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It’s an exciting time for women’s collegiate triathlon. Earlier this week, it was announced that 34 universities now have varsity triathlon programs—only six short of the 40 schools needed for full-fledged NCAA status. USA Triathlon CEO Rocky Harris believes triathlon can hit that magic number either next year or in 2021.
Triathlon gained NCAA “emerging sport” status in 2014 with 14 varsity programs and has grown rapidly, thanks in large part to grants from USAT for schools starting new programs. To date, USAT has donated $3.5 million to get NCAA women’s tri off the ground, and it looks like it’s been money well spent.
On Saturday, Arizona State will host the collegiate championship, which is currently put on by USAT. The Sun Devils are the three-time defending national champions, with junior Hannah Henry leading the way and looking for her third consecutive national title. Arizona State is currently the only member of a “power 5” conference to have a varsity triathlon program. Harris and USAT expect to see a number of power 5 school jump on board as soon as triathlon reaches the 40-program threshold and finishes the process of becoming an official NCAA sport.
“The momentum for women’s NCAA tri is on a big upswing,” says Arizona State head coach Cliff English. “Being part of the NCAA is huge for the growth of triathlon and for women in the sport. The opportunity for young athletes to be able to go to college on a scholarship for triathlon is incredible. And it’s a tremendous pipeline for athlete development toward major games.”
Arizona State has partnered with ITU to broadcast the event on TriathlonLive.tv. The Division III race starts at 11:30 am local time (1:30 EST), with the Division I and II race to follow at 1:30 pm (3:30 EST). The broadcast will begin about 30 minutes before the first race and four-time Olympian Hunter Kemper will be on the call. This is the first year there will be two separate races instead of just separate waves, making for a more fair race across divisions.
The sprint-distance, draft-legal races will take place in downtown Tempe, with 49 women in the DIII race and 79 competing in the DI/DII race. Last year ASU ran away with the DI title by sweeping the top-five individual spots. Queens University of Charlotte won a second consecutive DII title, with North Central College (Illinois) earning a third straight DIII crown. All three defending champions head into the race as favorites, but the competition should be closer than ever with 25 more women toeing the line this year.
“The atmosphere at a collegiate race is incredible and it’s been growing every year,” English says. “In 2016 we had 48 competitors. This year it’s 128. With 32 schools currently [two schools have yet to be announced], and an average roster of 10 athletes, that’s 320 student-athletes racing NCAA triathlon. And it’s just the beginning.”