (Colorado Springs, Colo.), 1:02:46
Junior Elite Boys — Complete Results
1. Davis Bove (Franklin, Tenn.), 55:14
2. Drew Shellenberger (Indianapolis, Ind.), 55:29
3. Cavan Wilson (Coral Gables, Fla.), 55:49
Youth Elite Girls* — Complete Results
1. Clara James-Heer (Grand Rapids, Mich.), 33:03
2. Faith Dasso (New Braunfels, Texas), 33:19
3. Mia Wentzy (Sioux Falls, S.D.), 33:55
*Note: Gabby Martin (Fircrest, Wa.) was third across the line in 33:38, but she was not eligible for the national championships podium as she is not a U.S. citizen or U.S. national.
Youth Elite Boys — Complete Results
1. Bryson Gates (Canton, Ga.), 30:33
2. Lawson McLeod (Lutz, Fla.), 30:51
3. Steven Cartwright (Jacksonville, Fla.), 30:56
About USA Triathlon
USA Triathlon is proud to serve as the National Governing Body for triathlon, as well as duathlon, aquathlon, aquabike, winter triathlon, off-road triathlon and paratriathlon in the United States. Founded in 1982, USA Triathlon sanctions more than 4,300 events and connects with more than 400,000 members each year, making it the largest multisport organization in the world. In addition to its work at the grassroots level with athletes, coaches, and race directors — as well as the USA Triathlon Foundation — USA Triathlon provides leadership and support to elite athletes competing at international events, including International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Championships, Pan American Games and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. USA Triathlon is a proud member of the ITU and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC).